Into [Not So] Thin Air

In a stack of papers called Unorganized.

  • Jan
  • 22
  • 2006

Glancing through my teaching materials, one thought on the way my classes run currently and another on the way I want to run things, I cleared the way for a new method, hunched my shoulder against the inevitable problems coming this week, and stared absently at the vastness of my Writers INC (pages 160-65) and Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes: The American Experience (pages 994-95 and 1204-05).

I’m no Krakauer, but that describes the metaphor that I’m facing: a Mount Everest of change to the way I run class. I’m going to see how it works to run my classroom as if I am an editor and the students are all staff writers. The classroom anthology idea from before will take one step toward reality this coming week. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I first wrote down the idea as an afterthought. I want students to care more about their writing, with the thinking that if they care about the writing, then and only then will they care about perfecting it. Setting up the idea of publishing their work for the rest of the class (and the rest of the school? who knows…), maybe that’ll be enough beginning incentive to care. If abandoning the practice shows up as the best option, abandon it we will, though we’ll be richer for the experiment. If nothing else, I just hope my kids see that I want to give them things they want to write about. Let’s see if this works.

The Seniors

In addition to copious poll taking and class conversation (and even individual conferences) throughout the week, I’m going to give my seniors the assignment of holding an interview with someone and reporting back the story. We’ll start with partners in the classroom first and work on the basic idea of keeping notes during the interview. We’ll talk about how you can listen and take notes at the same time, how to ask questions, how to push for more detail without seeming too pushy, how to listen actively, and anything else that comes up. Hey, I’m no expert interviewer, so we’ll end up creating some criteria together and I’ll address problems as I see them.

Using Writers INC as a model for guidelines and finished interview articles, with (hopefully) listening to some Terry Gross, looking at some Conan or other TV interview shows (Charlie Rose? I’ll take whatever I can get), and reading some student-generated samples (from Jeff House’s summer workshop on AP curriculum), we’ll move to creating the actual assignment. I think I’ll just keep the assignment on the whiteboard; I won’t actually create an assignment sheet, but will keep it in the classroom since I see the assignment evolving during the week.

The Juniors

My juniors will be a little bit more structured, though not much. They’ll have two options, to write about loneliness or the environment of Silver Creek (to describe the campus and how it makes people feel, what it looks like, what its looks say about the people who attend, etc.). I know those two things don’t seem related, but there are selections from our textbook (“from The Mortgaged Heart” by Carson McCullers and “A Journey Along the Oka” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn) that highlight these two types of writing; actually, they each highlight both ideas, loneliness and a sense of setting.

I see the week as a time to read those samples, answer some questions, start writing, confer with me, do more writing, edit, and call a deadline; that’s when things will be due. We’ll move to looking at other examples of professional writers from our textbook writing on a specific subject or in a certain genre and then generate the assignment to write on that subject or in that genre.

Harmonic Convergence Of Writing

Tomorrow, I’ll introduce the idea of the classroom anthology and set requirements that each student contribute 2 pieces of writing and 2 audio segments. While I’ll collect the finished pieces during the deadline and grade them, they will be turned back to students and they can then work on revising the article for submission to the final anthology. I think that we’ll end up working on at least 3 pieces, both written and audio, so having 2 pieces ready for the anthology should be good. Adjusting as we go along, expectations will be reasonable and I’m perfectly willing to come to the conclusion that a realistic expectation is only 1 piece per student.

As I’ve mentioned to friends over the past few months, since I’m experimenting, the students get a little bit more slack than normal simply for going along with me. Does this sound nuts or is this really not as much like a publication as I think it is?

Wish me luck and feel free to drop any words of advice on me, particularly those of you who have run a newspaper or anything similar to what I sound like I’m doing.

Little Victories

This is my 50th education-related posting to this blog. Not much of a milestone, but I’ll take any celebration I can get at this point! Thanks for giving me a reason to write here and making me feel like I’m doing more than talking to myself. Your comments are invaluable; the dialogue of a blog is most of what makes it worthwhile. And for those of you counting, I’m mostly well, though I’m sick enough that I’m tired around 2:00 and not eating much. Oh, and I still have a cold and cough. But at least I’m not bed ridden and I can sleep through the night. Yippee.

1 comment

1. Ben says:

[1/23/2006 - 1:12 pm]

It’s all about the dialogue :)

Congrats on the 50th post Todd. Can’t wait to read another 50 more. Sorry you’re still under the weather, but be thankful you’re enduring the phlegm in California and not in the snow-ridden midwest :P