writing


sols_6I haven’t posted in TWT in a while, and I miss this community. I’m especially glad to be writing today, as I’m having existential angst with my writing instruction. My sophomores and juniors are so apathetic right now that I’m finding it difficult not to scream every day and pull my hair out!! Sounds drastic, right?

It does until my 2nd grader brings home her work from last week, and in the packet is a story she wrote about a girl named Alex who feels like other girls at school are bullying her because she doesn’t have the right kind of clothes. I have no clue what the assignment was, but the only feedback she had on the paper was a minuscule check mark at the top of the page. When I ask her about it, she says she just wrote something down because she “doesn’t have any stories in my head.”

After this exchange, all I want to do is cry. My high school students feel like my Lily. For so long, their voices haven’t mattered, except for a check mark that they did something. I see them just want to get an assignment finished — not write for an authentic audience or get feedback from me or share with classmates. Writing is something to hide — and to whisper in my ear or on a post-it note that they used to like to write, but now they don’t because there are “no stories in my head.”

My angst comes because the more I try to be mad at the apathetic teenagers sitting in front of me more concerned with their cell phones than my grand lesson plans, the more I see a room filled with tall Lilies….begging me to bring their stories out no matter how much they whine and complain and pretend that they have nothing worth saying.

Why can’t I just be mad?????

CS Lewis quote

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sols_6My students are in the middle of writing a This I Believe essay. One of the writing prompts I give them to get their thinking going is Things I’ve Learned from _____(name your own cartoon). It’s usually one of the more popular writing assignments, and,usually, results in good writing.

One of my favorite cartoons growing up was the Looney Tunes — so, here is the list I share with my students:

 

13 Things I’ve Learned from Bugs Bunny bugs bunny

1. A little make-up brings a whole new perspective.
2. Missing that left turn at Albuquerque might make life interesting.
3. Music/singing can explain anything.
4. Hot tempers never win (think Yosemite Sam here).
5. Even a rabbit (shy person) can be a leader.
6. Brains before bullets (guns).
7. Seeking revenge on someone usually backfires.
8. You need friends to get through life.
9. Watch out for strange carrots (people!).
10. Aliens are really coming to get us — and they want an “Earth-shattering, kaboom!”
11. Humor diffuses a host of problems.
12. Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you know everything.
13. Be a hopeless romantic, and others can’t help but love you!

What’s on your list???

sols_6My students are reading the infamous NY Times restaurant review of Guy Frieri’s new place. The best part? The dude reviews the restaurant using only questions — and TONS of hyperbolic phrases!! I’m having my students review a product using similar techniques. So, I thought I’d try it out today as practice for my lesson with classes on Thursday.

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Do NOT Check With Your Physician First

Weight-loss gurus, do you talk to each other? Do you ever laugh at how your words impact the fatties in your community? Do you imagine them getting their only exercise running around from store to store to buy the latest “new thing” you’ve endorsed? Is there a back room somewhere that you gather in? When you’re there, do you generate a list of ways to confuse the masses? Seriously, how many times a week should we eat bread? Or drink red wine? Oh, now I can’t have bananas? Really…you’re going to change your minds again?

Do you realize how expensive eating healthy is? Or how much it costs to join a decent gym? And, if a client is in need of some one-on-one assistance, can the price please be higher than a week at Walt Disney World? How many times a week should we exercise now? Can it be only twenty minutes? NO? How about thirty? You don’t care now, as long as we do something? Are you kidding me?

When was the last time you actually ate what you suggested in you newest book? Did it taste like the paste you ate in first grade? Or the crunchy, bug-filled dirt you licked on a double-dog-dare when you were ten? Are you trying to get back at your mother for making you sit at the table until you cleaned your plate? How else should we interpret the tasteless stew of slimy salmon that you insist will raise our metabolisms?

Is anyone else confused?

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Here’s what I’ve learned from this ten minute exercise: Writing only questions is HARD!! I’m not sure I have a clear structure either. And I definitely need a second draft because my questions lack the hyperbole that I so love in the Times’ piece. I can see that I did just a smidge when talking about paste and dirt, though. This is good for my students to know because they think I can get it right the first time (even though I tell them daily that I don’t).

I think this is why writing “beside them,” as Penny Kittle would say, is so important. And I’m hearing Katie Wood Ray tell me to use this piece — just this little bit– to create the writing lessons that my students need to know:

  • Writers question everything
  • But sometimes the questions don’t come easy
  • Writers draft and reread and revise and reread and draft some more
  • Writers look to their mentors and model things they like or want to try
  • Writers use different techniques to show disapproval (important in this piece because the reviewer REALLY didn’t like that restaurant

I’m sure I can find some other mini-lessons from this piece, but these get me thinking. Anyone have other ideas?

 

I’ve been trying to help my sophomores think about the monthly Slicing project coming up in a couple of weeks. And, as luck would have it (I’d call it serendipitous — that’s my favorite word!), Spongebob was on the TV. That silly cartoon makes me so happy. He was singing this song:

I loved it!!  I told LilyBelle that I wanted to be more like Spongebob — and just like that, I had a writing topic! Lily and I kept talking about Spongebob after the song was over. She wanted to name who in the family would be which character. This is how it turned out…

Me: I’m Spongebob because I like to be happy and get other people in good moods.

Lily: Who am I? I know — I’m Gary ’cause you still have to feed me. Meow!

Me: Sounds good. Now Daddy is…

Lily: SQUIDWARD — he’s grumpy a lot

Me: (Yep, but don’t tell Kev!!) Okay…we have to work on getting him out of that, though. Jake can be Sandy because he’s gone off to college and is trying to learn new things.

Lily: And he never comes home! What about Aunt Paula?

Me: Oh, that’s easy. She’s Patrick because she is goofy and blonde and follows me around all the time (Shh…don’t tell my sister!)

Lily: And TBone (my brother-in-law) can be Mr. Crabbes because he’s cheap!

 

I busted out laughing!!! Anyway, when I got to school and shared this with my students, they first looked at me like I was weird. But then, when I told them they had to be on the lookout for writing topics even in the strangest of places, they seemed to get it. They called out different things they could write about that they hadn’t before: a little brother who’s obsessed with eating spaghetti; how to make a basketball goal every time; hazards of football; and shading techniques in art.

It was the best day ever!!

Today begins Day 1 of Teachers Write with Kate Messner. I’m supposed to make plans — a commitment to writing this summer — something I do with regularity. Well, I make the “plans” — it’s the follow-through I usually have difficulty with (although, who wouldn’t, when a chatty almost-six-year-old WON’T STOP TALKING IN MY EAR!! haha…She’s giving me writing advice at the moment — I didn’t use a period correctly, apparently!).

Anyway, Kate asks teachers to do the following today:

1) What can I cut out of my day in order to make time to write? Definitely some TV viewing — it’s summer, so most of what I watch is in reruns anyway. But I’m bad at recording shows to watch later, and then I just veg out for a whole day. I love TV; and I love to read. So I think I just need to balance those things.

2) When and how long will I write? I’m a night-writer. I get more done after the LilyBelle and Kevo have gone to bed — and the Jakester is staying at his college apartment with an internship most of the summer. So no one will be up to  talk to me or interrupt my thoughts. However, by the time Lily actually stops talking to me and goes to sleep, I’m pretty tired, too. For a while, I’m sure that getting 15 minutes of writing done each day will be the most I will do. For some reason, I write better during the school year with my students, and not so much in the summer when I’m out of work. It’s the schedule that keeps me honest, so this summer, I want to feel as if I have a schedule — and do what I tell my students: increase my writing stamina bit by bit.

3) Where will I write? I don’t have a particular place to write — no personal desk or room of my own. Most of my writing is done on the living room couch, on my bed when the LilyBelle is in the bathtub, or in bed just before I go to sleep. Sometimes I might be able to sneak out to the bookstore I love to go to when I need a break from home.

4) Who did I tell about my writing plans? Umm…no one! I’ll probably tell my teacher-friend, Somer, and make her read my stuff. She thinks I entertain her with some writing I’ve done in the past, and she’s good for my ego. I may tell my sister, but she doesn’t always give me good feedback. I have to tell the LilyBelle, because she’ll want to write with me (I’m going to have her do Jo Knowles’ kitchen prompt tomorrow!).

So, there are my plans and commitments to myself this summer. There will be days I won’t be able to write, especially this month (finishing up breast cancer treatments/surgeries); however, there are several pieces that I want to spend some time on. I need several example texts for my students next year, and this is as good a time as any to get them done. One of my biggest problems, though (especially with fiction), is plot and development; I can get the beginning and maybe even know how the story will/should end, but I can’t get the middle — where all the action happens. I want to work on that this summer so I can feel a sense of completion. I hope that makes sense.

If you read my blog and haven’t joined Teachers Write, just follow the link, sign up, and let’s have some fun!

**The Snoopy picture captures my feelings about writing most of the time (when I’m alone). I found it at this website: http://pragmaticcompendium.com/2012/03/01/writing-is-hard/

I know it’s not Friday, and not April, but I received the BEST poem in my email today from “Poem A Day.” Here it is:

Superheroes as 2004 Volkswagen Passat: A Double Sonnet
by Bruce Covey

The Invisible Woman is the windshield.
Mr. Fantastic is the wiper fluid.
The Thing is the tire.
The Human Torch is the spark plug.
Spiderman is the antenna.
Storm is the ignition coil.
Rogue is the crank shaft.
The Punisher is the exhaust pipe.
Captain America is the hub cap.
Quicksilver is the oil.
Rogue is the gasoline.
Psylocke is the catalytic converter.
The Hulk is the cylinder block.
She Hulk is the mount.

Mantis is the manifold.
Ms. Marvel is the muffler.
The Scarlet Witch is the instrument panel.
Iceman is the cooling system.
Wolverine is the hood.
Colossus is the camshaft.
Banshee is the horn.
Polaris is the voltage regulator.
Silver Surfer is the rearview mirror.
Powerman is the bearing.
Phoenix is the powertrain.
Emma Frost is the hinge pillar.
The Vision is the fuse box.
Black Widow is the brake.

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I think this is a poem I can share with my students next year, so they can see, like Fancy Nancy, that a poem can be about ANYTHING!! I don’t know allof these superheroes, but the ones I do know, the metaphor hits the mark. The ones I don’t, I can draw conclusions about their character, then look them up to see if I’m right. Or, I can choose a superhero and create my own poem/metaphor…or do something like this with family members.

Crap….I need to start writing!! 😉

I’m scoring TAKS tests for Pearson Testing, just to earn some extra money since I’m not working. The last time I scored writing tests, it was for the NC 10th grade test, and I totally sucked — even though I taught the flipping test! The problem is the rubric! I can’t understand it — it’s too full of holes and so open to interpretation. And I could hardly get the anchor papers right — either too high, or too low. Then, I didn’t last much more that two weeks because they “pride” themselves on the scorers reliability & validity — HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. So, I’m not sure why they offered me another position (actually, I’ve gotten other email invitations, but have not really had time to try again).

I’m doing the same thing now. I read a paper, don’t really pay attention to the mechanics because I wouldn’t on a first read with my students, and give the score I think goes along with the Texas rubric. Right now, I’m at about 63% accurate with the anchor papers. I hate it…and I’m thinking this is not worth the stress I’m feeling. The writing is so different than in NC — but still ALL narratives! It’s amazing to me that these kids can pick any type of genre to respond to the prompt, except poetry, and the majority write personal narratives. I don’t feel too bad about my writers because these kids don’t really use paragraphing either…and most of them can’t use homophones correctly to save their lives — so it’s NOT just in MY classroom! haha….

But some of these papers are heart-wrenching pieces. I want to flag most of them and tell the supervisors they better be calling those schools to get the kids some freaking counseling! If I’m not reading about sex/physical abuse and parental drug use, I’m reading about how much better they feel because God’s in charge of their lives. I’m wondering what the hell’s going on in Texas?! haha…

Maybe I can hang on and make a little vacation money – or even enough to get Jakey-poo an iPad for his birthday….but if I keep acting like I’m a National Writing Project alumni instead of some bum off the street reading stupid papers….I definitely won’t!!

Any advice?

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