Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Where Tanner's From

If this post's title sounds familiar, it's probably because you remember an entry from a while back, Where Malik's From.   See the original writing assignment here.

I'm just stopping by to remind all of us that writers bloom throughout the year.   I get a whole lot of flowers in September, but I also get some children who are seeds, bulbs and tubers...and planted at different times.   That's pretty normal in 8th grade.

There's a whole lot of research about boys and language arts instruction, so go ahead and read it.   Don't discount what you know to be true from firsthand experiences either.   There's not one magic key that unlocks a joy of writing for boys.   The young men who are most successful in becoming writers with my style of teaching have these commonalities:

They listen to mini-lessons on writing skills.
They practice these skills in small bits of writing.
They then work these skills into larger pieces of writing.
They welcome feedback.
They recognize that writing is a craft.
They get downright metacognitive about their use of language.
They believe that the world around them is to be examined.
They know that a final draft means edits and revisions, not simply neatness.

Before you think that I am a "my way or the highway" kind of writing teacher, I'd like to say that I don't think that I am.   I can't be certain, but I am pretty sure that if I were reviewing student writing with Stephen King, Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg-- we'd at least recognize and agree upon bad writing when we saw it.'s totally okay to see some bad writing from 8th graders.   I mean, they're 8th graders.   Sheesh.

I center September around some of Laura Robb's mini lessons for writers and Nancie Atwell's lesson on narrative leads.   If I can get kids using specific nouns, strong verbs, a variety of sentence starters, PARAGRAPHS, effective narrative leads and a unified topic...I feel pretty ding dang good about that.

(Pardon my shouting.   I'm still teaching perfectly kind children how to paragraph narratives.   It's December.   It hurts.   My eyes are bleeding from the dreaded BIG, FAT PARAGRAPH.   I might write a song about it.   Never mind.)

Back to Tanner.   He came into class on day one with a strong work ethic, unmatched tenacity, a kind spirit and some sharp writing skills.   Even so, his mom is pretty impressed with his current interest in getting all of his words in the right spots.   I sure do wish I could just let you see all of his various writing work from this year because he's a perfect example of a talented, developing writer who fits all of the qualities I listed above.   

Check this out.   Remember the two-sentence journal assignment I borrowed from a class I took at William and Mary?  Here's one of Tanner's entries, "It's the time of year when the smell of corn chaff and diesel fuel fill the air.  Visibility soon becomes low as the farmer takes the combine for another round."   You better believe I asked his permission to write that gem down for other grasshoppers to see.   It was feng shui perfection on the white board.

Here's where Tanner's from:

I’m from sunglasses in the rearview,
From tie straps and duct tape,
I am from eggs in the nesting box,
(Dry and Warm with a surprise inside)
I’m from orchard grass,
The yellow poplar,
Whose leaves fall every year just for me to collect.

I’m from fishbites and pellet guns,
From Pride and Horton,
I’m from the bluecollars and the hardheads,
From “How ya whole family doin’?”
I’m from “American born and Southern by the grace of God.”

I’m from Genesis and Communion,
3 inch slugs and ram rods,
From the man who died for our sins,
And the 10 commandments.

From the gray uniform stained with blood,
Whose owner long gone from Earth,
Waits patiently in the Promised Land for the ones who honor him most.

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