Tuesday, October 22, 2013

List Making That Leads to Inspired Learning

Yes, I do enjoy making lists, but lately I am tiring of them.  It's not just because I can't begin to scratch the surface of all the daily stuff I need to do, but also because I think the biggest thing I need to do doesn't lie in the making of lists: it's about listening and engaging and inspiring.  Deciding to listen and engage with my students and family is infinitely more likely to lead to their success and happiness than is my searching for the perfect guided reading segment or making sure every last PYP journal is read and commented on before I go home each day.  (That is not to say I don't do these things, too!)

I'm just saying that I contribute to my own joy and the joy of others in a much more meaningful way by actively engaging with them, rather than actively engaging with WHAT I have to do in order to be with them.  This evening, our seven year old daughter asked at dinner, "Is the environment or money more important?" prompting a great family discussion.  (This is a girl who is into BIG concepts and questions.  She's deep.  She's so deep, I had to go read the latest People magazine just to debrief!)  Then there is the joy of reading Little House in the Big Woods with Charlotte and Emily, and deciding that yes, maybe we could try to make a doll out of a cob of corn just like Laura had, but it might start to smell badly in a short while, but what the heck, let's do it anyway.

I started to make a long list of what I should do for tomorrow, which I will likely have to weed my way through, but I came up with a  list I like much better.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Goals For School Tomorrow:

  1. Be prepared for class.  (But of course.  I had to put that in or principals who read this might judge me.)
  2. Be spontaneous if it's going to lead to something learning-related and fun.
  3. Be kind.  To everyone.  Across the board.
  4. Listen to at least five kids read.
  5. Compliment at least 10 kids in my class on something specific and meaningful.
  6. Make my students laugh at least three times each hour.
"There is no try; there is only do."

Now there's a list that's a challenge, but I think I can manage!  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Teacher's Permission to Write Rubbish

Why are so many people afraid of so many things, but they’re never afraid of mediocrity?
Alex Bogusky and John Windsor

My students all have writer's notebooks that they carry around with them so whenever they get inspired or hear some juicy conversation, they can quickly jot down their ideas or snatches of talk in their little incubator notebooks, and use their seed ideas to create stories or poems or narratives later on.  They have pages reserved for favorite words, memories, feelings, and list of all sorts that will inspire them to write.

I've been keeping a writer's notebook of one sort or another for the better part of 40 years now and probably have tens of thousands of pages of nonsense, most of which is mouldering in my storage locker outside of Seattle, some of tucked in my desk at school and others in safety vaults and storage boxes all around the planet.

Truth be told, most of what I write is inane: my guess would be that at least 80% of it is detritus.  But there's gold in "them thar hills," and the job of a writer is to keep writing no matter what, and then be willing to sift through the rubble and find the flecks of gold.

I'm not saying everything I publish is anywhere near the gold standard or even silver: most of it is more like costume jewelry, in fact.   But then again there's nothing wrong with a bit of flashy, cheap jewelry that attracts attention and looks pretty.  I'm not looking to be the best of the best (I'll save that for the likes of John Irving and Alice Munro), but I am looking to entertain and put out some modicum of literature that does not prove distracting by its poor punctuation, prosaic by its over baked metaphorical allusions or just plain predictable and banal.

Because, yes, I write for myself, but I also write for an audience.  Those 10s of 1000s of pages mostly deserve to be buried under the volcanic ash of unwanted paraphernalia in my storage locker, but some of it also deserves to see the light of day and to be seen by the enlightened reader.

So I tell my students to let go of their monkey minds and let their pencils bleed onto their writer's notebooks or their fingers tap onto their google docs as the case may be, but not to censor, just to write. The hard work is what comes later: the editing, the culling, the finessing. I love that part too.  How gratifying it is to watch a piece evolve from so-so to stellar; how great is it when you can toss out all those tired metaphors and replace them with figurative language that sucker-punches you with its vicissitude rather than simply "jumps off the page?"

I'm all about just getting it down, throwing a lot of it out, finding the shiny gems that glimmer when exposed to just the right light, polishing them up a bit, and getting them out to whatever person who happens to stumble upon my humble attempts at writing.  I'm all for getting my students to do this as well!

Because what is writing for if not to share?