Sunday, May 23, 2010
Turning the Tables on the Teacher
I saw the gleam in their eyes when I explained it to them.
I’d made a few copies of the opening chapters of my WIP, and I was hoping to find some students willing to read them and give feedback.
“You mean, you want us to conference with you?” they asked, using our classroom terminology for writing feedback.
I wasn’t sure if I would get any takers, but as it turns out, I hadn’t made enough copies! They scarfed up the chapters and scurried back to their desks – mostly girls, but one or two boys as well. These are fifth grade students – ten or eleven years old – and not exactly my teen target audience. Nevertheless, like any writer, I crave feedback. And like many teachers, I prefer to teach by example.
“Well, it’s g-o-o-o-d,” said the first student to return. She obviously wanted to give the positive first. “But I didn’t understand (deleted for secrecy), and I think you should explain (deleted for secrecy).”
“But I don’t want to explain that,” I said. “That’s part of the mystery.”
“Well, I didn’t get that it was supposed to be a mystery. I just thought you left it out.”
“All right,” I replied. “I’ll work on making that more clear.”
I had revisions for her by the end of the day. I handed her a page with scribbled out words up and down the margin. The paper was covered with arrows and cross-outs that made it clear just how many different ways I’d rewritten the troublesome part. Her eyes got really big as she read my revised paragraph. “You did all that work to change two sentences?” she asked.
“I couldn’t find the perfect way to say it – so that you would understand I was purposefully keeping back information. I wanted the reader to know I was setting up a mystery, but I had to do it in a natural way.” As I explained this, I saw that she understood what I meant, but I also knew she’d never seen anyone work so hard on just two sentences. Most fifth grade students will just insert a sentence that ham-handedly explains the confusing part to the reader without changing any of the original text. This particular student had done that very thing many times, and now she was getting a first-hand look at the right way to do it.
And then I saw her smile as she realized -- if this work comes to publication, she had a hand in crafting this paragraph. She looked up at me with that gleam in her eye again. “I’ll read chapter two tonight and get back to you tomorrow,” she promised.
I can’t wait for my next writing conference.