#DigiLitSunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche. Today, Margaret asks us to think about craft.
I’ve been working with a student I’ll call Jason since the very first day of school on many things: reading, writing, conducting himself in a classroom, and simply “doing school”. We are making progress, little by little – which is the way of learning in middle school, where teachers have to be willing to accept this truth: your students are only capable of engaging half of their brain power when it comes to “doing school”, the other , and more insistent half, is engaged in “doing life” – middle school life, to be exact. Which is its own overwhelming thing, and often requires the attention of all the brain, regardless of what the teacher hopes for.
Jason is a natural story teller; he’s great fun to watch and listen to because he puts his entire body into his story telling – demonstrating action, creating the voices, using props he can find among our classroom stuff. This is wonderful, of course, but there is the writing aspect to writing workshop to consider, and this is where Jason and I run into difficulties. Here is where the oral telling of the story (which can occasionally meander and be a bit stream of consciousness-y) meets some of the restrictions of the pencil and paper. Here is where the discipline and craft of writing must come to terms with the imagination. Here is where Jason and I are still figuring things out and trying to find a path to craft.
Take this personal narrative which Jason turned in. It was late. Very late. And this was also the third iteration of this particular narrative. Jason and I sat down to confer, and he seemed happy with what he’d done, and how he’d improved upon his previous drafts. So he began to read his work aloud, highlighting the first sentence because we had determined in the previous conferences that that would be his focus (not the entire week). But, as Jason read, the enthusiasm in his voice slowly began to diminish. When we came to the end, he asked me to put an “X” across the page…BORING!
It bothered him, he said, that he had lost his small moment somewhere along the way. Part of me was bothered, too. We had worked on identifying small moments since September, here it was December, and those small moments were still hard to pin down and write about. Also, to be perfectly frank, I was utterly done with Jason’s summer holiday as a topic (boring!) but Jason was not – he was determined to write about this vacation.
But, a part of me was celebrating: Jason had come to understand on a deep level what a small moment sounded like (which is why he was bothered by his piece), and he also knew that it was important to care about his topic (which is why he held on to this vacation as his seed idea no matter how many times we had to visit it).
Jason understood two key facets to the craft of writing…he just needed to work his way towards being able to do this himself. We were moving along the writing journey, slowly but surely.
So, we talked through his piece, and Jason decided that the lost small moment in it was the last day there with his grandfather, and three things they did together that he wanted to commemorate by writing about…writing well about. This, too, took some more talking through and breaking down from generalities (we had breakfast) to specifics (a pool contest):
Each post-it would be a scene, and then we would decide which scene to keep and grow, and which scene would be saved for another time (yes, sigh, I will be hearing about this holiday all year long).
Jason went off with his writing folder and began working right away. He is working on honing those writing craft moves…and I am working on my writing teacher craft moves. Together, we are making progress, little by little.
Craft takes time.