Thursday, March 1, 2018

Scribble Scribble Joy Joy! (apologies to Ren and Stimpy)

   Being last to blog on a topic is tough stuff.  Everyone has said what I was going to say, and all my reasons sound incredibly selfish.

   Hang in there with me.

    Writing is where I find my joy. I am never so happy as when I am in the "zone," writing away, forgetting where I am. (Conversely, I am never so miserable as when I am stuck in a world of my own creation, trying to write my way out without a map.)

    Many of my students come in the door loving writing.

    And a lot of them don't. Parents no longer mistake my writing camps for an ESOL class or remedial grammar.  What I do get are kids who are afraid to put a complete sentence together. Thanks to the "testing" system of "teaching" writing, students are terrified to take chances. Maybe they'll make a mistake. Maybe they'll spell something wrong. Maybe they don't know the right word in English for what they want to say. Their regular year teachers are focused on the five paragraph essay, because that is what is tested.

     There is no test for creativity.

     What I try to give my students is the joy of writing. The rules for writing a five paragraph essay are not the "rules" of creative writing. There are no "rules." (There really are a few, but I sneak them in as creative "suggestions" during revision.)

      I give them "permission' to write whatever they want (barring the obscene or racist). Someone always tries to test me.

     "So I can write about zombies?"

     "Sure, just so long as you aren't re-writing an episode of The Living Dead. I will know." (And I will, too. I don't watch TLD, but my daughter does.)

     "I can write about soccer?  Hockey?"

     "Why not?"

     Once they are "permitted" to use their imaginations, I try to give them the Joy of Discovering Just the Right Word."  English is a difficult language to learn, but the many words, so little time. (By the way, we never use the word "vocabulary."  We talk about finding "better words.") Why use a worn-to-the-ground word that doesn't really say what you mean, when you can find a ripe, plump, juicy one that is EXACTLY what you are trying to say.  The thesaurus (which I can never say without stuttering, lisping or both) becomes their best friend. I discourage them from using the thesaurus from whatever writing program they on their home computers. They offer a paltry selection, usually of the overused variety. Think the McDonald's Dollar Menu vs the one at The Cheesecake Factory. (If you aren't familiar with CF's menu, the last time I was there it was 32 pages of small print. Plus inserts. And specials. And of course....cheesecake.)

Desperately seeking the right word in thesaurus. 
Scribble, scribble, joy, joy!
 Kids who were stuck in a six word/noun/verb sentence pattern, branch out into other ways of writing. Sentence fragments. Run-ons. Single words. Made-up words (as long as you know what they mean, and so will the reader). It's all creative. Creative writing and a five paragraph essay have one thing in common: they use  words.

    So what do I like best about teaching--sharing the joy.  Watching their faces take on that other-worldly look as they scribble in their notebooks....putting the "right" words together, building their own special world.

    Because their joy rekindles mine. Teaching refreshes my own writing soul. Their enthusiasm and love reminds me of why I choose to write for and work with children.

    See, I told you. Purely selfish reasons.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman



Karen Eastlund said...

Mary Ann: I love this. Those magical moments are exactly what teaching writing is about. I was teaching preschool when I took the National Writing Project, and even with preschoolers we could do this, although we were doing most of the physical writing while they supplied the words. But the joy of it! I'm retired now, but I have saved their stories... and some of them still blow me away. Thanks for sharing this, and congratulations on supporting those magical moments.

Carmela Martino said...

Yes, I love sharing that joy, too!

April Halprin Wayland said...

You've captured it, Mary Ann ~ thank you!

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