Thursday, September 27, 2012

The String

Here’s one of those writings where I list things that happened today and see if a  string runs through them. I began at school teaching kids about essays, trying to disabuse them of the notion that essays are just sucky things they rightfully hate. That's just the five-paragraph essay we hate. The essays assigned in school are just a means to an end, something to survive. Take a couple useful things from the experience then drop them in the bin.

I showed them a real essay, “Chalk Face” by A.J. Jacobs, from a book called The Moment. It is only eight paragraphs and has a beginning, middle, and ending that vaguely resemble the introduction, body, and conclusion of a five-paragraph only-for-school essay. We preferred the Jacobs piece but agreed that the five-paragraph essay was simple stuff we could rip off quickly and still have time for important stuff like nose-picking, Facebook, and cigarettes.

Today In The Atlantic I read two articles about writing. The first was big on expository writing, the aforementioned five-paragraph essay, but at least had the idea that kids should use writing as the primary technique for learning. I like that but didn't like the push for "back to basics" since the basics are dull. The second article was written by someone from the National Writing Project and talked about writing in ways that warmed my soul. It recommended kids write for ten minutes (at least) every day of class. I'm seventeen days into school and have spent the first ten minute of every class doing Writing Practice. I love reading stuff that agrees with me.

After that I met with a woman who showed me how I'm going to give a basic reading test on the computer. I agreed with almost nothing about the idea but she was nice and I was glad that at least one of us (me) knew how to use the computer. I disagree with the whole enterprise but was agreeable with her. I could fight it, but I’ve had enough of pissing in the wind.

Then it was time for to head out and pick up my girls from school. My youngest came out angry and her friend came out crying. Their teacher had decided to take away tomorrow’s recess as a punishment. I don't think of recess as reward. I'll bet the teacher was having a tough time and snapped a little. I wonder how I would react in that situation. I wonder how the teacher and I would react if, during a staff development day, our administrators decided we were talking too much and took away our planning period.

I told my daughter that I was sorry that it had happened and gave her a hug. She got over it much more quickly than I would have.

And then I took my older daughter to soccer practice where I am one of her coaches. I’m good cop to my fellow coach's bad cop. I have it easier yet still it's tough to get the girls to listen and do as they are told. I remember sometimes that it's a game and other times forget. Tonight was good because it was all fun and we laughed and giggled. It got me to thinking about how school should be like soccer practice and that we should have fun while we're learning to play inside the lines. The five-paragraph essay is just a drill and we shouldn't take it too seriously. And after we write one, we should go out for recess of one kind or another, no matter how loud we've been.

That way, when we come back inside, we'll be ready to write on.