Sunday, March 8, 2015

Those things that hurt, instruct.

I used to have a copy of a portrait of Benjamin Franklin taped to my wall when I was 13 years old (not many teenage girls can say that, or want to say that).

One of the reasons I admire him so much is for words like those that title my blog post today. I often think of Franklin's words when I see the frustration on my students' faces during writing revisions. They grumble and complain, but I have a very comfortable class environment, so they feel that's okay to do. I use this opportunity to explain how most things in our lives that are valuable take effort, time and frustration. Most times, I share how my second daughter cried every time she practiced learning how to walk. She would fall, watch her older sister run past her, and shake her fists in utter desperation. Tears would commence and screaming would usually follow. The skill of walking is necessary, and she knew she wanted to do it, but it was going to take many failures and minor victories to get a nice stride. In addition, I refused to carry her during her practices which motivated her even more to "get moving" and make progress.

Writing students usually don't realize how many changes (minor victories) it takes to achieve a presentable essay. Every revision provides an opportunity for students to reflect on their writing. This is why I present my students with pointed questions during the revision and edit process. They look for sentences that are awkward and sentences that flow. They look for grammar errors, but they also have to identify key sentences (like a thesis and topic sentences). This exercise is repeated 3 times during one essay. Reading a partner's paper also makes this exercise even more challenging because students are often confronted with writing that is better or far worse than their own, and either scenario provides its own lessons. Additionally, my students are required to write 2 reflective essays about their writing progress during 1 major essay assignment. All the revisions, edits and reflections are the "hurt" for my writing students: it's time consuming and it also requires focus.

This semester, one of the students who was most outspoken about her disdain for the writing process visited my office frequently. She shared her writing with me multiple times on Google Drive for feedback, and we e-mailed one another about her writing challenges. Her results were very impressive, and at the end, she thanked me for teaching her how much a respectable essay costs. Like my daughter learning how to walk, I refused to "carry" this student (for example, I would pose questions instead of pointing out changes I thought she should make: "what is the best paragraph for this sentence?"). Now, this student has learned that quality writing is a process, and that process is sometimes painful, but the reward is something that she created, and she owns it now.

Related Articles