We’ve been using the Write with World curriculum this year.
- Writing journal format encourages connected thinking.
- Small assignments encourage students to attend to word choice, sentence structure, thinking structure, and theme separately.
- The concept of proof appears in the context of personal experience — an area in which students can speak with authority.
- A focus on images requires students to stay concrete.
- Students work toward toward well-reasoned, engaging pieces not dictated by a particular form or length, similar to editorials, blog posts, or personal essays –kinds of writing we find “in the wild.”
- Page numbers in the student version and the teacher version do not match.
- Assignments are not always clear or given in a way suitable for a classroom setting.
- Work in journals is challenging to evaluate.
- As one of my students recently said: “This book assumes we all want to be writers.”
- Some students struggle to integrate building-block lessons into the fewer large assignments in order to produce excellent pieces.
- The curriculum presumes (almost requires) plenty of individual conferencing time.
- The curriculum does not prepare students to write to forms such as the 5 paragraph essay or the SAT/PSAT writing section essay that they may need to know for a few years in high school.
In the first book of the curriculum, students culminate their lessons in one personal non-fiction narrative and one fictionalized narrative. Both assignments require students to
- identify a theme or purpose for telling their story.
- storyboard particular images from the story that would support (prove!) the thematic statement or purpose.
I’ve realized that students fall into two categories as they navigate this process. One kind of student loves to think about big ideas, but struggles to imagine and describe an incident in detail. Another kind of student imagines the concrete world and its particulars without easily abstracting big ideas. Here’s an imaginary conference with each:
Student: I’m writing about how I learned not to take my blessings for granted.
Me: That seems a little vague. What do you mean?
Student: Well, I used to just assume that I would get things, and I learned not to.
Me: What taught you not to take your blessings for granted?
Student: I guess watching other people who had less than me.
Me: What were you like when you took things for granted? What are you like now that you don’t?
Student: I wasn’t grateful, and now I’m grateful.
Me: What did that look like in action?
Student: What do you mean?
Me: You said ungrateful. Prove that. What actions do ungrateful people do? What would ungrateful look like in a movie?
Student: I don’t know.
Me: Can you think of someone else who’s ungrateful, either in your life or in fiction?
Student: Maybe Esther at the beginning of Endless Steppe. She took things for granted.
Me: Great. How do you know she did? What actions did she do when she was ungrateful?
Student: She went about her daily routine and expected it always to be the same. She expected the adults around her to be the same. She got upset if they weren’t.
Me: What images are associated with that?
Student: Maybe her in her school room. Her talking to her grandmothers. Her in her neat dress. Maybe she’s frowning?
Me: I can see that. So, what about for you? What images or actions could you tie to your past ungrateful self?
Student: That’s so hard! Maybe…one time I got upset when my brother got to sit in the front seat on the way to Main Event. I guess I was being inflexible about what I wanted. I mean, we were getting to go have fun, and I was upset that it wasn’t just the way I wanted.
Me: Great example. So if you had to tell that story just in images and captions and you couldn’t use the word “ungrateful,” what would they look like and say? You’ll have to do something similar for the middle and end, pick specific incidents which demonstrate what made you change and then the changed version of yourself.
Me: Wow. Your storyboarding cards are quite detailed. I like that you showed the sense of space in this one, how you’re so small in comparison with the soccer field. It will be interesting to see you write that.
Student: Oh, that’s cool. I didn’t think about that when I was drawing.
Me: Now, as I spread these out, I see a thrilling game and I can see that your team won.
Student: Yeah we did! It was awesome.
Me: But here’s where I’m stuck as a reader. Why should I care?
Student: Ouch, Miss Samuelsen.
Me: I mean, I’m happy that you had a fun game, but why would that matter to me? What should I think about as I read? Or here’s another way to ask it: did you learn anything that day?
Student: Not really.
Me: Okay. What about playing soccer in general? Why do you like it? How has it made you different?
Student: I like exercising. I like winning. Maybe I’ve gotten stronger? I can block the other side faster than I used to.
Me: Why is it better to be stronger?
Student: So that I can help my team win.
Me: Why is it better to win?
Student: Because it’s winning.
Me: What do you think that’s about? Why is it more fun to be “better?” I mean, you probably like or would like the people on the other team, right? It’s not that they’re bad people. And you would still get the same amount of exercise if you lost.
Student: I don’t know. Maybe it says something about us. Like, we worked harder.
Me: Oh, ok. I can see that. So, maybe your story is about what it’s like to work hard to achieve a goal?
Student: Yeah, I guess.
Me: What is it like to work hard to achieve a goal, according to your notecards? Let’s see. In this one it looks like you’re sweating. Is that working hard to achieve a goal?
Me: So, achieving a goal takes physical exertion, maybe. Looking at your cards, can you see any other images that might have to do with hard work?
Student: Yeah, this one where the scoreboard shows that the game is almost over but the other team is up by one goal.
Me: What does that say about hard work?
Student: I don’t know. When you work hard, you’re not always sure it will pay off?
Me: That’s an interesting theme! Lets play around with it. Lets look at your cards again. First, lets take out any that DON’T show something about working hard and not being sure it will pay off. Then, let’s add any other images you can think of from that day that WOULD support that theme.
CC image courtesy of claire rowland on Flickr.