I mentioned to my writing group (I like the sound of that, by the way) that I had too many drafts of posts in my “saved” folder. Bud Hunt said, “Hit publish, Susan, hit publish.”

He’s right. But here’s the thing. This one had only a title. “Standards at all?” Nothing else.

That’s because my thinking is still muddy here. Why do we need standards for writing, especially standards that limit and constrict? We are talking about the Common Core Standards in our course, so that’s what I’m referencing here–the writing standards. And, for the most part, I don’t mind them. I like that all writing teachers have some direction and purpose. Rather, I am hopeful teachers feel encouraged to write more often and use writing to learn because we have standards.

But I wrote the title a few days ago, thinking that standards could be too confining, too limiting. As a writing teacher, I’ve found the best writing comes from the inside out, when it matters to the writer. Bud talks about this on his blog today, when he shares his thoughts on personal vs argumentative writing. His point is that students will become better writers when they care (if they care). And I think that’s what I was thinking about when I wrote “standards at all?” Because for me, the caring comes when we start not with standards but with supportive, thoughtful teachers.

I know. That’s a wishy-washy platitude that means little. Unless, of course, we live into that vision. To write is to put a piece of yourself on display, and it’s risky. Beginning writers need to feel support not ridicule, community not criticism. Good writing begins with a safe place to experiment, and I’m not sure the standards help teachers understand that.

So now we’re back to what makes a good teacher, aren’t we? And how do we help students become comfortable and confident learners who care. I don’t have answers for you, Bud, but your last line is a starting point for me:

And what did we do to make that happen?

Lessons Learned

A few days in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and I’ve come away with some lessons learned:

  1. Time to do nothing but read, walk, write, and sleep soothes me.
  2. Disconnecting is easy; I didn’t miss being online at all.
  3. Cabins are warmer than tents.
  4. My ego gets in the way of so much.
  5. Going down the trail is much easier than climbing back up.
  6. Writing helps me make sense of life.
  7. When I wake in the middle of the night, I shouldn’t leave my kindle on the floor under the bed. (really hoping they find it and mail it to me.)

Edit: And they did find my Kindle. Thanks, Shenandoah National Park employees:)

What We Need Is Here
Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Transliteracy: reading and writing…or adapting to change?

Transliteracy Clip

I’ve seen the term bounced around the internet over the past year, but I hadn’t taken the time to explore what transliteracy really means.

If you aren’t sure, here are some places to start:

Buffy Hamilton shares this presentation:

  • Buffy’s post links to great resources
  • Digital Media and Learning has a Q&A here (with an interesting quote about future of the book)
  • The Transliteracy NING
  • The reading/writing/learning world is changing faster than most of us can keep up, so realizing we need to label the need to communicate across various media makes sense to me. Defining this will also help us frame our teaching and learning, allowing us to let go of strongly-held beliefs that only traditional reading and writing matters for success.

    (By the way, I grabbed the clip above using my new LiveScribe pen!)

    Not a lone voice

    We are in week two of the new school year, and I don't feel like I'm hitting my stride yet. Oh, I'm enjoying my classes, and most of the kids are responding positively. They are blogging, and I'm reading. We are sharing ideas, and they are politely taking notes and following my directions.
    But I want more.
    I haven't been able to step aside yet. I am so used to leading, pointing, asking, questioning…and waiting for a response. In this Introduction to Genres course, we have been reading and
    discussing short stories with the goal of each student writing one
    himself. Yet, I am eager for them to find a reason this matters beyond the requirements of the syllabus.  I want to find a way to make this process more meaningful for them…to help them understand the value in a good story, the value in knowing how to tell a good story.
    Tonight, I was having trouble falling asleep, so I decided to catch up on my RSS feeds. With my new teaching position, I just haven't had much time for anything other than my classes lately.
    I was zipping through the feeds when suddenly Presentation Zen caught my eye:"Obama delivers a speech like a symphony." Could it be? A Dan Pink reference?
    But wait, there's more.
    "What makes a good story?" Garr Reynolds asks. Story? As in "how to tell?" I read on.

    "In a great story — and in a great speech — there is ebb and flow, there is silence and there may be thunder."

    He references Bruce Block's book, "The Visual Story," writing:

    "the author
    uses these three basics of story — Exposition, Climax, Resolution — to
    show the link between visual structure and story structure. To
    illustrate this link in terms of intensity he shows a story-structure
    graph; the story intensity refers to the amount of conflict that builds
    in the middle. Generally, a good story grows in intensity as it
    progresses. Block draws a line that is jagged because a story's
    intensity will rise and fall even though the overall direction of the
    intensity is building up and toward a climax. The resolution, says
    Block, "…is a place for the story to finish…the audience needs time
    to recover from the intensity of the climax and reflect on the story's

    See, that's what we're doing in class right now. Reading short stories and learning about the form and structure because we–that is, the students–will each write their own stories, based on a common theme and characters."

    In his post, Reynolds dissects Obama's speech and explains how it much like a good story–of the best kind. Here, he jots down his ideas:

    And there they are. The terms we have been using in class.
    In real life. Used to talk about a powerful story.
    So, I will be sharing this with them, and I'll play some of the acceptance speech in class, too–not for political reasons, but so they know their teacher isn't the ONLY one talking about exposition and conflict these days.
    What do you think? Will it matter to them?