Voice: You Can’t Fake It

I’ve been thinking about “voice” lately – how you can’t fake it and you can’t find it when you don’t care about the thing you are writing. I’ve read a lot of student papers through the years that have no voice, or they have just bare glimmers of it, tiny voices scratching through dead writing, mostly unintentionally, when students least expect it.

Students have written for a grade for so long that it’s hard to figure out if their writing has ever had a voice, and even harder to identify what that voice “sounds” like, internally, in their own heads. I don’t think I can name what my voice sounds like either.  But I know when my writing feels authentic, and when that happens, I’m pretty sure my “voice” is present.  Authentic voice can’t happen when the writing you do is for someone else. Maybe someone else assigned the writing – but if you don’t find a way to make the assignment yours, voice won’t find its way in.

Maybe I think of voice as fresh air, trying to seep into a closed room. And maybe the fake, airless “school voice” students have learned through the years, roams around inside behind the sealed door, wary of any intruders.

Blogs as writing spaces for our cMOOC students could be one “intruder” in the closed room. In the self-assessments my students completed last week, several students mentioned that they were enjoying the more “casual” writing they were getting to do in their blogs.

Enjoying. They said that word.

“Casual” made me think of dress codes: the ubiquitous “Casual Friday” — the day you go to work but don’t put on a suit. Is that what the blog space is for our students – the place for working in comfy clothes, the place that doesn’t demand a suit? I don’t know about you, but I think work and no suits go pretty well together.

Yet, I know that some educators would cringe when they hear students praise a course that allows “casual” writing. What if “casual” means “easy; or what if it means throwing grammatical rules to the wind; or maybe “casual” means lacking critical insight? What have we done in this cMOOC by “allowing” all this writing to happen so “casually?”

I don’t share these same fears because I haven’t seen large-scale poor writing and thinking in my students’ blogs. In fact, I have seen the opposite: blog posts that reflect a commitment to thinking; and emerging student voices that are genuine, authoritative, funny, earnest, and purposeful in tone.

I also don’t share these fears because I suspect students don’t have a name for what their own writing voices sound and feel like, and I wonder if “casual” is the best word they can find to describe it. If anything, their writing feels “casual” just because it’s so different from that stuffy “school voice” that has banged around inside the airless room for so many years.

My question, and one that Dr. C raised in the Google Hangout this week, is where does that “casual,” informal blog voice go, once students begin writing their Inquiry Project drafts?  How formal do we want their voices to become in this final piece?  We know that we want students to demonstrate a depth of research, and we know that we hope for authoritative student voices, but how can we encourage our students to cultivate their own voices, while at the same time, integrate the intellectual voices of their researchers?

One thought on “Voice: You Can’t Fake It

  1. Words cannot explain how much I agree with this. Ever since leaving the creative writing classes of middle school, there’s been no academic motivation to continue with my personal writings and develop my “voice”. This new, more freestyle form of writing allows for a much more natural way to write, which facilitates the natural inclination to learn.

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