Friday, June 18, 2010

Stop the Regurgitating!

I was one of those students who was very good a regurgitating.

I would listen to what teachers would say in class, go home, essentially just paraphrase what they had already said, and viola! A letter “A” would be passed back a few days later. No originality, no creative thinking. I was good at regurgitating. It is safe.

Ralph Fletcher's book (mentioned in earlier posts) has me thinking about my formative writing experiences. When I think about my own primary and secondary experiences, I don’t really have a teacher that comes to mind. Unfortunately, I think I came from a system that rewarded students for being able to spit back what we were fed: lots and lots of plot-driven book reports. In fact, I was shocked by the C- on my first college essay.

It really wasn’t until undergrad and beyond that I found connections with people that helped mentor and mold my writing. The biggest of which, so sorry that this is going to sound cheesy, is my husband. In college we would read each other’s papers out loud in order to hear the phrasing, listening for vague descriptions and repetition. Any time I have something important that I’m working on, I still take it to him this day (12 years married this Sunday!) so that he might read it aloud back to me, and together we collaboratively edit.

In undergrad, I had a wonderful English education professor, whom I’m still in periodic contact with today, that also helped shape my writing and teaching of writing through reminders that it’s about the content. What I say is more important than how I say it. I have to be clear on my idea, focus, content – whatever you want to call it – before charging ahead to write a piece. I hope that I am are more concise, clearer writer thanks in part to his encouragement.

As a result of my early writing experiences, I find that I look for shadows of myself sitting in my classroom. Try to work with them to break that cycle, encouraging them to take risks, to be personal. I don’t feel that I really learned to start to write until I had teachers/mentors that called me lack of originality. So now I challenge myself to not only help students find their unique writing voice, but design lessons and assignments that encourage such writing.

The book report is banned in my classroom. There will be no regurgitating here!

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