We are such a diverse group of students from different backgrounds, gathered around a dinner table, sharing our sorrows and successes. Today’s speakers were especially inspirational. Maryann, the aspiring middle school language arts teacher, shared a moving poem about her single mother in a poem entitled “The Mail Carrier.” She was courageous in sharing her story with us. I want her to know that she is not alone. I do not have a good relationship with my mother either. Next, we had Dominque, the undergraduate who is in search of her American dream, wrote a powerful sestina about her Haitian immigrant story. Then Alana, the newly-minted high school English teacher, made us laugh with her Letter to Movie-Goers. Through your stories, I bonded with all you. I came to this Summer Writing Retreat expecting to learn reading, writing, and technology. But I am leaving with so much more…
If writing is a stressful process for adults, then it must be awfully frightening for children. Teachers of writing must keep in mind that students struggle to find a topic. They struggle to write an outline. They struggle to write a draft. They search in the dark, not knowing what the teacher wants from them. Maybe the teacher’s expectations are too high? What if the student is unable to meet the teacher’s expectations? What if the student is not good enough? not bright enough? What if she feels inadequate next to her classmates? What if the teacher is judging her? What if the teacher gives her a look of disapproval? What if the teacher gives her a bad grade? Writing is more than a grade. It is a wonderful opportunity to help a student grow as a writer and as a person. It is an intimate, spiritual act of connecting to another person.
I was hitting a wall. I did not know what else to revise. I asked my husband. I asked my children. I am so happy that I have this writing group and this opportunity to share my writing. Here is a summary of your insights. Now, I can go to bed tonight knowing that my second, third, and fourth drafts will be so much better!
“Make it longer.”
“Add your sister.”
“Tell your story.”
“Add more details.”
“Add more details about being in the boat.”
“Add a map of your voyage from Vietnam to Malaysia.”
“It is okay to add the unpleasant parts in a children’s book.”
“Focus on the words.”
“Read this book: Duck, Death, and the Tulip.”
“Write Ma and Ba.”
“Develop the setting.”
“Your ending is too abrupt.”
“You can always go back and edit.”
“Take a Children Literature course.”
“Don’t worry about the age of the reader.”
“Check the readability by checking the book’s lexile.”
Reading Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird was helpful in assuaging my insecurities as a writer. At first, I was impatient with the writing process. Why couldn’t I decide on a topic quickly? Why wasn’t I able to find substantive research on my topic? Why am I changing my topic again? After grappling with several ideas, I finally decided to connect my Creative Writing with my Writer’s Inquiry Workshop. As I was editing the first draft of my creative writing, I reminded myself that “All good writers write shitty first drafts.” And in order for me to have a better second and third draft, I need “some feedback” from my writing group. Is this good enough? How can I make this better? I am very lucky to have such a supportive and talented group of writers. I am learning so much from my fellow writers.
I needed a relaxing day to end this stressful week. For some reason, traffic on GSP North was surprising light this morning in comparison to yesterday when there were multiple accidents. (A good sign.) I entered the class with a couple of minutes to spare. (Another good sign.) Then we started the day with mediation which helped me to relax. Then we listened to moving TedTalk by Anne Lamont, and her metaphor resonated with me. I need to unplug. I need to allow myself to calm down. I remind myself, “S*** happens. You will be okay.” Have a great weekend!
“In conclusion, I am proposing a resolution to the skills/process debate…They [effective and empathetic teachers] understand the need for both approaches.”– Lisa D. Delpit’s “Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children”
To the dismay of what David Wallace Foster calls as SNOOTS (“Sprachgefühl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance”), Lisa Delpit argues that sometimes it is okay to celebrate both skills and process, especially when teaching children who are not well versed in SWE (Standard Written English). Her conclusion helped me understand that some of my students may not capitalize i or place periods at the end of their sentences, but they were able to read (or listen) to The Great Gatsby, think deeply about the prompt, connect to theme of the American Dream, write a thesis statement, provide textual support, and finish writing their essays. Even though the final product may not be written in SWE, their authentic voice needs to be heard and celebrated.
EXPOSITORY WRITING 101
In my College Expository Writing class,
my professor did not require multiple drafts.
I was given a reading list.
I wrote a couple of papers.
Then I was given a grade.
However, this product-oriented approach is no longer feasible.
Modern students can copy and paste essays from the Internet
and submit papers as their own.
By requiring them to brainstorm, write, conference, and edit in class
ensures that they are producing original writing.
So, yes, I agree with Irene Clark.
How do I make them care? How do I encourage disinterested students, especially high school students, to care about SWE (Standard Written English)? They are able to communicate. They text each other all the time. They are able to understand one another; so, why should they care about about usage rules? I try to convince them of the “utility of SWE” — it will tested on the PARCC; you will need to write well in college; you will need to write well when communicating with a coach or future employer. Then my students counter my claims, “I am not going to college. I want to be a car mechanic.” (I get it.) Then I try taking points off for spelling and capitalization errors. They counter again, “I just want to pass the class, Miss.” (I get it.) So, I speak to them privately about adding periods to the end of their sentences and capitalizing “i.” They do it once because I had asked. Then I see the same errors in their next writing assignment. (I get it.) They do not value SWE and will continue to make the same mistakes.
Are there any other strategies that you would like to share?
(As an aside, I offer an image of DWF’s annotated copy of Ulysses. What beautiful annotations!)
How was my first day of school? I graduated from Rutgers in 1997, and 22 years later, I am finally pursuing my Master’s Degree! Why the 22-year-wait? I waited for my three children — Diana (18), Adrian (15), and Adam (15) — to grow up; I waited to get tenure; I waited to establish my career as a high school English teacher; I waited for the right time.
Alas! I am officially enrolled in the Master’s of English Writing Studies at Kean University. I was excited to start my first graduate class today. As I entered Room 409, I was greeted by a warm, familiar face — Dr. Zamora — and a warm assortment of bagels, croissants, and cinnabon. I was indecisive. I first selected the boring bagel, then decided spontaneously to select the most unhealthy choice — the exquisite cinnabon! As I sat at my seat, sipping my coffee and nibbling on my breakfast, I looked around. I liked the GLAB (Green Lane Academic Building). I liked the view from the fourth floor. I liked the Discussion Table. I liked the varied backgrounds and interested of my colleagues. I liked Professor Kiefer’s positive attitude, her syllabus, and her flexibility. Off to a good start…
At lunch, I was sipping coffee and digesting all the information from the morning session. I was delighted to have been given the intellectual freedom to explore my academic interests. But what are my interests? Can I narrow down my interests? What will the topic of my Inquiry Paper be? Will I be able to find substantive research on my chosen topic? What new insight can I add? On another level and from a pedagogical perspective, I liked the idea of Daily Reflections, perhaps as Daily Do Now activity on Google Classroom. What other best practices can I incorporate in my classroom? How can I become a more effective teacher?
Thank you for taking the time to read my first post.
(P.S. I usually have more time to write at night when my children are in bed.)