April 5, 2020

Corona Catch Up

The octopus escaped! Metaphor out of the gate, which is a good trick when kids are stuck on creating a topic sentence. The blog vanished, and if you read the book, The Soul of an Octopus, you know their mad skills at squeezing through narrow openings to escape.

I could invent creative and comedic reasons for the disappearance of this untamed octopus, but it distills down to a) insert favorite writerly excuse for not doing your practice, b) the political landscape and c) bigger career fish I tried to fry.

In the passive voice I would love to assign blame, and say the blog drifted away from me, but the turnaround of that is what’s true: I drifted away from the blog, the inner critic squealing at me, “You are repeating yourself!” and the inner cheerleader, “You need to put this all into a book.” While that proverbial book, plus my novel, and the essays and tattered poems are closer to done than ever, revision is one of my addictions, so I can’t exactly roll a publication date off my tongue. That leaves me still teaching, still writing, still avoiding submitting or getting an agent.

The children are not all okay, sorry to have to say. Pre-pandemically and paragraphically. The puzzle pieces of a paragraph make it to the page, but they are tiny pieces, and not locked together with that satisfying click. Parents seek me out because their 6th grader writes essays like a rubrics cube, with all the parts constantly moving and not flowing in a sequence. Typically, these students do love math, sports or science statistics, Sudoku, rubrics cubes, and the like. Notice words aren’t in any of their hobbies.

Clearly the students are not any different than when I wrote this blog earlier. When they come to me they are unenthused about writing, having tantrums about it, or overwhelmed by being given tough assignments in school. I am still working at a granular level of skills and mindset tips to help them feel successful, or better yet, find writing to be a way into themselves. They leave with a tool kit, but I never promise that they will have a love affair with it. That is icing on the cake.

Coronavirus is woven amongst us and between us, a gossamer and invisible thread of global connectivity and infectivity, that is a complex concept for a child’s mind to grasp. But they are troopers, these kids I see remotely now, and the many I hear about from my friends who are teachers. Resilience is the word I keep hearing. Even the kindergarteners. Countless children living through an unknown we were not prepared for, and a set of caretakers/parents/adults over who are hiding their worry, or leaking their fears, or multitasking with an array of hats and identities. This homestay will etch itself into them for life, no matter how much routine their family has instilled or colored-coded daily schedules on the wall they check off.

And then there is writing. Teachers are scrambling for ways to get students to write, without assigning anything too daunting, or requiring research, because they can't oversee their web searches, and they can't lean over a kid's shoulder to coach their thinking and steer their writing in a sensible direction. Some are assigning literature responses, and finding a way to comment digitally, or create a video classroom discussion where writing is used in the classroom conversation. Others are being told by their districts that students aren't all able to access a computer and WIFI so teaching is banned completely. 

And districts have to find active emails for every parent, start a new email for the student in some cases, and rely on the family to remember the password and remember to log in at the same time every morning. Parents are calling me desperate for something their child can do for writing, that is independent, free, easy to navigate, guides the revision process, and checks their grammar. Well, I have a few of those, but each child needs something customized for them. More on that in the next blog. Questions welcome. I promise an answer.

And journals! Teachers are “encouraging” journals. More parent overwhelm at how to get their child to write something more than “I am in self-quarantine with my family.” Some teachers even have prompts each day, related to the school closures and global crisis, and spelling doesn't count, and the share it as a Google Doc and away they go. But mostly journals and free writes are a machinery part that is rusting, because the on a screen-based learning platform, moving images are the entrancing draw to kids - lockdown or no lockdown. The brain loves the fast movement of movies, TV, games, and Tik Tok clips. Writing moves to the very back row of the movie of homeschool. 

Like one 6th grade boy told me over video this week, " Writing is just SOOOO black and white." What to say to that? I mustered a response about how movies and video games start out as black and white scripts and scribbles (of characters, or scenes) and become colorful once on the screen. Same with book pages morphing into movies in our minds.

My top ten list of books for 2019 included Reader, Come Home, by Maryanne Wolf whom I have followed for years, sitting on the floor in the front of conference rooms just to be close to her voice while she presented. She hits a melodic midground note about the future of literacy, grieving the loss of letter-writing, while accepting the many ways the screen can help us communicate. 

More to come.