Monday, August 23, 2004

wishing for a point

Three of us used the wishing well pencil sharpener today. It's a little bitty brass wishing well, has a moveable crank (which is attached to nothing), and it makes everyone who uses it laugh. Why, I wonder, would anyone have ever made a pencil sharpener in the shape of a wishing well? Maybe it's about wishing for something fine to come out of the pencil. Like a point.
It was a good day. These people in my classes are so willing to do what I ask. That's probably because I'm asking them to write. They want to. Because of the 90 minute classes and the block schedule I had time in all 3 classes today to have an individual conference with each student about her/his writing from Friday. The Barack Obama-inspired writings. It's going to make all the difference, this time to talk individually with each person. I cannot yet say what I recognize about their writing. It's too soon. One thing I see a lot of is creative formations and uses of "to be." Also see that they often don't make plurals and they don't make possessives. My baby daddy. I think there's something interesting in this, speaking socialogically (is that a word?), which I'll have to run by my linguist friend. I can see more now how linguistics and anthropology are linked.
What I also see is that these people are smart and that they're thinkers. It's a rich and ripe environment.
Today two girls I don't know got in my face. One, who isn't even a student here, opened my door and came halfway in and talked in a real loud voice to a girl in my class. (The girl in class wasn't particularly interested.) The girl at the door completely ignored me until I stood up and walked toward her. Then she backed out (thank g-d), talking bullshit, and when she was well into the hall and walking away, her back to me, she said, "I'm going to have you fired."
During my next class, another girl was at the closed door, talking through the glass, bothering someone else in the room (who also wasn't particularly interested). (I hate it that my students have to put up with such crap.) When I went to her she flashed her hand in my face, got her 'tude on, and said she wasn't messing with me, she was messing with one of my students, and then was gone. Too late it occurred to me to say, if you're messing with my student you are messing with me. I'm so strong and clever in retrospect. (Though it's probably just as well that I didn't think of that little retort in time. I realized a long time ago that power is an illusion, that I only get respected or listened to because my students choose to listen to and respect me. Here, the sense of violence very nearby humbles me and reminds me how fleeting the state of order really is, how close is chaos, and how lucky I am to have what I have.)

Disposed of: yet another shirt and a ceramic dish with painted gold angels on a maroon background. I'm bringing that to school. It's pretty.

Melanie Plesh


Blogger Makenzi said...

It takes far too many people far too long (often until they die) to realize how foolhardy power-lording truly is. the ants actually can overcome the elephant. the elephant only has the upper hand because the ants can't be bothered. but only til the elephant gets overconfident and goes on a stomping rampage and makes enough ants angry enough to want to fix this little, elephant-sized problem. the point being. chaos is but a stomp away. at all times. power is only granted through the patience of those it is lorded over. and their gullibilty. you're incredibly smart. you pointed this out to me. a long time ago. with a big fish. who thought might was right. who happened to be wrong. okiloveyoubyebye.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

The thing about meeting with writers individually, I think, is the key. And not just talking about possessives, but as we've learned in the Writing Project, talking about (and around) the writing. It's all about the writer, even more than it is about "the writing." I didn't know that till I experienced the Writing Project. I remember holding conferences that focused exclusively on the document before me. There's some merit in that, and there's some times you need to do that, but when teaching, the WRITER is more important than any one piece of WRITING, so it's good to have those conferences where you allow the writer to talk about her writing, her self, etc. It all finds its way into the next pieces of writing somehow.

Anyway, when I used to teach a class where I conferenced with EVERY student during EVERY class period, we used to use a checklist to keep track, as every student was usually on a different paper topic and at a different point in the revision of that paper. (Johnny might be on his 3rd paper, trying to generate details while Mary was polishing her first paper.) So every student had a checklist that they brought with them to the conference, and they handed me the paper and the checklist, and I'd say, "Ok, so I've read this paper for 'Unity,' and now it's time to look at it for 'Correctness/effectiveness' (which comes next on the list)," so in about a minute I could read the paper for this one thing, and in another minute I could tell the student what she needed to know in this one area, and then send her back to keep writing and see another student.

I tell you this not that you will necessarily want to use it, (because I can hear you saying "This is so artificial that it is not for me,") but to let you know that it did have its merits, and also to make the point that reading something holistically, for "everything," is really different than reading for one particular thing. It's time consuming, unfocused, and very useful. But it's just one thing we can do. The more concentrated, focused kind of reading is a nice thng to balance it with. A quick, editor's reading as opposed to a slow "teacher's" reading, is helpful. And I think there is merit--and a time--for both. I never would have thought I could read 20 papers, and respond to 20 students, in one hour, but I could, by focusing just on one thing at a time, that thing being what they needed next.

FYI--the areas we went over, from first to last were:
1. "finding essentials" (either a freewrite or a long brainstormed list of details that showed they'd thought on the topic and had something concrete to offer).

2. Order/coherence

3. Unity

4. Correctness/effectiveness

5. Final polishing

Maybe what I'm getting at is that there are at least 3 different kinds of conference to consider:

1. Talking to the writer. Just talking about the writing, the ideas surrounding it, how the ideas got there. Letting the writer just talk. This conference is about ideas, about being a writer, about being part of a conversation, with writing in the middle.

2. Responding as a teacher/reader. It might still be general, and about the essay as a whole, and there is no telling where this might go. You read the whole thing and say what you hear, what you think. It is a bit more about the writing than the writer. Still give and take, still coaching, but you won't have the writer launching into her process or world.

3. Responding as a teacher/editor. That's when you are a fine tooth comb, looking for one thing. You've been through the other stuff. Now you focus on that one thing the student needs to work on, with real specific instruction, maybe even pointing and saying, "What's going on here, can you tell me?"

Anyway, you (or your students) might find comfort in knowing there's more than one way to go about this conferencing process, and which way is coming up next.

Let's keep talking to each other about what's happening in our conferences.

5:40 PM  
Blogger KarenM said...

I understand that you mean that power, in the deepest spiritual sense, is an illusion (ask Nelson Mandela), but except in that way, power is very real (ask Rodney King or the ghost of Emmett Till or (fill in the blank)... Karen

3:36 AM  
Blogger Melanie Plesh said...

Maybe instead of saying power I should say control. You're right about power.

5:35 AM  
Blogger George said...

How would you like a quick and easy way to keep track of all your important information and activities Medical . Medical

10:54 PM  

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