Each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’ve been recording a Curiosity Journal to recap the previous week using these tag words: reading, playing, learning, reacting and writing. Sometimes I mix up the order, just to keep you on your toes.
Care to join me?
The current events experiment I mentioned last week? Big hit. Big, big hit.
(Do people do that whole “not” thing anymore?)
The kids have begun glancing at the front page headlines, so that’s progress. I’ll bet that any day now we’ll be launching involved discussions about politics and international happenings.
My space can be messy, my brain can be jumbled, and my words often need to be shuffled around and around before they’re fit for print.
How amusing that messy Ann would be asked to teach composition. Composition techniques are structured. They’re logical. They’re organized. I’d rather teach something a bit more messy, but the high school students in our homeschool co-op needed to learn composition, so here we are. Instead of inspiring rich self-expression through poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction, I’m coaching them in the form and style appropriate for academic essays and research papers.
Please pray for me.
I’m kidding. I mean, I’ll be grateful for your prayers, but it’s not that bad. In fact, reminding myself of the basics of essay-writing is a good exercise for me, as well; practicing orderly composition techniques is always helpful, like broccoli for the brain.
During high school composition class this week, I modeled a simple method of organizing body paragraphs for essays. The class then paired up and used that method to write one of their own. When one pair volunteered to read their sample paragraph aloud, I scribbled key words on the board to match up with each component. To add humor, they included a fabricated vignette to serve as support, but as we analyzed the actual content, I had to point out that by the second or third sentence, they strayed from the main idea that they themselves had introduced.
Some students couldn’t see the problem. I walked through, step by step, how one idea or example should lead to another, supporting the introductory thought. Finally, I asked the assistant teacher to chime in, as her expertise is in logic. She pointed out one word that might be changed to help clear things up, but that tweak wasn’t enough. If this had been an official assignment, they would have been required to revise. Another pair of students shared their sample, which was clearer. But by then we ran out of time and I had to send them off.
I don’t know if the students feel ready, but this week they’ll be writing informative papers based on research they’ve been doing the past two or three weeks. Hopefully, they can follow this week’s technique to keep their brains on track as they build each paragraph and move from one to the next. I’m sure they will learn a lot by simply trying.
After they turn in their papers, we will hold a writing “workshop.” In the workshop, I’ll select a few papers to read aloud. The class will chime in to offer encouragement and analysis. We’ll refer to this organizational method when a paper exhibits problems with flow, organization, or logic. I hope it helps.
Giving these students the tools they need to create clear, appealing papers is a challenge. They have only a few months to practice and develop a solid understanding of style and form. I hope by the end of the year I give them enough instruction—enough broccoli, if you will—that they feel empowered to move ahead in their writing life with greater confidence. And they aren’t the only ones: I, too, need some mental veggies for a balanced diet. As I review these basic tools, perhaps I will improve my own style and form, moving ahead in my writing life with greater confidence.
Just about the time I was thinking about how I’d prefer to teach creative writing, I came across this article in The Atlantic about a Staten Island school facing closure due to “dismal” performance. What turned things around? Teaching analytical writing across the curriculum. Reading this article provided vision and enthusiasm for my role as composition instructor. Teaching students to write gives them tools to learn.
[T]he school’s principal, Deirdre DeAngelis, began a detailed investigation into why, ultimately, New Dorp’s students were failing. By 2008, she and her faculty had come to a singular answer: bad writing. Students’ inability to translate thoughts into coherent, well-argued sentences, paragraphs, and essays was severely impeding intellectual growth in many subjects. Consistently, one of the largest differences between failing and successful students was that only the latter could express their thoughts on the page. If nothing else, DeAngelis and her teachers decided, beginning in the fall of 2009, New Dorp students would learn to write well. (Tyre)
Clear writing requires clear thinking, making composition an excellent means to test a student’s grasp of material. By learning the basic essay form, a student can see how ideas can fit together and flow.
By sophomore year, Monica’s class was learning how to map out an introductory paragraph, then how to form body paragraphs. “There are phrases—specifically, for instance, for example—that help you add detail to a paragraph,” Monica explains. She reflects for a moment. “Who could have known that, unless someone taught them?” Homework got a lot harder. Teachers stopped giving fluffy assignments such as “Write a postcard to a friend describing life in the trenches of World War I” and instead demanded that students fashion an expository essay describing three major causes of the conflict. (Tyre)
The postcard assignment would be fun, provided the students already know and understand three major causes of the conflict. If not, having them compose the essay will drive home what they were taught. To send those students off to college and careers with solid writing skills? Invaluable.
Reading this article provided me with renewed vision for teaching my own class of 14 high school students. I am humbled, realizing that my lighthearted “pray for me” is a real need.
Pray for me, would you? Honestly. And not just me. Please pray for every teacher entrusted with the task of passing along skills and knowledge to impressionable minds. It is a high calling, not to be taken lightly.
I loved the bike, pedaling for miles along the narrow country roads surrounding our farm, dreaming of my future.
I took the yellow Schwinn with me to college and rode it around campus for four years. When I moved to a new city after college, the yellow Schwinn came with me. After I married, my husband bought me another bike, a nice hybrid. I started riding it around town and left the yellow Schwinn hanging on two big hooks from the ceiling of the garage.
When my husband’s niece came to the states a few years ago to attend college, I proposed we loan her the old yellow Schwinn.
“Are you sure?” he probed. “You loved that bike. I don’t want you to regret it.”
I thought about it long and hard, and then decided that my niece would benefit from transportation, and Old Yellow would benefit from being ridden. “Let’s do it,” I said.
So we hoisted Old Yellow from the hooks in the garage and delivered it to our niece. She rode Old Yellow around campus all four years of undergrad; she rode it around Chicago, where she worked for over a year; and now, as a grad student, she’s riding Old Yellow around the same campus as I did decades earlier.
When I visited our niece last weekend, she met me at a restaurant. How did she get there?
I love my hybrid bike, but I must admit that when when I set eyes on my old yellow Schwinn, I felt a surge of nostalgia and affection.
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Tyre, Peg. “The Writing Revolution.” The Atlantic. N.p., Oct. 2012. Web. 26 Sept. 2012.