I always admire people who admit when they're not sure of something, and recently one of our teachers asked what we meant when we talked about author's craft:
- How do we teach it?
- What do we mean by it?
- Is there a list of craft moves we should be responsible for?
- What if we say the wrong thing?
- How do we teach something we don't really understand ourselves?
She really got me thinking about author's craft and the high leverage moves to teach a complicated subject. I sat with her and another teacher at the end of the day, and together we studied The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. We chose this one because it is a picture book they both owned and had read before. (Hat tip to Clare and Tammy who wisely pointed out how powerful it is to use the books in the classroom, rather than appear with our own that the teachers don't have once we leave! If you missed it, check out this post.) As we read through the pages of The Other Side, I began to point out some of the craft moves I noticed, including:
- sentence variation
- beginning sentences with conjunctions
- the repeated use of the word "that"
- intentional paragraphing and use of white space
The teachers caught on quickly, realizing that they did know about author's craft; they just hadn't realized they did. The interesting conversation happened when we talked about the impact these craft moves have on readers. Yes, in the case of this story, repetition could be to emphasize a point or draw readers' attention to an idea. But no, that's not always the case. Sometimes authors might use repetition to create playfulness or create a rhythm in their prose. No, there's not an answer that is necessarily the right answer. It's interpretive.
When I first started teaching, I had a principal who asked us to debate whether teaching is an art or a science during a faculty meeting. If you ever have the chance to engage colleagues in this discussion, I recommend it. This work session with these teachers was a great example of teaching as an art without clear, readily available answers and formulas.