Friday, August 17, 2007

Making a break

On Saturday morning my fiancee and I will head east to Gloucester's Good Harbor Beach for a final care-free weekend before the reality of school's impending start fully sets in.

After this Sunday, I'll be back in edu-world. Fortunately, school doesn't start until Aug. 30th, so I have a little bit of time to wade into the waters and re-acclimate. I'll be heading in three days next week - one day to set up the room and print handouts for the first week or so, another to attend a professional development workshop on Podcasting, and a final to take part in our 9th grade orientation, dubbed "Tracks to Success."

Depending on how much I accomplish, I might go in one other day before Aug. 29th, which is a mandated "teacher day," although most of the day is consumed by meetings. Part of me is looking forward to returning to the classroom, while another has really appreciated and taken advantage of the much-needed downtime, and doesn't want it to end.

Looking back on last year, it seems I only remember my successes and the fun classes and the kids who did amazing work and the students I feel I reached and really challenged and inspired to dig deeper. I tend to forget the failures, the students who dropped out, or never made an effort, or whom, for whatever reason, I never connected with. I definitely dwell on my accomplishments. They make me remember why I love this job, and how it truly can be rewarding.

This isn't to say I don't reflect on my failings. I do. Although I don't think I actually "fail" so much as "trickle." There are some days when a lesson or activity is like a huge tidewater or a class 5 rapid. It storms the classroom, enraptures everyone, and takes us along on an invigorating ride. And then there are the weak lessons which just seem to trickle by, never really gaining momentum, never capturing or inspiring.

I want to be a roaring tide. But not everyday. It would be too exhausting. Perhaps my motto for this year will be "more flow, less trickle." Or less dribble? I don't know. I do know, though, that I've stumbled across an idea I had no initial intention of writing about. I was going to blog about the beach, but I've kept the focus on what I'm doing after the weekend, as I'm thinking about what I'll eventually be doing when school starts.

Am I digressing a little? Perhaps. Maybe this is an example of a first draft of something that could be more cohesive and polished. But am I not following a single thought wave? Doesn't this entry "flow?" I'm not entirely sure.

Writers on any level must have opportunities to share their writing with other experienced writers and readers before they declare it final. Good writing owes much of its success to good eyes - those who provide a writer with honest and helpful feedback.

One of my goals for this year is to find ways to get students to feel comfortable critiquing each others' writing. And I don't mean finding comma splices and fixing its/it's. I mean responding to higher-order concerns like ideas and organization. I also want them to look at sentences not just for grammar, but for fluency. For beauty. For artistic and expressive merit. For originality. For their ability to capture and enthrall. This means students need to see authentic first and second drafts, and they need the revision process modeled and explained. They need opportunities to take risks and to trust and to feel the power and satisfaction that comes with expressing one's self in the written word.

Soon I will appear in Room 512 as Mr. B-G and strive to summon the streams of knowledge, but not yet. This weekend I will just be Peter. Just one more person seeking solace from the sun's August rays. One more guy trying to catch a rideable wave.


Janet said...

I go back the week after you. I've already been in to school twice to set up and I'll have to go in at least another 3 times. I admire that you did it all in one shot. I have yet to work on my "back to school" post but I always love to find another teacher going through it, too.

BTW, you added your name to the TITMT box on my blog. In case you decide to play in the future, you only add your name there if you are going to use the question on your blog. If not, a simple comment will suffice!:)

Seth said...

As I enter week #3 of the school year, and my students are just getting ready to do some peer-editing this week, I'm hoping for many of the same things as you. Kids pick up on the grammar pretty well, but they rarely comment on how the paper sounds. This is going to be one of my discussion topics before I set them free to look over one another's papers.

Thanks for the link about Essaying the Essay. It's certainly an interesting perspective about how we approach writing in high school classes. Over the last few semesters, I've started to move away from the "thesis essay" with my senior comp. classes. I still teach the "Thesis essay" with my Freshman because that's how they'll be required to write in all of their other classes during high school. While my seniors still have to write the mandatory 5 formal essays in class, much of our other writing is reflective in nature and allows the students to use their own voice to write about their own topics. It's been a great experience to see the students examine and approach writing from their own perspective.

Mr. B-G said...

janet - Have a great year!

seth - I don't mind so much teaching the concept of thesis writing as I do teaching thesis writing within the format of a 5-paragraph blah blah blah bore-me-to-tears essay.

Unfortunately, our state testing agency loves the 5-paragraph blah blah blah essay format (probably because it's easier to assign it a numerical grade), so I feel that I would be doing students a disservice if I didn't teach them how to write in that format.

I hate reading these essays almost as much as the students dislike writing them.

While I do think it's important for students to be able to craft and sustain a compelling and engaging argument (backed up with textual evidence, quotations, and solid reasoning), there are other writing formats that are more fun to teach and definitely more worthwhile to compose.