April 24, 2014

Spray and Pray

Teachers who work with struggling readers think that they need more choice, and more freedom, and more time. Actually, NON-struggling writers need those things. Let's revisit the "Spray and Pray" strategy that teachers execute without knowing the anxiety they might be causing.

They tell a 5th grade class to write realistic fiction piece, with a certain amount of dialogue, and inner and outer character conflict. As a class they examine good models from well-known children's authors. ("Mentor Texts"). Then they are "free" to write. This is what Anita Archer calls "Spray and Pray."

So many times one of my students comes to my office and after much inquisitive wrangling from me admits that he has sat and "tried to think of something to write" for the last two days during writer's workshop time. I dig down to see if they had an idea but nixed it because it wasn't perfect, or had an idea for a story but didn't know how to start, or had a blank brain and couldn't find a thread of a story. 

And then there are those students who have an idea, but they want the FIRST Draft to be perfect so no revising will be asked of them, so they freeze.
This is where I pull out all the tools and practically decoupage my desk space with word lists, brainstorm guides, pre-write organizers, sentence starters, and so much more. And Color - Coding helps too with their first brainstorm or rough draft, for categories, or all of the W's and How.

As for ME....

I have 5 writing projects going at once, and my mind is batty like my pin-ball machine students.
Let's see, taking my own advice, I would first tell a student to write them down and look at the list and decide what CAN be done, in the next day.

So here is the dirty almost half dozen:
(at least each of them are over halfway complete)

1) My book on teaching writing to kids who struggle with writing. Working Title: "But I hate writing..." - Teaching a small step at a time to reluctant writers. Not very sexy. Not like, "Finding the joy in writing - Igniting the love of writing in all ages and stages."

2) A Ted Talk that someone dared me to write about the extensive closure ceremony with my ex husband on January 1st, after 8 months of nudging it to occur.

3) An article for a Twice Exceptional Newsletter for Parents, on teaching tips for written expression, for parents of Asperger-like kids.

4) A tip sheet on ADHD kids and how to teach and parent them while keeping your sanity, for a Fall Support Group I am going to facilitate.

5) My novel I haven't touched in 4 years and is forming cobwebs in my computer.

I write a lot of emails.
I write in my journal.
I write in the margins of many kid's papers.
I don't write for extended periods of time in order to complete the above projects.
Do I hear an echo of irony in the tunnel of my professional trajectory?

On another note...

I have enjoyed watching some significant leaps in three of my resistant boy writers lately. They grasp the concept of "show don't tell" and it is no coincidence that all three of them are solid readers. This gives them that "ear" for language, and for elaboration.

I also heard from a former client. I worked with her daughter in 4th grade. Waldorf School. Loosey goosey about learning to read - so she needed decoding, and later she needed writing, since they presume that an exciting topic will launch deep writing. She needed to learn ways to write with coherence, using facts to back it up. Well, she has now won a mini award in high school for her composition. Well, that leaves a teensy weensy legacy in my corner of the universe.