Collective free writing – inkshedding



In this post I’ve taken, what is for me, an unusual option. This post is largely an extended quotation which explains a practice of collective free writing known as Inkshedding. Inkshedding is a Canadian invention, a pedagogy developed by Russ Hunt and Jim Reither from St. Thomas University to make classroom writing assignments more interesting, conversational and meaningful ( see Russ Hunt’s description of Inkshedding as pedagogy, and Elizabeth Sargent’s version). Reither and Hunt took Inkshedding to the newly founded Canadian Association for the Study of Language and Learning where it has now become a key process through which annual conferences, online discussions and publications are developed.

I’m very interested in the potential of Inkshedding as a method to be used in participatory research, and I have played with it in projects as a means of sharing experiences and developing collaborative analysis. However, when I use the term Inkshedding in public I generally find that people aren’t familiar with it, hence this post. I hope that this information stimulates some wider interest in the process and further experimentation with it.

I’ve chosen to quote an explanation of the Inkshedding practice written by a member of the CASLL community, rather than offer my own version of it –I’ve learnt about it second-hand. This explication is by Miriam Horne who has been researching Inkshedding.

Briefly, at the conference, the inkshedding writing process follows four basic steps. First, participants respond in writing to a common prompt—for example, a conference presentation such as, “What is literacy in the information age,” or “Resisting the teaching subtext in composition books” (presentation titles from the 2005 conference) to name two. The writing activity follows one or several presentations on a theme and is similar to a freewriting experience. (Freewriting is a term coined by Elbow, 1973, who describes a writing process, often used for generating ideas, in which participants write for around ten minutes without stopping. There is no concern for grammar, or punctuation, or format, but in¬stead, for getting ideas out of the head and onto paper.) The writing produced is often messy and unorganized, but many Inkshedders (a title taken on by people who attend Inkshed conferences, participate on the listserv, inkshed, and other-wise mutually engage in socially situated and dialogic written interactions) argue that it affords everyone—not just the highly articulate and verbal or the most ag¬gressive community members—equal opportunity to express whatever thoughts the presentations may have inspired.

Second, after writing for a few moments, participants pool their writing in the center of the table (there are usually about eight people per table and about eight tables in the conference room). Everyone then takes a text other than her/his own and begins to read. As participants read, if anything stands out to them as significant or meaningful in any way, they draw a line beside it in the margin, underline it, or otherwise highlight it to show other readers that they found the particular section meaningful. Some people will even add a few words reflecting their response. Participants are encouraged to read and respond to as many texts as they can during the allotted time period.

Third, the marked up texts are taken to an editorial committee (usually made up of volunteer conference participants) who look at the sections that have been most marked up. These sections are excerpted and typed up.

Finally, the typed-up sections are copied and circulated to all participants in order to facilitate and encourage further discussion.

Since the introduction of inkshedding at the first conference in 1984, the annual conference has continued to grow around the philosophy of dialogism that inspired inkshedding. To this end, there are no concurrent conference ses¬sions. Everyone attends the same sessions so that everyone is able to respond to the same prompt. In addition to this, however, the conferences are often held in remote locations where there are few distractions to draw participants away from conference sessions. Participants are lodged under the same roof and share meals and evening entertainment together. In fact, one of the highlights of the conference is a talent night held on the last evening of the conference in which everyone is given the opportunity to participate (the term “talent” is very loosely interpreted). In these ways, people get to know each other and interact more than they might at a larger more traditional kind of conference. As much as possible, conference organizers facilitate social interaction and dialogue in order to generate knowledge.

The conference center becomes a Burkean parlour where all who enter, newcomer and old-timer alike, are invited to participate in an on-going conversation. While this invitation to participate comes in the op¬portunity to present research, participate in talent night, and otherwise engage in socializing, the primary and central means for participation in the Inkshed conversation at conferences is through inkshedding. Thus, those who success¬fully learn how to join in inkshedding join in the practice of knowledge making in an academic society. Those who do not learn to participate effectively remain peripheral to knowledge creation. (pp. 239-240)


There are some issues around people’s willingness to write in public in Inkshedding, and you can read more about this as well in:

Miriam Horne (2011) Writing in to the knowledge society: a case study of vulnerability in Inkshedding, in Starke-Meyerring, Doreen; Pare, Anthony; Artemova, Natasha; Horne, Miriam and Yousoubova, Larissa (Eds) Writing in knowledge societies. pp 237-256 The WAC Clearinghouse. (Both this chapter and the book are Open Access.)