Here’s my latest effort in the NCWP Writing Retreat Without the Retreat. THis time Peter had the idea to play with digression as a genre. At first I didn’t even know what he was talking about, but then I did. And it was so fun, it’s kind of like you could just keep writing and never get to the point. So, it’s long, but oh well. Oh, and we had to use the word conceive somewhere in the piece. But I digress…
Now that testing is over, I’ve decided to have my students create a “Seventh Grade Memoir.” To kick it off, I had them draw a map of the past school year, which included anything they could conceive of that would make a good story. (Well, it was supposed to have happened, of course, not just be any old thing they could think of.) So they spent a day making these maps (half of which included the episode in which Holly chased Rudy around with the scissors. They said things like “Holly tried to kill Rudy with the scissors” or “I was so scared I ran and almost fell down trying to get away from her” (that one was Rudy, of course.)) When they each had finally made a map, I got ready to do this reflective essay with them that’s called cubing. I start it out with a cube that moves around, opening and closing and reconfiguring itself. I ask them what they know about a cube, but before they tell me it has six sides, which is the correct answer, I start opening and closing it and they get completely sidetracked by the coolness of it. They want to know where I got it and if they can please oh please play with it right now. So I tell them they may not and try to bring them back to the essay I have conceived. Only I haven’t said it is an essay cause that will totally scare them off and make them put their pencils down. So I just tell them to start.
Wait, I forgot to mention that between the map making and the cube writing, I had them do this thing I called “structured talk” except I kind of forgot the structure and just let them talk for a few minutes, telling the story they were going to write about. I walked around the room, listening to the stories and stopped to listen to Sal who was delightedly talking about the time he got hit in the face this year. He still seemed kind of surprised by it, which is understandable because he is one of the biggest kids in the seventh grade, which is actually also understandable since he is fifteen. The way he tells the story, he was in the bathroom, and the person in the stall next to him seemed to be having a hard time doing his business, so Sal asked him if he was okay. (I’m sure he was laughing when he said it, cause that’s how he is.) He left he bathroom then, and went and sat on a bench with some friends. When the kid walked by he hit Sal in the face. I am sure it wasn’t unprovoked, knowing Sal. But I digress.
After I decided they had talked enough I stopped them talking so they could begin writing. That is, I tried to stop them, but stopping a room full of seventh graders from talking is kind of like trying to put the bubbles back in a bottle of champagne. (Have you ever noticed that when you open the champagne really carefully with a towel over the top, hardly any bubbles come out, but when you just boisterously pop the cork, it comes out all over the place? I needed a really big towel in there, I must say.) So I finally got all but Sal quiet and I spoke to him, “Sal, it’s time.” He turned around, muttering, “Vergas!” (That is about the naughtiest word I can think of in Spanish. So naughty, I won’t translate it here, but if you know Spanish and hang around teenagers with loose mouths you know that I am being pretty daring to even print it here.) I acted super surprised and angry, saying, “SAL! Watch your mouth. That is very close to a going to the office word and you know it.” He looked up at me innocently, as his friends all tittered, and said, “What? I didn’t say anything bad.” I just looked at him and said “Can it. We both know what you said. Just stop it.” Honestly, I should have sent him to the office but nothing would have really happened except I’d have had to write that naughty word on a referral, translate it and type it into his permanent record. ( It’s amazing what all ends up in permanent records. Sometimes I’m looking for a test score or a Redesignation date and I see these discipline records ( I know they aren’t on the same tab in the system, but never mind. Sometimes that button just gets clicked) and I see these discipline records from like the fourth grade. Like, “Sal ate Janey’s lunch and then called her a *$#^&*.” I believe it, too, because I think he’s been saying those words since he was like three. I didn’t actually see that in his file, I’ve never even looked at it, but I can totally conceive of its presence there.))
Finally we got going on the essay that wasn’t called anything, and I started leading them through it. “First describe your story. Show it with your words.” dot dot dot “Great, next, associate it with something else you know. Say ‘This reminds me of…’ and then write what it reminds you of. The puzzled looks were really appearing by this point (All except on Sal’s face because he was eagerly writing his bathroom and face punch story). By the end of the class I had stories from each student, each of them a compendium of a bunch of different stories, none really connected to one another. I guess I need a different strategy and a lot more time before I try this with them again.
See what I mean about going on forever? Very fun to write.