So, I mentioned in a previous post how problem-based learning (pbl) works, but I wanted to write just a bit about how I think this applies to creative writing.
Jonnason describes several types of problems. Writing falls into the ‘design’ type, and is one of the more complex kind of problems. A design problem is where you start with a blank piece of paper. To solve the problem you must design a ‘thing’. Whether you are designing an engine, writing some code, or writing a short story, the design problem is complex in the sense that you start with nothing, and end with a finished project.
Think for a moment about writing a short story. When we ask our middle school students to write a story, we are really asking them to solve a lot of problems. They must solve the problem of structure, setting, character, conflict, time line. On a smaller scale they must solve the problem of paragraph and sentence structure, dialog, punctuation, wording, adjectives, verbs, etc. etc. etc. This can be a daunting task for a novice writer, which is why often when we ask students to write we don’t ask them to take on the whole problem. We may ask them to write a few paragraphs that describes a setting or a character. Or give them a setup with a conflict, and then have them write the resolution. This helps break down the whole problem into more manageable bits.
As a side note, this is exactly what Fan Fiction.net does. With fan fiction, many of the problems are already solved. Setting, character, conflict, back story… These are already provided. Writers can focus on dialog and action; smaller problems.
So… If pbl looks to be a viable way to instruct, and writing is a design problem that may be best taught by breaking down the problems into manageable chunks, that leads us right into out next topic, collaboration and how wiki’s play a part in all of this. And I think I’ll save that for another day.