Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reading Like Writers, Continued (Which I Almost Forgot)

“Read like a writer.” I think I should tattoo that across my forehead. Better yet, across my students’ foreheads. On mine I’d only see it twice a day--brushing my teeth in the morning and at night. On my students’ foreheads I couldn’t escape it. 

After my great experience last week, with myself and my students copying down one cool sentence per day from the short stories we were reading, then at the end, making one original sentence using, in some way, the sentences we’d copied (see last week’s blog for the full story), I nearly forgot to follow up this week as we polished final drafts of poetry analysis papers.

Serendipity--that’s one word for the sudden thought I had when students were preparing to hand in final drafts. I’d asked them to do the usual: highlight thesis and preview of points, number the points within the preview, highlight topic sentence, and number them with the number of the corresponding point from the preview. Then in the space above the title, write one thing they’d learned while writing the paper, and one question for Mrs. Essenburg about something specific in your paper. 

But I’d forgotten something--something good from their paper for them to share with their groupmates. Ah-ha! A cool sentence! A chance to remind them they should have been polishing up their sentences, paying attention, maybe trying out some of the structures or words they’d liked in the previous week’s exercise. (Yes, I should have reminded them earlier--when they were actually working on the paper--but something is better than nothing when building new habits--for myself as well as for my students!) 

Students chose and shared sentences. I heard ooohs and aaahs of admiration. Some of the students--though I hadn’t asked them to--marked on their paper the sentence they’d chosen--so I got to see not just good sentences, but sentences they’d thought were good. Whether it was because I reminded them or not, some students referred to crafting good sentences in what they’d learned or their question for me, and I remembered to recommend readings as answers to some of the questions they asked.

One student marked this sentence as one she was proud of, and I definitely concur: “The ultimate goal of Christianity is also transformation: from unrighteous to righteous, from takers to givers, from self-centered to Christ-centered, from independent to interdependent, and from inevitable death to everlasting life.” 

Another student asked, “I’ve been specifically working hard on the creativity of my sentences, making it sound descriptive and beautiful. How well did I do?” I could mark sentences that especially delighted me and assure her that her efforts had paid off and her sentences were creative and beautiful. 

Finally, when one student wrote, “What are some pointers for writing an interesting and funny essay? I really want to learn how to make my essay funny,” I knew immediately that what I needed to do was direct her to funny essays she could read like a writer. The next day I told her that, and she said, “I love to read essays!” I handed her a copy of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamotte. She gasped, “I can read this for guided outside reading? Oh, thank you!” And I got to do one of my favorite things--book matchmaking!

To think that but for the impulse of a moment, I’d have risked missing out on all those opportunities to help students learn to read like writers, and to have a window on their process as they do.

I definitely need to look into tattoos....

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