But my main point here, looking back at my quote from Sawyer, is that the best thinking comes from working alone and then sharing ideas. This is not to say that the writer who writes alone is only thinking his own thoughts—not at all. Every person is a collection of all the things that he has seen and heard and read since he entered the world. Reading and writing are social acts, even when done in solitude.
It’s not that our students need to block out the thinking of others; it’s that our students need to learn how to work out their thinking on their own. As writing theorist Peter Elbow says, they need to learn to “talk reflectively to themselves.” We can encourage this by dedicating large chunks of class time to solitary writing, providing writing prompts that provoke personal awareness, critical thinking, and intellectual curiosity. I do this, and for some of my students, these times of quiet in my classroom are the most reflective, meaningful times of their week. They’ve told me so.