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A short report about my writing group research project

In English on ספטמבר 19, 2010 at 11:25 am

Abstract

Between May and August 2010 I did a pilot-study on developmental processes in my writing groups. This group-work, which I created especially for people using Elah's services, shows itself capable of setting in motion personal development. Participants discover through writing and through the interactions in the group a widening repertoire of behavioural choices. More choices starting in their  writing, speaking and thinking leading to greater flexibility and thereby strengthening of their coping skills in life.

25 participants of 5 groups, facilitated by me between 1996 and 2009, responded to the questionnaire.

The processes of personal development in these writing groups occur in a strongly supportive framework that fosters a sense of coherence. My findings show that the supportive structure of group work, with writing as a tool, can optimise conditions for personal development that are processes of generative human learning*. As such they can be mapped in various ways. These maps may serve facilitators and participants alike in following and enhancing their processes consciously.

* Generative learning occurs when 'learning one thing leads to another on a higher level of abstraction'. Unlike learning a simple skill, such as riding a bicycle or setting the table, when you develop your writing you start to think differently about things, to discern more than one perspective and become more aware of what you feel and want to express. Writing serves as a means to stimulate this self-expanding learning.

The findings of the study

I gathered experiences of the participants in long-term writing groups to answer three research questions:

1. What is the nature of developmental processes in my writing groups at the individual and the group levels?

2. How do the outcomes of the group as described by the participants compare with their stated goals and expectations?

3. How do the outcomes of the group as described by the participants compare with the outcomes as assessed by the facilitator for each participant?

The answers to these questions are to date (as this was only a small study):

1. Developmental processes in my writing groups are a form of generative learning. These learning processes are hierarchical in that they are organised along a continuum from learning simple skills up to deep insight and the art of living. These processes can be mapped and the maps may serve as tools for facilitators and participants. The current report is too compact to present the three maps  I have created in this study.

2.Participants’ outcomes relate to their goals in three ways:

a.  Most participants have attained most of their goals. In addition there are more outcomes than goals overall.

b.   The ‘extra’ outcomes are in the category of ‘general personal development’, which do not seem to be connected to writing. This category includes goals of the facilitator that were not explicitly stated before the groups started.  They correspond to sustained changes for positive coping with stress in life.

c. Participants’ outcomes of the group, after a long time, largely correspond to the outcomes assessed earlier by the facilitator at the time the group was concluded.

I wanted to discover how you express your experiences of participating in the writing group in your own words and what you think, after several years, it has given you. In other words, if you think you have benefited from writing in a group, with structured exercises, and if so, what 'kind' of benefit.

I was curious to know if there are similarities between your experiences, for example if certain motifs of personal development recurred in the descriptions of several participants. And also if there are similarities between your own evaluation in retrospect of your experiences and my observations as the group's facilitator of your processes at the actual time of the group.

I hoped to discover if (and how) participants of writing groups react and deal differently with this work-method; benefit more or less and, for example, work in different tempo from each other. Findings on these questions may direct adaptations of the method to individual circumstances, ages and background.

The main purpose of this pilot-study was to clarify how participants in long-term writing-groups develop according to their own criteria. This in comparison to 'external' evaluation by the facilitator. Do participants 'learn' anything and is this connected directly or exclusively with writing? What does writing contribute to the group-experience? What does a group contribute to the writing? After all it is possible to write on your own! Do exercises add something? And sharing your written experiences with others? Can't you share experiences in 'talking-groups' just as well? For which people is a writing group a good choice and for which is it not suitable?

Method

This study is qualitative, in contrast with the better known quantitative research method, where results are presented in percentages, numbers and tables.

Qualitative research tries to represent as accurately as possible the experiences of the participants. To accomplish this, the researcher needs to put aside her own opinions and preconceptions, to be open to what the participants express and to understand what they mean by their words. This gives us a chance to discover new things, not thought of before by the researcher according to some theory. So far there are no hypotheses in existence about processes in long-term writing groups, because they have not been studied before. We only have the accumulated experiences of group facilitators, like me, that were acquired while working with groups and not in any systematic way. My research wants to change this.

Personal goals and outcomes

The 7 most frequently named goals for participating by respondents are:

– To share an activity with people having a similar background to me.

– To write my life/family story.

– To leave testimony for future generations.

– To communicate better with myself (clarify feelings and thoughts to myself).

– To learn to write a story.

– To cope better with issues in my past and/or present life.

– To take part in a supportive group.

The 7 most frequently named outcomes are:

– Development of my writing skills.

– Receiving personal support from the group and from the facilitator.

– Development of my coping skills in life.

– Self-expression.

– I have published a book/story/poem/article.

– Improved with others outside of the group.

– Improved  communication with myself.

Goals and outcomes are  divided in three categories:

1 – Writing skills (e.g. learn to write a story, express myself in writing)

2- Group experience (e.g. receiving support from the group, communicate better with others)

3 – General personal development (e.g. communicate better with myself, cope better with life's stress)

Participants in the study differed in the number of goals and outcomes they mentioned, but almost all noted more outcomes than their original goals. This was clearest in the responses to the open questions, where each wrote about their experience in their own words, without a list of answers to choose from.

A very small minority (2 of the 25 participants) did not benefit from participating in a writing group. I am deeply grateful to these people for taking part in the study and providing me with the opportunity to gain insight into their unpleasant experiences. Their descriptions are essential in order to discover the boundaries of the writing-group method.

It has also become clearer to me how some participants benefited only in a limited way from this activity and this will enable me to improve the work.

It may sound strange, but the most enthusiastic texts of participants who feel themselves greatly enriched by the writing group form the least innovative part of the study. As heartwarming as these expressions are, this is the part that was already known to me and which always stimulated me to continue to develop this form of group-work! These texts, the great majority of the completed questionnaires, prove that writing groups are valuable. But testimonies of less enthusiastic participants were necessary to receive new insights.

I wish to express my thanks to all participants, to Elah and especially to my colleague Idith Ninari, who assisted me in Israel under the umbrella of Elah.

A meeting for the participants will take place in October where I will explain the study in more depth.

Channa Cune

מודעות פרסומת

faction and fiction…

In English on אפריל 18, 2010 at 4:23 pm

The truth is more important than the facts


Frank Lloyd Wright


Granite and Rainbow

In English on אפריל 18, 2010 at 4:05 pm
How to write a captivating story with 'dry facts'

The title of this exercise is taken from an essay by the English writer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), in which she proposes a new way of writing life stories: 'The New Biography'. This came out of Modernism, the literary style she wrote in. Instead of the boring, thick tomes of elaborate retellings of famous people's lives, extolling their virtues, writers began to attune to readers, to give them a more varied and human impression of the lives of the characters they wrote about. These new biographies were much shorter and captivating, because the authors chose  out of the 'sea of facts' only those they found relevant to their story and used storytelling techniques, in which personal viewpoints of the writers also came to the fore. In this way they created vivid portraits out of a mixture of facts and fiction, better to express character and atmosphere, instead of a list of dry facts.
Those among us who engage in capturing and writing up of memories of our 'past' world – which is going past with each passing day – in order that the following generations will know something about it, may be interested in using this way of writing, following in a step-by step manner.
The order of the steps is not important and you can choose to use only the elements that suit your purpose.
– Identify the 'bare facts' – the granite of the title – you have at your disposal about the subject or the person(s) you want to write about, like dates of birth, addresses etc.
– Which of these 'facts' are verifyable by external sources, like official documents, and which are  stories you heard from family members or friends, only preserved by people's memories (=oral history)?
– Choose from the facts only the ones relevant to the story you want to write. Often it is a good idea to mention some wider historical context in your story: in which country does it take place; in which period; what was going on at the time in the world, or the continent, that influenced the atmosphere, the culture, the spirit of the time? This kind of information will assist the reader in putting your story into a context of time and place.
– Find ways of storyteling to link the granite-pebbles of facts you have chosen to become a streamlined and captivating story. Allow yourself the poetic licence – 'the rainbow' – to provide what the facts cannot show: people's voices, their possible thoughts and feelings. Imagine yourself stepping into the shoes of your character(s) and from that position put words in their mouths. You could also quote from their letters or diaries and bring some of these texts alive in the form of monologues or dialogues of the characters.
– This poetic licence takes us a little further from the known facts, but brings us closer to the reader and also to our own capacity to better understand the persons we are writing about.
– Another result of this freedom is the discovery that we can write more than one story about an event, a period, a person, a family. From the moment we start to weave together strands of granite (facts) and rainbow (our creative additions), we discern that there are many ways to do the weaving. We may write alternative narratives, create different versions from more than one perspective, all based on the same group of granite-pebbles.

Exercise 3 – FREEWRITING

In English on נובמבר 22, 2009 at 8:59 pm

FREEWRITING

Freewriting is simply private, nonstop writing… [It] means:

•    not showing your words to anyone (unless you later change your mind);
•    not having to stay on one topic – that is, freely digressing;
•    not thinking about spelling, grammar, and mechanics;
•    not worrying about how good the writing is – even whether it makes sense or is understandable (even to oneself)’

From:
Everyone Can Write
Essays toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching Writing
Peter Elbow
Oxford University Press,1999


1.    Set yourself a period of 5 minutes and just start to write whatever comes to mind – don’t stop to reflect – don't go back and correct – if you get stuck, just repeat the last word until the flow starts again – the object of the exercise is to write continuously without stopping

2.    Relax and read through what you have written – underline anything that seems interesting or significant, whether sentences or individual words or phrases – choose one of these and write it at the head of a clean sheet – do another 5 minutes of continuous writing, starting from this sentence or word or phrase

3.    Read through the second ‘freewrite’ – again underline anything significant or interesting – perhaps there’s an overall theme or feeling emerging in the writing – write this at the top of another clean sheet – do another 5 minutes of continuous writing

4.    Now reflect on what you have written in the last piece (or the earlier pieces too if they feel more important than the last) – pull together anything significant – arrange it in a pleasing order – can you give it a shape?  Write connecting passages – spend 15 minutes on this or longer until you have a piece of writing which you would be happy to share with others.

You could use freewriting at the end of the day, to reflect on the day's happenings, thoughts, etc. Or you could use it to brainstorm an idea you’re working on for creative or academic writing or a vague hunch you have for where your researches are taking you. The time you spend on the continuous writing sessions can be increased to 10 minutes or more (you may find that a smaller or larger number of repetitions is best for you).

University of Sussex Tutor Team
(reprinted on this site with permission)

EXERCISE 2

In English on ספטמבר 2, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Choose an ordinary occurence, something you experience often and other people probably do too. (For example: queuing in the supermarket; awakening and getting up in the morning; having a cup of tea with someone.)

First write down the 'bare facts': what happened, where, when and if applicable with whom; how long did it take.

Now describe how this ordinary occurence differed, even just a little bit, from most earlier times you remember it happening.

Seek the (subtle?) differences not only in the factual circumstance, but also in your own perceptions en feelings during the experience.

If you succeed to express in writing in what way this occurence, although quite ordinary, has also been unique, then you possess the observational skills to make memories interesting both for yourself and for others.

what's the differenceWhat is the difference?

EXERCISE ONE

In English on ספטמבר 2, 2009 at 3:54 pm


Create a visiting card for yourself.

Decide how you would like to present yourself at this moment in your life.

Which name(s) and titles do you want to include?

Which profession / function / role that belongs to you?

Address or e-mail / mobile phone only?

With or without embellishment / drawing / graphical design?

With or without colour(s)?

How large are the letters of each part of your text?

Which atmosphere do you want to create with this card? For example: do you give a lot of information and does it have a 'busy' look or do you keep it minimalistic.

Experiment with different options and consider what will suit you best as you are today.

pleased to meet you...

pleased to meet you...

art by bert menco

www.bertmenco.com

קשר – contact

In English, עברית on ספטמבר 1, 2009 at 11:26 am

You may contact me by email: channa.cune@gmail.com

I will be skype-able only by appointment made through email at: channa27