“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
I am so proud of my former student, “E. Regina.” I worked with her for about three years, and she is now working on her fifth book! She also won a 24-hour short story contest. (I didn’t work with her on the story. She did that on her own. They grow up so fast!)
She is bound and determined to get published and I have no doubt she will achieve her dream. She writes: “I want to break the boundaries of what people believe teens are capable of.” Love it. Check out her blog! It’s full of fine writing and very good advice. You can read her award-winning short story here.
Is it hard to find time to sit down and read poetry? Well, there’s a new “app” called Poetry Daily. You can download it for FREE at the iTunes store! The “app” will send you one poem every day.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die every day
of what is found
–William Carlos Williams
Linda Schrock Taylor has finished her first book! I have been reading her essays online for years. Back in my corporate days, I would sit in my cubicle and admire her deft critiques of public education. Most people recognize the symptoms, but so few can diagnose the problems. She could, and what I liked about her was that she seemed so “old school.”
She believes in things like handwriting and phonics. She is big proponent of homeschooling. She writes articles like “Two Books and a Blackboard: How We Used to Do It.” When I got my first classroom teaching job last fall, I sent her an email that said, “Help! What can you recommend to me?” She graciously responded with a long list of suggestions that have proven most helpful to me throughout the year.
If you are a homeschooling parent, or a parent who is concerned about your child’s reading, writing, and spelling skills, I highly recommend you check out her essays here. (Warning: There is a bit of politics mixed in.) If nothing else, her conviction is infectious!
Do you have a writer in the house? Do you live in or near Atlanta, GA? Consider signing your child up for Ms. Scribbles’ Summer Writing Workshop! We’ll start with a 1/2 day writing camp to kick things off. There will also be an end-of-summer reading where writers can reconvene and read aloud what they wrote, revised and polished to perfection over the summer. Writers will also have their work published in the 2013 Summer Anthology. Deadline for Early Bird Registration: May 1. Click here for more details: Summer Writing Workshop.
Poetry takes many forms, as proved by one of my very talented students, “Dr. Dimonds.” Check out his song “Diamonds on My Feet” on YouTube:
“Herobrine gets me ready for a new fight
I hit the crafting table, go and start a new quest
You in your house getting pork in my wooden chest
I’m in the mine getting ore with a diamond vest
Young minecrafter, coal in my pockets
I got a mine filled with whole diamond sockets.”
(I think the lyrics probably make sense if you have played the video game Minecraft before. ) Nice writing, Dr. Dimonds!
And it’s not. Kenneth Bernstein recently explained his opinion on the problems with No Child Left Behind, with regard to writing and testing, in Academe: “Students arriving in our high school lacked experience and knowledge about how to do the kinds of writing that are expected at higher levels of education…The AP course required that a huge amount of content be covered, meaning that too much effort is spent on learning information and perhaps insufficient time on wrestling with the material at a deeper level.”
In Ms. Scribbles Workshop, the student is encouraged to wrestle with the material at a deeper level, which will lead to the kind of writing that is expected at higher levels of education.
Aristotle said: “Tragedy is the representation of an action that is complete and whole and of a certain magnitude. A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
Flannery O’Connor said: “In a story something must happen.”
According to these definitions, I think we can call this message, which came today in an email from a student, a story:
Dear Ms. Scribbles, I got a popcorn kernel stuck behind my tonsil. I got it out by having 3 pieces of pizza and 2 pieces of chocolate pie!
Feels complete to me, and I was entertained!
I became a mean teacher this week. I told my seventh graders that, from now on, if someone turns in a paper without a name, or an assignment that isn’t stapled, it will be placed in my “circular file.” None of them knew what that meant. When I enlightened them and explained that assignments that go in the “circular file” get an automatic zero, they objected, finding the new policy draconian.
“But there are 20 of you,” I explained. “Your class always has more than one assignment to turn in. Assignments often take up more than one piece of paper. That means this class is sometimes giving me 60 pieces of paper at once! It takes forever to figure out who the nameless papers belong to and to match up pieces of paper correctly.”
I told them that naming papers and stapling assignments is a way of taking someone else into consideration, namely – me, their (formerly beloved) Ms. Scribbles!
It is a learning opportunity. Children are naturally self-centered. Becoming aware of other people and taking their needs into account is just a natural part of growing up. We call this “putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.”
This is a mental habit that is especially important for a writer. Young writers often write as if other people share their same brain, their same past, their same experiences, and their same body of knowledge. By “putting yourself in the reader’s shoes,” you begin to anticipate what a reader might need to fully understand what you are trying to say.
Providing helpful information, in the form of background or context, is almost always necessary, but it’s sometimes difficult to do. It can “bog down” the paper if it’s not done in a clean way. Appositives can be one of the most helpful tools when it comes to injecting a piece of writing with helpful information.
Dorothy, a farm girl who dreams of a better life, finds herself in a mysterious land called Oz.
I met her while I was traveling in Tunisia, a small country in North Africa.
Despite having very different backgrounds, Ron and Hermione both end up at Hogwarts, a school for witchcraft and wizardy.
Appositives allow the reader to get a toehold without wading through a whole paragraph of isolated background information. Use them liberally!
Details are important for all kinds of writing: creative, persuasive, and expository. We tell young writers that good writing “has a lot of details.” When you ask someone why they liked a certain book, they often say things like “because it was very detailed” and “it made it feel like you were there.” But what does that mean? What is a detail? As a writing teacher would say, “Could you be more specific?”
One thing you can do is explain to young writers that “details” fall into four main categories: description, definition, explanation, and information. Spend some time talking about each one and why and how each one can be important or effective. Show some examples of each . Once they begin to see that there are different kinds of details, they can start asking themselves which kind might be needed, useful, or effective in a certain paragraph or piece of writing.