Here is another way of using meditation in the writing classroom. Yesterday’s meditation was useful in that it provides students a break, gives them an extra tool, and allows them to access deeper levels of thinking. Today’s exercise teaches them something else — everyone’s mind works differently. It is common but unreasonable to imagine that “everybody” thinks a certain way. This exercise proves that fact.
This is a counter-linguistic exercise in that it involves no language at all until the period when you all review what you have imagined. It is a good opportunity to question where ideas come from, how creativity works, and what our “minds” are.
Exercise: Ask students to close their eyes. Ask them to breathe comfortably in and out, and then instruct them to relax their feet, ankles, knees, hips, stomach, throat, eyes, etc. Then guide them in a meditation. It has as many permutations as there are people, but I often use this one, introducing each new element slowly, giving them time to develop their imagined experience: Imagine you are walking along (are you alone? with someone) and you come upon a gate in a fence. Walk through the gate (alone? with someone), and across a wide field. You come to a body of water, where you stay for a while. Now turn around and come back to where you started.
This part of the exercise should take 5-10 minutes, leaving plenty of time between each instruction.
After it is over, ask the students what their fence/field/body of water, etc. looked like, and what they did while they were walking. Did they pick flowers? Go swimming in the water? Lock the gate? It is amazing how varied the imagined experiences are, and how differently each person’s mind works. You can also review the fact that while imagining the experience, it was not necessary to use language. The imagined experience happened on another level.
There is no exercise that my students have enjoyed more than meditation. They say they are under a lot of pressure, and to have a few minutes of utter quiet, with the lights low, is refreshing and calming, and gets their minds settled. They rarely have moments to sit and think unmolested, and some of the molestation comes of their own choice; they have iPods, cell phones, and email going all the time. So when a subject comes up and they get a chance to think about it for a full five minutes, they make a lot of progress. Meditation may not be the correct word for this exercise, it may be just quiet thinking.
Exercise: Provide an in-class assignment; it could be a simple description, or a larger question like, “Do you think all young Americans owe their country a year of national service?” or “Where do you see yourself 40 years from now?” You can also have five minutes of pure meditation with no assigned subject.
Turn off the lights in the classroom, and ask all students to close their computers, turn off their cell phones, and get comfortable. Lead them in an introductory minute or two of breathing and relaxation, then stay quiet for five minutes.
Buzz words crop up in classwork all the time. Here are five to avoid, culled from Linkedin’s research. I’ve edited, and added my own comments:
As one might expect, they’re terms that sound awfully nice but say almost nothing specific about a person.
Dynamic is at No. 10.
At No. 9 is communication skills, and at No. 8 we have problem solving. Both of these guarantee nothing more than the person not being paralyzed by the prospect of a conversation or an empty stapler. Innovative is No. 7 and motivated is No. 6 — two more generic adjectives suggesting attributes that an employer would probably like to take for granted.
Track record is at No. 5. Note that it is not specified whether this track record is good or bad, though this person definitely has a track record of some kind. More important, a curriculum vitae is a track record in and of itself.
At No. 4, we have extensive experience. (Please see above paragraph.)
At No. 3 is effective, a promise that when you are being dynamic, you’re really making the most of it. And in second place, organizational — it’s like saying one is punctual or has neat handwriting.
And the No. one most overused professional buzzword is creative. This attribute, like many of the others, is one that is better shown than told. As LinkedIn’s connection director put it in a release, “Give concrete examples of results you’ve achieved whenever possible and reference attributes that are specific to you.” And please, never use the word synergy without your tongue firmly pressed into your cheek.
I haven’t done the kind of research Linkedin has done, but perhaps the second most common writing error in essays in my classes is lack of specificity (see creative above). Yesterday I asked a student, “What do you mean when you write ‘Living in America is so awesome?’” When she and her peer group stumbled over reasons, I said “If you can’t think of specific reasons why living in America, as opposed to living in, say, Australia or France, is awesome then you shouldn’t use that phrase.” (They came up with some pretty good ones once they put their minds to it.)