Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Slice of Life--Chasing hares

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

My mother's gardens are incredible. Somewhere far back in our lineage, I think we may cross genetic paths with the McGregor family who wanted so desperately to put Peter Rabbit into a stew because she really hates the rabbits who live in the back yard. I've come to understand her dislike (and empathize with Mr. McGregor in ways I never had before) because they really are hungry little creatures. When her old and deaf spaniel Holly caught and killed a baby bunny yesterday, my mother was thrilled. Even though the little dog couldn't hear it, she received a whole lot of praise for her attack on the bunny world, and she spent most of the day poised at the door, ready to head back toward the nest. 

Throughout the week, I've been percolating a post centered on the proverb:

If you run after two hares you will catch neither.

Holly, who is deaf, stiff, and slow was able to capture a bunny. I guess some of her senses and strategies are still pretty intact. I have not been thinking about this proverb in terms of spaniels, though; I've been thinking about it in terms of writing. 

In a kindergarten class, I watched a child diligently copy words onto his paper. He is a child with disabilities, so there are usually adults hovering around, ready to help and guide him through tasks. Since he struggles with handwriting and letter formation, his para had written a sentence on a whiteboard. During independent writing time, H. was working on copying the letters, while the rest of the class was writing opinion pieces about problems they'd identified and wanted fixed in their schools. 

I asked H. what he was working on. "My writing," he said.  I asked H. to read his work to me. His writing was a little messy but legible. He couldn't. I asked him to read the neater sentence on the whiteboard. He couldn't. 

I talked to his para about ways she could teach him that could involve more drawing and less writing--how the instruction and task could be closer to his independent level, and the para was wonderful about changing things up a bit so that the task could still involve letter formation, but wasn't the equivalent of copying hieroglyphics. I left the class thinking about tasks and how we balance teaching all of the skills students need in order to write. I emphasize approximation and not mastery when I talk to teachers about writing instruction, and sometimes I think we all feel like we are chasing a whole lot more than just two hares. 

The world is full of analogies, and maybe it's just that this one doesn't work for writing instruction. It's messy and involves chasing a whole lot of hares. Sometimes kids have to work on letter formation or keyboarding or spelling or capitals. Oh yes, and also thinking of ideas and sentence variation and different strategies for elaboration and... the list goes on, and I'm not sure we should ever ask students to stop paying attention to other aspects of writing and focus only on one. In fact, I'm sure we shouldn't. 

For now I'll leave the focus on one hare at a time to Holly, only preferably when I'm not around. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Slice of Life: Imperfection and Activism

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

I spent a rainy Saturday morning at the first Connecticut Council of Teachers of English conference. 
Truth: I debated going. I signed up at about 5 am when I was sure the morning would be a washout. The breakout sessions seemed to be more geared to secondary teachers than elementary, and I really had to get behind myself. 
Truth: Kate Robert and Maggie Beattie Roberts were the keynote speakers, and I knew they'd be funny. 
Truth: They were. And they were also incredibly insightful and inspirational.  
A lot of what they talked about had to do with the damaging quest so many of us have to be perfect. I loved the reminder from Kate that "Imperfection is not what keeps great things from happening." In fact, we have to survive a whole lot of imperfection in order to grow, learn, and achieve. We have to try and fail, try again and fail again. I know that, but perfect still tends to be the skunk at my party.

They also talked a lot about the importance of activism. Maggie described a neighbor who required, as admission to her birthday party, a letter each party-attender had written in the spirit of activism. Maggie challenged us all to think about what we have to do, how we have to be, in order to have a civic voice. Pause and think about that for a minute.

In the room, we talked about it, and then she spoke for the group: be informed, take risks, participate... "When you're complaining, what are you doing to change it?" she asked all of us.

When I got home from the conference, I mentioned to my daughter about something that was really bothering me. Something pretty big, pretty universal.

"You can't change that," she said. "Everyone does it. It's like a whole world thing."

"And black people once rode in the back of buses and their kids went to separate schools," I said.

She stared. Opened her mouth, then wisely closed it.

Like so many parents, I'm trying to be perfect. Clearly, I'm falling short in the realm of activism, but Kate and Maggie helped me think about that, too, on Saturday morning. How to work on imperfections?

  1. Focus and name the goal.
  2. Take baby steps.
  3. Get help--have mentors.
So here's my goal: Make sure my daughters understand the importance of doing something when they have complaints. Maybe Saturday morning counts as a baby step. Maybe sharing some of Kate and Maggie's important messages counts as another one!

Happy Slicing!