Friday, June 15, 2012

#TeachersWrite Week 2: Recap, Writing, and Reflections

To boldly go where my writing has never gone before. That's the theme I'm embracing this summer as I participate in Teachers Write.  

I'm grateful beyond mere words for all Kate Messner and the other authors are doing for myself and teachers--over 1,000--this summer.

I don't know whether or not this experimentation will reach its final destination. I'm just enjoying the mission and the journey and all its challenges.

Here's the recap and links to some of my writing for the week. I value your comments.

Monday: Mini Lesson Monday

Author Sally Wilkins penned "Outlining: When, Why, and How..." I teach outlining. I have outlined many papers and thought I knew a thing or two about outlining. So why have I had so much trouble w/ this task? Simply because I don't yet know where my "planned" YA novel is going. I'm beginning to understand what authors mean about characters doing what they want and getting to know their characters.

Right now my "outline" is a list of vignettes. Kate assured me in the Facebook group that lots of YA novelists write in these segmented ways. I hope it works for me.

Tuesday:  Quick Write from Jeannine Atkins

Jeannine suggested writing a letter to a character, a poem about the character, or writing answers to a series of questions about the character. She then talked about how these efforts could evolve into dialogue and/or conversations.

I struggled with the prompt. By Tuesday I just hadn't written enough to really know much about my main character. I did answer the questions and see how those will be helpful as I continue to write.

Since I have a plot thread and a conflict in mind, I decided to write a letter answering a query the main character makes. Here's the link to the google doc w/ that letter. I'm on controversial ground, even as I struggle with my own thinking about the issue addressed in the letter. I value reader's thoughts.

Compounding my feelings of inadequacy Tuesday was the absence of a response to the letter, until after I wrote about silence as communication on Facebook. I need to learn and remember that silence in the world of publishing communicates something different that I hadn't considered, as several of the writers shared in the Facebook group.

Wednesday: Q&A

This is a time for participants to pose questions about writing. I haven't asked any questions yet. I need to read all the comments before asking a question that someone else might have asked already. The link above will take you to the thread with both questions and answers. Be forewarned: It has 196 posts at this moment!

My Muse Awakens!

Since I was inspired on Wednesday, I wrote a chapter for my planned YA Novel Super Senior. The chapter is tentatively titled "Death Wish," and as with all I'm writing this summer, it's a work in progress.

And that's not all!

Wednesday was very productive for me. I also began working on the other main character in my planned book. Her name is Patina, and you can get to know a little about her by reading "Patina Sneaks Out."  If you read the other items I posted, you'll begin to see the relationship between Tai and Patina.

Thursday: Quick Write from author Pam Bachorz

Pam posed a twist on a prompt I've seen often. First, she asked participants to write about a place they consider home. Then she told us to write "three changes that would make this place utterly altered for you."

WOW! I had an epiphany. I had just finished reading Matched by Allie Condie, so the idea of changes in one's home was fresh in my mind. Now I'm asking myself this: What changes in home happens in the lives of my main characters? I'm still working on my response to Pam's prompt.

Friday: Friday Writing Happy Hour and Friday Feedback with Gae Polisner

I'm like a kid in a candy store come Friday Feedback. Today I posted my first version of "Patina Sneaks Out"and received fabulous critiques from Gae, Jen, and Lena Roy (Madeline L'Engle's granddaughter!). Lena is also the author of Edges and is working on a new book, India Flips.

The version of "Patina Sneaks Out" above is the result of those critiques.

As though getting mentored by these wonderful authors weren't enough, Mike Jung, author of the forthcoming Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities (October 1, 2012) blogged about "worldbuilding." Mike's essay is very accessible to high school students, and I'm looking forward to sharing it.

A world of words and new writing frontiers awaits. Time to boldly go...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Quiet Persistance: A Necessary Component of Student Success

 Nowadays most men lead lives of noisy desperation.  ~James Thurber

A popular educational philosophy argues that noise in a classroom signals that students are learning in an atmosphere of cooperation and equality.

Certainly, my own classroom has evolved from one of relative quite to one alive with the hum of student voices. In fact, the scales have tipped so that students spend more time in cooperative activities than in isolated, independent study.
After reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Crown Publishers 2012) by Susan Cain, I have begun rethinking the value of the noisy classroom.

From noisy pep assemblies with cheerleaders shouting "A little bit louder, now" to the roaring student body to the classroom where teachers prod and plead with students to talk and to share, we celebrate and give our attention to the most vocal among us. We teachers often misinterpret introversion as a sign of disinterest and/or dislike for us and our subject.

Susan Cain speaks to the ways we organize our classrooms and work environments to promote group experiences and to celebrate extroverts while marginalizing isolated thought and introverts in this TED Talk:

Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, Steve Jobs, and many others whom we admire and revere worked in isolation before going public. Indeed, Cain speaks about quietly working on Quiet for seven years.

Yet we educators find ourselves forced to collaborate in our PLCs regardless of whether or not we have something about which we want to collaborate. Moreover, we often push our students to do the same.

As Cain argues, we need both introverts and extroverts, and we need to teach our students the power of "quiet persistence." To illustrate the importance of students' ability to work alone, Cain shares results of the TIMSS exam (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study).

Asian students (Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore) consistently score higher than American and other students from around the world on the TIMSS. After analyzing student time on task answering a lengthy and tedious questionnaire that is part of the TIMSS but not factored into student scores, researchers concluded that "quiet persistence" explains the huge discrepancy in student performance (200-201).

That is, there is a correlation between the number of questions students answer on the questionnaire and student performance on the TIMSS. The greater number of questionnaire responses, the higher the TIMSS scores.

These results hold for younger children as well. Cain describes research by cross-cultural psychologist Priscilla Blinco who found that Asian first grade students will spend more time attempting to solve an unsolvable puzzle than do their American counterparts.

Why? "Blianco attributes these results to the Japanese quality of persistence," explains Cain (201).

In our education culture of test prep ad nauseum, the concept of quiet persistence and the importance of teaching our students how to quietly persist in their work has important implications, especially since so many students enter our classrooms lacking the social skills necessary for working quietly by oneself.

One need only attend a movie, concert, theatrical performance, or other public event to observe the increasing numbers of children unable to sit in a quiet and respectful manner, and they often have parents who both excuse and promote their extroversion in these venues.

As one who embraces those quiet moments in which I get to curl up with a good book and listen to the ideas of authors and characters, I shouldn't need reminding that, perhaps, more students prefer solitary study, too.

As one who values quiet public spaces from libraries to restaurants to auditoriums, I need to consider my students' needs for more quiet in their public school.

As one who has learned to embrace the quiet in my own empty nest and who acknowledges that I need to make quiet spaces and time to write this summer if I am to experience any success with the new modes of writing I'm exploring, I must afford my students this same solitude.

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. ~Mahatma Gandhi