Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Of Jellyfish and Happiness

I went to a workshop all day today about teaching kids writing. As much as I love to write and as much as I love to teach kids how to write, I never get tired of adding another tool to my toolbox. Amanda Donnelly, of IRN, was there. We broke down the three domains (Composing, Written Expression, Usage and Mechanics) that Virginia’s students have to be able to master in their writing. We did a practice writing prompt, and I realized I haven’t mastered those domains either.

Something I learned in the Writing Project many years ago: we really don’t know how much we expect of kids in their writing until we try it ourselves. Writing teachers need to write themselves. We tried a writing prompt today. It was about the happiest memory. I make a list of possible happy memories to write about. I picked my favorite, then brainstormed some more about one particular trip. All things were going well….

THEN…I began to write my rough draft. Two pages into it, I realized something dreadful. I didn’t write to the prompt at all!!! I wrote about spearing jellyfish. Yes, a morbid, graphic, fictionalized tale. It was interesting. It had roots in reality, but it was fiction. It had some figurative language. It had some vivid verbs. It even had a central idea. It just wasn’t the central idea I was supposed to write about.

Author’s Share time came along. We were supposed to volunteer to share our writing. Now, we had been working on it for a whole 15 minutes. I am not a big fan of sharing writing immediately after it is written. It’s like eating bread dough before you’ve given it a chance to rise and bake. It just isn’t for eating. I was NOT getting up to share my OFF-TOPIC two page story beginning. First of all, it wasn’t a whole piece. It wasn’t on topic. And it certainly wasn’t happy. I shared among my small group, made up of people I know. They were so nice to me. They thought it was terrific. But it was off-topic.

As I thought about my dilemma, I realized how common this is for kids. How dreadful to realize you really like the story you are telling, but it isn’t the one you are SUPPOSE to be telling. A lesson learned for me.

I can’t change the state’s prompt. I can’t even change the fact that they will have to write to a prompt, but I CAN teach them what to do when this thing happens to them. I plan to tell them my experience, show them my writing, and brainstorm ideas with them on how to solve this problem.

By the way, I don’t plan to write anymore about the happy memory because frankly happiness and perfectness make very boring stories. I am planning to keep going with this story about the jellyfish maimer and find out what he plans to do next. He’s an interesting fellow.

1 comment:

Krista said...

I love this. I think that more teachers need to put themselves in their students' shoes and realize how high our expectations are of them.

I am a big fan of doing the work that we ask of our students. When I worked on personal narratives with my 7th graders, I wrote one right along with them. I think it made them more willing to do it if they saw that I was writing one as well.

Great topic!