Low Stakes Writing and the Choices We Make When We Write

By now, my classes have heard the term ‘The Writing Process’ countless times per class. We have discussed together what this means, what it may look like, and what kind of labor it entails. These discussions are always framed with my expectations as the facilitator of this Process. While I have full confidence that my students could give a very accurate description of what this process looks like based on our classroom discussions, the culminate effect of the readings this week has made it clear to me that talking about what the writing process means is not something we have discussed or I have communicated effectively.


I found myself thinking about how many small moments of ‘writing’ I take for granted and overlook because writing has become a habitual part of my life. Each reading made me unpack the writing process and each time the parts were laid out before me I thought, “how simple …I really never thought of it this way.” The Flower and Hayes text, “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing” offered a reminder that the metaphysical aspects and metalinguistic awareness of the writing process can sometimes focus more on the end product and the development of that product rather than what kind of inner processes and growth that occurs in the individual writer. I think it would be great to introduce students to this idea particularly because as Elbow states, writing ‘feels’ like an inherently high stakes project for students (for everyone) and there are many habits related to conceptions of writing and the process of writing that have been intuited throughout a student’s schooling, maybe without much consideration. Breaking into these pre-conceived notions of what it means to write goes hand in hand with creating a place for students to become comfortable with just writing, which is why low stakes assignments can be important in this process.

I also think that asking students what they think happens at each stage to THEM- or to their ideas as they develop through writing may be a way to engage students with the idea that the goal-oriented writing that they are doing is a dynamic process. While the writing is changing, the ideas are changing, the author is changing, and perhaps the subject is changing. Being comfortable with this is the challenge and it doesn’t help that trying to describe this, as someone for whom writing has become a habitual act, is even more difficult.