Saturday, November 13, 2010

Helping the Conventionally Impaired become Mechanically Inclined!

Why don't we set up a  Convention about Conventions!  We'll guarantee improvement on standardized tests!  We'll unlock the purse strings of those school boards obsessed with spelling, grammar and punctuation. I can imagine the shell shocked teachers arriving by the bus load weighed down by the burden of AYP.

Then we hit 'em with the concepts of Conventions - Editing, Not Correcting  and give everyone a copy of Jeff Anderson's Mechanically Inclined.  8-)

I was always a poor speller.  So much so that by the ninth grade I was convinced I was a hopeless dolt.

A great English teacher named Mr. Dennis Huckaby turned me around.

I remember Mr. Huckaby's first rule:  Misspell my last name and you fail!.  His second rule was three misspelled words in your paper and you fail!

I still recall typing papers for Mr. H's class due Monday...on Sundays.  I remained a terrible speller but I became much better with the white-out and the dictionary. Even though he was tough on conventions Mr. Huckaby inspired me to write and helped me overcome a terror of public speaking. I left high school wanting to be a writer thanks to Mr. Huckaby.

As an adult my atrocious spelling drove me to overcome a terrible fear of computers and get into word processing. I remember a magazine editor of an Alaska wildlife magazine telling me with a sneer in his voice that I'd misspelled something on page 14 of my manuscript and of course they weren't interested in publishing my work.

Word processing saved me. No more corrector-selectric for me.   I bought an Apple // and WordStar!  Soon I was teaching word processing to my 5th graders and selling magazine articles on the side.

Over the years my spelling improved because spell check targeted just the words I have trouble with. Now, unless I'm tired or my hands hurt too much, I'm half-way decent when it comes to getting the letters in the right order. Of course I still can't reliably spell the word receive and when fatigued I'll use their when I know it should be there.  (Note:  I needed my spell check to correct the words reliably, receive, and fatigued.)

I'd use stories like this in my middle school classes.  I'd confess to my poor spelling, slow reading speed, and general struggles with language and tell my kids that being a weak speller didn't mean they were dumb. Many were slow to believe. Until they found there were 5 other traits where the conventionally impaired might flourish. I only wish I'd been taught about the writing process and the six traits when I was in school.  

These days I find myself wishing I'd been a kid in the classes of the teachers I work with online.  Ah the years of pain I would have dodged!

Dennis (who relies heavily on his spell check and is still embarrassed when an error slips through).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fluent Like Water by Sharmane Miller

This post by Sharmane Miller of Nassau Bahamas was offered as part of my online class Teaching and Assessing Writing with the Six Traits ~ Dennis

Standing at the shoreline watching the gentle waves push the cool water between the cracks of my toes and hearing the synchronized breathing of each ripple, provides a powerful image of fluency for me.  Living on a very small island, I tend to focus a lot on the water and this week I draw from it to conceptually teach sentence fluency.  Just as it experiences low and high tide, students experience sentences with varying lengths and meter.  At times the water is a bit cold and harsh and we need to move into it slowly or throw caution to the wind and dive in quickly.  Either way, some movement must take place.  I can really milk this metaphor for more links to fluency but I’ll quit while I’m ahead :-)

As I read through the similes and metaphors suggested in the introduction of this module, a past writing assignment of my former sixth graders came to mind.  After listening to Georgia Heard talk about finding poetry in unusual places, they wrote a single sentence response, which exemplify the power of sentence fluency. 

Dwayne wrote, “I find poetry in a scary book that sends chills down my spine with the turning of each page.” 

Justin said, “I find poetry while I’m in the yard playing in the dirt,” while Gillian explained, “I find poetry through my father’s car window as I gaze lazily at the passing landscape.” 

When each of them in turn read their sentences, what resulted was a wonderful rendition of rhythm, cadence, power and movement.  Getting students to “pitch in” by adding a sentence or two for a class writing project worked well for teaching fluency, but I’m sure some adjustments would have to be made for the younger writers.

Christopher Meeks suggested that poetry lets you live in a world with new spectacles and since sentence fluency is influenced greatly by poetry, I feel that students must get accustomed to this new lens before introducing other features with it.  By this I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to introduce students to the trait of sentence fluency separately (choosing the frame), then in subsequent lessons put on the high definition lenses (voice) and throw in some tint (word choice) to reinforce the connection between the traits for a totally cool spectacle (writing with style). 

When I do take this approach, one of my favorite activities is the sentence pyramid, but I must agree with the readings that nothing beats the impact of plain old reading aloud.

 Sharmane (Nassau)