It's Just Five Sentences

Today we talked about the writing process in my freshman English class. I freely admit that I would NEVER have talked about the writing process, except that it is definitely going to be on the nine-weeks test, and it is definitely part of the Big Scary Exam in May.

So we went through the stages:
First draft
Final draft

Maybe there are more stages; I don't know. I looked in the grammar book, and it's not very clear. There may or may not be an organization stage; I guess it depends on the kind of essay that's being written. Anyway, I looked at the test, and the question is about the pre-writing stage, so that's what I taught.

I take the You-Learn-By-Doing approach to teaching, so as a class we did some pre-writing for the prompt Compare and contrast Romeo and Tybalt (we just finished Romeo and Juliet). I made a giant Venn diagram on the board, and the students had to tell me how Romeo and Tybalt were similar and how they were different. And then I said, very slowly, distinctly, and loudly, "SO IF YOU SEE SOMETHING THAT LOOKS LIKE THIS ON YOUR TEST, WHAT STAGE IS REPRESENTED HERE?"

"Pre-writing!" they answered in unison. Well, a few of them did.

"Great," I said, "so about six of you will get that one right."

Then I showed them a first draft, which was actually a fifth grade writing assessment sample; on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest), it had a score of 2. So of course my ninth graders thought the errors were HILARIOUS, and they refused to believe me when I said I had seen the very same errors on their own papers. (And WORSE.)

Finally, I gave them an assignment to lock it in, so that I won't be embarrassed when I see their scores they will do well on the Big Scary Test.

The assignment was to choose one of these prompts:

1. How did Romeo and Juliet's deaths affect the town of Verona?
2. What options did Romeo and Juliet have besides suicide?

The directions were to CHOOSE ONE PROMPT and write ONE PARAGRAPH to answer the question, making sure to complete EVERY STAGE of the writing process. (For revision, I let them do peer review with a partner.) I repeated the directions a thousand times, set them free, and got a buttload of questions flung at me.

"Do we have to answer both questions?"
"Do we both have to write something, or just one person?"
"Do we have to do all the stages of the writing process?"
"What if I don't know the answer?"
"Can you give an example?"
"What if I don't like my partner?"

Here's my favorite: "What's a paragraph?"

"Five sentences," several of the other students immediately chorused. (I didn't argue. For the sake of the writing assessment they'll have to take in eleventh grade--assuming they even get there--I figure five sentences is pretty darn good.)

"Five LINES or five PERIODS?" the darling asked.

"FIVE SENTENCES," I stated flatly. "AT LEAST." And immediately a groan went up throughout the land.

Now. It is no secret to me that I teach THE laziest kids in all the world. Over the year, I have been constantly subjected to their total apathy and their almost aggressive slothfulness. The fact that I have tried, on many occasions, to introduce new teaching strategies, to integrate technology, to differentiate instruction, means nothing to them; they have complained at every turn and have stubbornly refused to put forth any effort at all. Almost three-quarters of them are going to take freshman English again next year, just because THEY WILL NOT DO ANYTHING.

But the idea that even ONE PARAGRAPH is too much ... well, I almost had a stroke.

Instead, we had a tornado drill. And those kids don't know how lucky they were.

1 comment:

Joon said...

I would challenge one of your ninth graders to one of my fifth graders to see if they could write a story to a given narrative writing prompt. I wonder how well your darlings would do. Do you want me to let you have a copy of one of my kid's stories to show them? You can tell them, "My sister's fifth grade kids can write better than you." Do you think they'd care? Probably not, is my guess.


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