Thursday, May 7, 2015

Did He Just Do It? An Update

I got such a good response to my last post Really? Just Do What the Prompt Says, Just DO IT! Lots of comments from moms who totally understood where I was and felt my pain! Someone wanted to know how it ended. Well, it hasn't ended, but this is what happened!

So, later at work that day I spoke to my Educational Adviser, Judy. Who pointed out what tremendous ownership he had over his work. She is always quick to point out a point of view that varies from my own without judgment. She is my true cheerleader in this whole homeschooling journey.

Her comments made me pause and think about my overall goals with teaching writing and teaching in general. Why not be a complete revolutionary in education and throw the writing prompts to the wind. Was I just pissed because he failed to bend to my complete and total power? Yep. I decided I needed to let go of my need to force him to do it.

Then later that day I spoke to a parent about writing a letter of recommendation for her son. He is entering our Performing and Fine Arts Academy and is applying for the Honors English Program.  As a former English teacher at PFAA, I am aware of the process. It includes ...wait for it... a timed write in response to a prompt!

I used to grade the responses and look over applications. The number one "killer"? Not addressing the prompt and low quality analysis.

I saw her son later in the day and imagined my own son at that age. I wondered to myself, "What if Robert wants to go to PFAA or another more traditional high school?" He is bright and will probably be capable of taking Honors courses.

Will throwing the prompts into the wind handicap him later?

I may have groaned out loud.

When I got home, he had chosen NOT to revise. After dinner and a dog walk, we sat down.

"Mom, I don't know what you want me to do with it" he started in that super annoying whiny, I am not going to cooperate voice.

"Yes you do, you just don't want to do it." I replied, trying to sound neutral.

"FINE!" and he angrily grabbed the laptop and started typing and erasing. He made sure that I knew he was not happy about it.

He did end up changing the beginning. When he discovered that he would need to add in the dinosaurs that he had learned about, instead of his favorite dinosaurs, I am pretty sure I saw a tear. I tried to console him by telling him he could keep the T Rex in, but he would have to add in another part to his story to fit in the other two dinosaurs, he responded with a, "NOOO MOOOM, that would be so much more work! All of this revising just means more work".

I knew I had made the right choice. Revising is hard work. Writing what others tell you while still maintaining your own ideas is hard work. Once you write something, you don't always want to return to it, but you often need to. The one and done mentality just doesn't always cut it.

I don't always make him write to a prompt. He has his own blog, where I do not dictate what he writes or the reason he writes. It is also the only time I don't have to force him to write or edit.

Somehow, I need to find the right balance. I don't want to kill his ownership. I don't want him to repeat mindlessly in essays what teachers tell him in class. I do want him to be able to open doors for himself.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Really? Just Do What The Prompt Says! Just DO IT.

Remember a few months ago when I started my series of blogs on teaching a reluctant writer? It has been going super well! UNTIL today!

I should have known this was coming. Things were going too well. He was writing each morning without complaint. He loves to read things out loud to me that he writes and we giggle about it. His resistance to writing has slowly, ever so slowly gone down.

In fact, we started doing some formal note taking when reading about dinosaurs, using venn diagrams to pre write, writing paragraphs, and typing final drafts without too much of an issue. So when I introduced a writing prompt asking him to write a narrative about waking up in prehistoric times, I thought no problem!

We read the prompt and took it apart. He used Legos to create three different scenes from his story. Then, he told his story to me as I scribed. Finally, he typed the story on the computer.

Today, I had  visions of our fabulous revision process where we would talk about sensory details, plot, and quotes. But first, I wanted him to compare what he did to the writing prompt. My goal was to show
him that he needed to double check his work to make sure it fulfills the assignment.

We re read the prompt together. That is when it all fell apart.

The prompt required him to start his story by saying, " I woke up called out, "Mom", but instead of hearing Molly running up the stairs, I heard leaves rustling and strange animal sounds..."

Robert's story started with, " I woke up and felt fur on my face..."

"Robert" I said in my teacher voice, " Does your story start with the line that the prompt requires?"

"NO." I stared at him.

"So what do we need to do?"


Now, Robert is not always the most compliant student, but we have been in a pretty decent groove lately.

I calmly explained that sometimes, we get to write what we want. But when the teacher gives us a prompt that we have to follow, it is important to follow it or the teacher will grade is really low.

"No. I don't care. My way is better"

My Love and Logic Training kicked in. "Oh Robert, so sad. You don't seem ready for help. When you are let me know" and with that I got up and left the table.

I heard furious typing and clicking. I couldn't help it and I looked over his shoulder. He had erased his story and started to type, " I am not going to fix it" and "It is better my way".

Inside I was screaming, "JUST DO IT. I have to leave for work in ten minutes! I don't have time for this!"

I walked over quietly and calmly explained that what he had done was disrespectful. It isn't okay to talk back to an adult in an angry way. I offered that when we were done revising his story so that it fit the prompt, he could write his own version. After a grumble, he agreed and I showed him how to get his story back on the page.

At that point, my dad arrived and I had to leave for work. I yelled as I went downstairs, "If you don't revise today we will work on it tonight" and left.

So, here is the rub. My overall goal is for him to take ownership of his writing. I homeschool so that he isn't forced inside of a box. Most of the time, I allow him to take ownership, use his ideas, and his language. Our lessons and talks revolve around mentor texts, figurative language, and author's intent so that he can think about his writing in a smart way.

Realistically, I also want him to be able to read a prompt, address a prompt, and pass the stupid writing test.

I have no idea how the story ends. I am still at work. I hope he just DID IT. Sigh.