This morning I awakened with what felt like an epiphany. A deep thought. About why it’s crucial to master the rules of writing and grammar, spelling and punctuation. More important, maybe, than mastering standardized spoken language. With spoken language, you have a zillion visual and aural clues to help clarify what it is you’re trying to say. There is no raised eyebrow or shrug on the printed page. No pregnant pause or conspiratorial grin to add meaning to your words. All you have in any written language is a few dozen symbols to work with, and whether or not you are understood when using those symbols depends entirely on how well you’re able to manipulate them in a myriad of possible combinations. And the magic is: You don’t have to be present. Or even alive anymore. Written language enables you to communicate with people you’ll never know. How amazing is that?
Hmmm… Maybe I’ve just proven my point. That glob of symbols I just wrote looks pretty murky. This morning it felt clear. Possibly even deep. Isn’t that just like an epiphany? By the time you’ve wiped and flushed and grabbed a pen and something to jot it down on…pffft.
Yesterday I set up a blog for the kids I’m working with this week. They chose screen names, and we’re posting their day’s writing. For me it’s a chronicle of their progress. They gave me first draft, rough draft writing yesterday. Today I sat with each of them individually and we talked about what they had written.
Last week, my predecessor had them work on original stories. Next week, I believe, my successor will work with them on their personal hero’s journeys.
This week is not nearly as glamorous. This week we’re about mechanics. I’m having them work on simple stories they’ve heard me tell in the course of origami instruction and demonstration. Yesterday’s writing proved to me that they are in dire need of lessons in punctuation and sentence structure. Today’s writing showed marked improvement. I’m not claiming that it’s “creative writing.” But I do think it’s necessary in order for their creativity to be coherent. It’s also necessary in order to enable them to pass some big bazooley standardized test next year in the 7th grade. If they don’t pass that test, they’re held back in remedial classes until they finally get it right enough to make a passing grade. Or until they give up.
These kids — the ones I’m working with — are frightfully bright. They catch on quickly. They’re game. They’re willing to try, even when it’s hard work. I’m not worried about them passing that test.
They warmed my heart this afternoon. I was busy keyboarding their writing into the blog. It took about half an hour, and I told them to find something quiet to occupy themselves with. Reading. Paperfolding. Extra writing (at the suggestion of which they all rolled their eyes). En masse, they grabbed an origami book and a stack of paper, and for better than half an hour they taught each other and helped each other decode diagrams. They were busy. Intent. Cooperative. Non-competitive. Focused. And successful. It was a beautiful interlude. Can I hope for another one tomorrow?
I don’t know why you would be, but if you are interested in seeing what we’re doing, check out our blog: millerwritersblog.wordpress.com