AWP 2012: Exploding the Narrative Line: Benefits and Drawbacks of Teaching the Braided Form

March 2, 2012 § 2 Comments


By Allison Schuette

F 9:00 Exploding the Narrative Line: Benefits and Drawbacks of Teaching the Braided Form / Jennifer Sinor, Andrew Berthrong, Chris Cokinos, Brett Sigurdson

I love pedagogy panels at AWP.  They renew my faith in the dual profession of teacher/writer, which so often gets lambasted in the conference elevators.  It’s not that I don’t understand the exhaustion of grading yet another paper by a student just paying her dues, but I don’t understand the attitude of those who see teaching as drudge work done to bring in a paycheck.  Today’s panel on the braided essay proved to me that teaching writing can not only invigorate your students, it can also reinvigorate you.

I’ve been teaching the lyric essay now for a few years, but I’ve never focused specifically on the braid.  Now I will.  All the presenters emphasized how well the braided essay can help students begin to make connections between their personal experience, their powers of observation, and their hopefully-to-be-honed ability to research.  Because the braid gives students three strands to work with, they can focus both on a single skill while also beginning to see how those skills speak to each other.  It’s a process, but it has parts.  Most refreshingly, panelists demonstrated how they were using the braided essay in different kinds of class, not just the creative writing course.  This reminds me that I can teach those forms I’m passionate about and still help students develop skills they can use in other ways in other classes and in their life generally.

Brett said that the braided essay coaxes students into becoming critical readers on the page and in their lives; in working with the form, they must strive to discover how their lives are interesting, i.e., the braid teaches curiosity.  As a writer, I have long known curiosity lies at the heart of imagination and therefore craft; now I have a particular form that can help me instill that.

Allison Schuette teaches at Valparaiso University.

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