The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Students Know Best

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Before you ask:  No, I haven’t gone barmy.  But I can attest that my students know best.  Sometimes.  Not half the time.  Not even a quarter of the time.  But sometimes.

This goes directly to my Creative Writing students.  I have 25 of them this semester, and it’s the usual mix:  About a third are keen on writing and have some natural talent and are totally digging things, about a third are in-betweeners who will work hard and improve their skills and enjoy some things along the way, and about a third are still reeling over how difficult the class is.  Of that last third, about half of them will jump into the middle third so I’ll still have about 4-5 students who just aren’t going to do anything and take the consequences of lost credit further down the line.

Anyhow, we’ve been working on the major writing of the semester pretty hard-core for the last month.  The major writing is 8-10 pages of prose.  Everything ramps up to this, and that “everything” means some intensive study of setting and character and tons of free-writing.  As we kick it off, I have students pitch four different ideas for stories they could write.  Two have to be fiction; two nonfiction.  The idea is that somewhere in their journals and minds they have ideas that can be developed, and having to express a few of them will help guide them as they start (and create a back-up plan if a story fizzles).  Their classmates review their pitches and advise about the best or most interesting one.

I jump into this process and work with the students, not just advising them but by throwing in my own pitches and drafting  a story as they draft theirs.  I pitched four stories; my nonfictions were both sports-related (one about a basketball game I played at Skidmore two summers ago, the other about a race I ran in high school).  My fictions included a story I started two summers ago but never finished.  I was stuck for a second one, so at the last minute (in typical student fashion), I threw something out there based on something that actually happened to me–I accidentally stole a book from a bookstore when I was in high school.  I thought I knew exactly which story was going to get the most votes for the one I should write (the basketball one), and I had already started writing it in my head because I was so certain of it.  I was wrong.  All my pitches got a vote from the group that reviewed them.

In what is atypical for me, I took the last-second one that I really only threw in so that I would have a complete assignment.  One girl who read the pitch said she really liked it how I had portrayed the conflict, and that she was very interested to see how it would unfold.  That was enough for me to start thinking about what it would look like as a piece of short fiction, even though I wasn’t terribly excited about it.  I started drafting it, and I was about 500 words in when I started having fun with it.  I shifted point of view from first person to close third person, and then the story really started to take off.  I’m on draft eight right now, and have been getting plenty of sideways looks from my students each time we work in the computer lab.  They can’t quite figure out why I’m chuckling to myself and sitting at a computer with a huge grin on my face as I write–even though I tell them to have fun while you’re writing!

We do a lot of work-shopping of the stories along the way, and I’ve benefited quite a bit from that, as well.  Some students come up with stuff and make insights well beyond what I’ve taught them in class.  For instance:  I have a sophomore who told me that the opening of my story was too bland.  But it was my 4th different opening!  Rather than debate him or marginalize his comments (because he’s ONLY a sophomore…  sheesh), I took the challenge and put the effort into creating a different opener.  And…  he was right.  I came up with something much better.  I have another sophomore who is dealing fluently with one of the most complicated plot structures I’ve ever had a student attempt.  Where did she come up with that?  Hell if I know!  I don’t even try to teach plot.  About the only things I tell students are that plot is the most difficult part of writing fiction (even the pros struggle with it), and to limit their plots to a short span of time and only a few characters because those considerations will make things easier.

So something is happening 6th period on a daily basis that has me pretty excited.  Presently, I have to caution myself to not have too much fun or too many laughs while I’m writing my short story.  The consequence right now is that it is producing writing that is less than what I’m capable of.  The fun is outshining some of the weak points in the writing, and if I want to do anything with this story outside of Creative Writing class, I’ll have to sober up a bit and take a more serious approach.  I think I can do that (???).

It’s a funny thing, writing.

Written by seeker70

November 18, 2012 at 10:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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