I have a room full of writing geeks. Massive writing geeks. Total grammar nerds. And I love it. I don’t know if they are aware that they are like this, but they so totally are. It is awesome.
The first few days of our time together was partially a living hell. Most of the students didn’t want to actually put words on a page for their essay. They procrastinated as much as they could, but over time they all managed to generate a little bit of something. I told them we would identify some sentences from their writing and take a closer look at them.
In each class, I asked for two volunteers. I had my volunteers share up to four sentences in their writing that they wanted help with. I typed up their writing so it was on the screen and we could all see it. I figured this activity would either go well or it would be utterly painful. There would be no in-between.
I was thrilled when my students took to the task of editing sentences. I asked the writer of each set of sentences to provide an overview of her/his essay and anything they wanted us to pay attention to. Then we got to work. We looked at how to make sentences tighter and asked writers to clarify their meaning and what direction they were going in. We deleted things that were repetitive and shortened up sentences. In some cases, we reorganized things completely. Students debated if a single word should stay, be deleted, or changed to something else. An IPAD was busted out to look up possible alternatives for a new word.
When we were done working with a student’s sentences, the response was usually one of amazement. As one young man said, “I didn’t even know it could look like that!” Another young man who had offered a great deal of feedback yelled out, “I didn’t know some of this stuff was possible! This is so cool.”
Throughout, I emphasized that we were playing with words and manipulating ideas and that ultimately it would be up to each author to decide if or how to use our feedback. No one was required to use any of the edits that we made.
Would you believe that we spent 15-20 minutes per volunteer? Can you imagine spending up to 20 minutes editing and discussing no more than four sentences? It was lovely. In one case, we spent 20 minutes discussing a single sentence a young lady had put forward. It was a long sentence, and she is not a fan of overly long sentences. But she couldn’t see how to make it shorter. In the end, we refined some things but were largely in agreement that her long sentence worked.
Did I mention that these are kids who think they cannot write? They act like they can barely string two words together which is far from the case. At the end of all this we had 10 minutes left in class which I gave to them to write. And they wrote. Getting them to write this time was not a problem. They had ideas about how to enhance their own work based on what we had done.
I know they got something from today because the room buzzed with it. Plus, they were yelling out what they were learning in a level of excitement I had never seen before. I’m hopeful they see how much fun writing can be. Yes, it can be difficult and boring and whatnot, but playing with ideas and reshaping them to communicate what you want to communicate is fun and powerful.