Monday, February 22, 2016

I'm Doing This Wrong

In anticipation of the state test coming  up in April, I've spent some time over the last couple of weeks teaching my students how to write effective argumentative pieces. They've studied a cartoon crime scene, gathered evidence, written claims, developed warrants to explain how their evidence supports their claims, and practiced writing this all up in essay form. From there we moved along to writing arguments of policy, and they practiced gathering evidence from informational text to support a claim, brainstormed possible counterarguments to their claims, and practiced weaving all of that into an essay. 

I made sure they knew what I was up to. I told them I didn't want them to get clobbered by a test. I didn't want them to feel stupid or frustrated or unprepared.  I gave them topics I thought would be interesting to them, even though the topics on the test might not be engaging.  And they seemed to trust me and my intentions. And they tried. Some of them were quite successful. But for too many, this was just an exercise, and all the detail and voice and passion they'd developed when they were writing topics completely of their own choice disappeared.

A week and a half ago, I learned that my friend, Rob, who was diagnosed with cancer in August, will not survive.  His wife, Mary Ann, a brilliant writer and artist, has kept friends and family informed of Rob's progress through regular emails, but more importantly, she has been documenting their increasingly heartbreaking story through blog posts. She is writing to navigate her way through an unfamiliar landscape of pain and loss. Her words comfort those of us who read them, and I am reminded that writing is a survival skill.

If it is true that we read to know we are not alone, then we write to make sense of the world. This is what Mary Ann has been doing, learning through written narrative those lessons no one wants to talk about.

I'm writing this because authentic writing, like Mary Ann's, inspires writing. I'm writing this to prepare for the loss of a friend. I'm writing this to remind myself that I have more important work to do with my students than preparation for a test. It's time to get back to the good work.

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