Writing: Freedom Vs. Definition

In a stack of papers called Writing.

  • Feb
  • 24
  • 2009

We’ve steadily worked our way through the majority of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. We have about one-hundred pages left. One practice, group paragraph and one big-point, solo paragraph later, we’re about ready to dive into the conclusion. I’ll hit them with a writing assignment Thursday and move on to a Socratic seminar next week. I’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Stay tuned, ’cause I could use your help there, too. For now, tell me what you think about the writing assignment, as generic as it is.



My experiment for this year was going to be a list of recurring images in the novel along with page numbers. Fog (13,14,42,101,116,119,242…), Animals (13,55,61,142,169,257), Cold (10,31,32,52,67,88,89,100,122,130,237…), Machines, Laughter, Combine, Cross/Jesus, etc. Their job would be to pick one of those images and explain why it’s there, how it adds to the meaning of the novel. I even hinted to the students that this is what we’d be doing, left a few conversations open ended and unresolved because I figured that would be a slight prep for having to come up with their own answers at the end of it all. A brief discussion about McMurphy’s and Harding’s hands stands out as one of these — quotations on the board with no point made about the differences seen and no time to discuss it. I felt this would give them food for later thought.

But when I sat down tonight to create the handout, it seemed like another one of my vague writing assignments that students have bombed on in the past. While I feel like I’ve paved the way for this and I really want students to write about a topic they pick, I can already see the tragic papers I’d comb through. So I switched things to a more traditional and well-defined piece of writing about theme. We’ll work in groups to come up with some ideas about possible themes that exist and then pick from that list for a focus. Our impending Socratic seminar should also help refine some of these theme choices.

Quite a few years on this job and you’d think I’d have basic things like this sorted out in my head. Do you ever run into the trouble of knowing what you want to give to students, but seeing how they can miss the mark? How do you handle it? Did you get a chance to look at the assignment sheet? What do you think?

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