- What is his name?
- What is he thinking?
- Where is he going?
- What is his favorite color?
- Why does his left foot itch?
- What was he doing before he enlisted?
- What is his family like?
Sunday, May 16, 2010
And So it Goes, And So It Goes.
I borrowed a stack of books from the library about teaching composition. Many are dated, geared toward that traditional freshman in college who intends to finish in a degree in four years, who does not have a part-time or full-time job, and who just needs the right kind of guidance to produce a stellar piece of writing. Some are oddly defensive about teaching the "rules" and correcting "bad" grammar. But regardless of their faults, I can certainly take something away from each of these texts.
The most useful one, in fact, is geared toward high school students. "The Pen Is in My Hand... Now What?" encourages us to begin with creative writing before switching to expository. In "S.W.A.P." activities, students construct a creative paragraph in which they answer a series of questions. Last week, I showed students a picture of a soldier holding an assault rifle and peering around a corner. I asked,
Students could respond to these questions in any order, however they liked. Afterwards, students read their creations to the whole class (each had the opportunity to pass). Students were proud of and applauded their classmates, and they encouraged each other. Cool!
I wish I felt as good about everything else I was/am doing. I don't know what it will take for me to feel confident. But I'll take my victories when I can. Friday, the Hemingway short story "Soldier's Home" was met with overwhelming approval; I had first played some audio of an Iraq war veteran talking about his experience with PTSD. The subsequent discussion of the story was complex and nuanced. When we talked about how Hemingway's style--short, simple sentences; lots of repetition; detached--reflected Krebs' state of mind after returning home from WWI, students got it.
My own school plans have not changed, and now isn't the time to be tentative. One of my books, "Rational Irrationality," talks a lot about the theory and pedagogy of composition. The author suggests that adults who struggled to learn to write well make the best teachers; they recognize the challenges and steps to become effective writers and can thus best explain it to students. On the other hand, adults for whom writing has always been easy and natural cannot credibly explain the importance of the writing process. The author suggests that these people approach writing in a very different way and will necessarily have trouble breaking it into steps. I'm not sure that I agree with him, but I think it's an interesting point.