January 7, 2010

The Perfect Brainstorm - and Low Pressure Writing

Okay, holidays are over and my avoidance of the crazy consumerism aspect of them was fairly successful. Few clients for a couple of weeks, and a trip to see mom in Chicago.

Tackled a steep learning curve of my new smart phone: discovering the frustrations and needless apps available on it. Syncing issues begat problem-solving with online forums, far into the wee hours of the morning on Christmas weekend...angry moments of wanting to go back to landlines for everything.

Yet today I am smoothly into the upsides of owning a smart phone, and only sometimes do I feel dumber than my smarter device.

I have had some high points in my week of seeing students: I had given the assignment to write "low pressure" writing, in a journal entry or two or three, or a thank-you letter to someone for a holiday gift. My only rubric was to say something about the gift, about them, about you, and about the coming year. There were a few very strong letters that got written and sent, and then a copy brought to me. When they know there is no grade, and that it is really going to be sent out into the world, the stakes are comfortably high, without pressure of school performance.

I did a lot of this kind of writing as a child.

Notes to friends. Diary entries to be seen by no one. Thank-you cards to relatives. Convincing posters that I put on my parent's bedroom door. Learning the art of persuasion before puberty!

Many of the struggling writers I work with have hardly ever written anything, except for school! They learn to associate writing with something that needs fixing. Well, famous authors say that their published novel was simply the latest revision, and that revising is ongoing. I don't tell that to my students. Too daunting.

This is akin to reading with those like kids I meet who have never read a book just for fun, but only for school or with a book report attached. They learn to associate reading with a performance expectation, instead of personal and intimate exploration of another world.

Writing is not a formula, although some websites sure make it sound like one. I believe formulas and rules have their place, and color coding saves the day for many of my students, but this one kid, whenever I give him a guideline, he thinks it has to be true across all mediums. We were talking about creating convincing arguments for his letter to a city council member, and then he asked if he had to argue for the importance of peanut butter, in another essay, when describing how to make a peanut butter sandwich.

So this is an interactive website that does not get too over-the-top with formulas, yet it might just overwhelm some ELL students or my students who have output issues.

The Easy Essay

And one of my favorite articles I read over the holidays was about the art of brainstorming, and how to really tap the motherlode of creativity in our cerebellum. These guys make big bucks just attuning with each other and writing notes and post-its that lead up to making millions.

Jump Associates - the perfect brainstorm