February 26, 2011

Avoidance, Writer’s Workshop, and Rambling

Feb. 26 2011

Oh how we can avoid the uncomfortable. I have been working on my website, avoiding my website, working on my summer workshop, avoiding writing a flyer, working on learning more about MS Publisher, avoiding learning it, etc.

And so it goes. And our children put off writing.

Facebook can be so much more enticing. Just click on photos and articles and videos and feel like you are learning something, and the time gets siphoned into oblivion.

Time warp happens when we are in an addiction, and also when we are at the height of creativity. It occurs in sleep, and in waking life of full engagement in something, or meditation, which could be thought of as somewhere between sleep and waking. When I have read about famous authors, many of them say that they get into a zone, of sorts, when they simply are the character, not writing "about" the character. Most recently I was reading about the woman who wrote Inkheart, and I was so enamored with the way she fell upon her unique characters, and wrote about them in the most descriptive way. She speaks so clearly about imagination.

How do you begin your writing process?
With an idea, that makes my heart beat faster. The moment such an idea shows up I write it down and then I decide whether I want to spend one or two years finding the story behind this idea. If the answer is Yes, I start the research - about bookbinding or martens or dragons or whatever I need - and the search for places and characters. Then I prepare about 20 chapters and then the story tells me where to go (which is sometimes quite different from what I planned).

So how can we help kids get immersed in writing, but keep one eye inside the readers' minds, and let the time warp happen, without it taking the form of spacing out and staring at the page for 30 minutes? We want them to wrap themselves in their first drafts so fully that they are not overthinking, or wondering if a comma is in the correct place. Yet we want them to develop that self-reflective stance, and talk to themselves while they are writing, also, so they don't ramble off the topic so much they have to start over.

I know this is where the heart of Writer's Workshop comes from, is to allow that creative flow, and yet so many of our students/children don't thrive with such wide parameters, and actually feel more freedom when they ARE given specifics. I have written about this before on my blog. A majority of the students I work with get anxious, confused, or bored in their classroom Writer's Workshop. They work better with something like:

An exact number of sentences, a sampling of transition words to use, a few drawings from a pre-write to launch off of, and a requirement to write the word "because" three times, and use dialogue at least twice.

Our local Writing Guru, Steve Peha, has a lot to say about how to make the Workshop model really work. I do respect his many resources online, that are free, and he does excellent teacher in-services. He may not understand LD kids, but he can teach a tough kid to love writing.

Okay, now I am going to finally write that flyer about my summer workshop for kids, on WRITING! I have been talking about this for years, and the time has come. A week long workshop of 7.5 hours. I am keeping it a little open ended until I talk to the parents of kids who sign up and find out their specific needs.

Best to all of you in cyber land, helping all of our kids to become better writers.

February 7, 2011

No Spying Mom!


Poof! Into cyberspace our documents, or half-written emails, or attached videos can fly.

And not only in our laptops and desktops, but smart phones too.

Every owner has a story, it seems, about a text or app or doc or map that has been sucked up into the elusive vacuum of galactical network oblivion. There’s a song lyric in there, somewhere, huh?

So my latest computer folktale is that in the big move over to Word Press, to combine my website and blog under one roof, I lost two blog postings. I had forgotten to save a MS Word Copy on my PC as I usually do, because I was multi-tasking and keeping my eye on too many balls and open windows.

I know it was about kids needing a grey area, between writing for an audience, and for none at all. Some of the most successful moments with kids have been when they show me volumes of writing (a few pages in a composition book)

but not close-up enough for me to actually read it. They are proud to have spilled that much out onto a page. And parents are often dumbfounded, since they have never seen that kind of output. A homeschool parent I just started working with oversees every single word her daughter produces, and up until 5th grade that appeared to be working, from an outsider’s point-of-view. However, the dynamic between them has grown spicier and dicier and that is the first thing I noticed, was that the 5th grader feels “eyes upon her” with every indented paragraph beginning. So she will start out differently with me, without me scoring or commenting too heavily on any of her pieces, nor will we mention goals just yet. She is just going to do a lot of reading response, in mostly full sentences, of course, and we will go from there.

I gave a 4th grade boy the assignment to practice summarizing with the pattern that I have in my charts. This was hard for him to come up with his own ideas, so i leaned on the newspaper:
The/A/An Noun Verb Where When or How

Coming up with his own was too difficult, so we steered him in another direction.

Mom and dad helped him find parts of articles from “The Economist” that would fit into the summary sentence pattern. He filled in the boxes with some big words, about dissidents, and revolt, and Egyptian protests.

A Vocabulary Moment, indeed. An opportunity to practice strong verb recognition, summarizing skill practice, and navigating complex sentence patterns, which he will hopefully create his own as models of after doing this one a few times more. The name of the chart page is “Making pictures in the reader’s mind” which I have adapted and made many revisions of, based on the Landmark School’s Teaching Guides.