Monday, April 25, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Even Kindergartners Prefer "Showing" (not "Telling") Writing

Yesterday I spoke to my class about the power of a well-chosen verb or verb phrase to show the personality or mood of a character, not just his/her actions. A character who "lopes," rather than simply "walks," conjures an image of a confident person who covers a lot of ground quickly. A character who "gnaws her inner cheek" paints a portrait of an anxious person, rather than simply saying "looks anxious." I explained that even the youngest readers appreciate the nuances of verb choices and can comprehend the subtle implications about characters. "It's the writer's job to find the perfect verb to convey as much as possible--even in picture books." As an example, I mentioned one of my favorite picture books, I Love You the Purplest, by Barbara M. Joosse, in which two little boys are captured by the verbs used to enact them: "Max exploded out of the cabin" versus "Julian left the cabin, carefully locking the door behind them," I paraphrased. "What do you know about the boys' personalities from those two lines?"
My preteen students answered as expected, that Max is excited and rowdy and Julian is calmer and careful. They seemed doubtful that little kids would pick up on those implications, though. I showed them how the youngest readers would comprehend the purpose of vivid verbs (based on my previous classroom experience with little guys):
"I'd ask them, 'So which one of the boys can't wait to go fishing?' They always chimed, 'MAX!' I'd ask, 'How do you know that?' They'd say, 'He goes out like THIS!' And one of them would act out 'exploding' by bursting out of his seat."
A well-chosen word is never wasted on an interested reader, regardless of age.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reviewing Process-Oriented Writing Instruction

Excerpted from an old online article I wrote about writing instruction in public schools:

Many teachers have misled students into believing that the scores applied to written works matter more than both the learning derived from the process, and the establishing of one's own personal best standards in writing. If I, as a writer, create my works based only on what others expect or demand from me, I am not truly communicating, only fashioning words to serve others; not creating, but reiterating; not sighing with pride upon completion of a written work, but rather, with relief to be finished. If I, as a teacher of writing, do not lead my students into careful examination of the words they choose and the reasons they choose them, I fail to assist the communication process.

In focusing on the process, rather than solely on the product, during writing instruction, teachers serve as Muses--to inspire, enlighten, and guide. Teachers must practice more questioning (that good ole Socratic method) and less judging. We must pose questions that produce detailed and/or profound answers. Then we can guide and enrich revisions by asking, "So, is this what you were hoping to convey?" We need to ask what happened between points A and C, not simply deduct points for a lack of B. We should annotate, not simply grade papers; and offer clear example essays (which we ought to write ourselves!), not simply clever writing prompts. Teachers honor communication itself by showing young writers' that their sweat-filled words matter enough to elicit our thoughtful reactions and sound recommendations for continued improvement.