3TT writers have employed a variety of useful analogies to our experience in reading-writing workshop — from little league baseball to a trip to the dentist! To me, these analogies collectively speak to our constant, evolving understanding of our own work (let alone refining our attempts to explain it to others). Allow me to “weave” mine into the mix.
I bet I’m not alone (at least I desperately hope not) in that I still haven’t even had a chance to process everything I took away from NCTE, what with reconciling my sub plans with what actually occurred, catching up on all the grading time I missed, and coping with the energy sap of the holidays. The chapter covering Saturday evening in my world is the one that features A Lengthy Car Ride through Rural Iowa (read: Without Internet Service) in Which a Teacher Becomes Increasingly Anxious About Aforementioned Concerns and Impending Week of Classes and in Which Teacher’s Husband’s Attempts at Assuagement are Rebuffed with Increasing Venom. So, because in these moments of anxiety and dread it can be so helpful to resurrect and dwell upon our failures, upon returning home I took out my knitting.
As I get older, any amateur attempts at fox-like knowledge are totally overwhelmed by my fully-developed hedgehog sensibility (note: Quick-Write prompt?). I’m really good at a narrow few utterly arcane skills, like paring down 1000+-word college essays to below 650 and breaking down a mentor text like nobody’s business. I’m a decent cook and a better seamstress (nonsexist “seamster”?), but I’m notorious for my “SnickerPuck” cinnamon cookies and knitted hats with signature random and inexplicable holes. I’ve given up the baking, but for some reason I can’t let go the knitting. These three piles of SnickerPuck were supposed to be a hat each. That night my husband hesitated but was brave: Why I was taking a photo of this trifecta of failure? “I think it might figure into my blog post,” I obliged. “I’m just not sure yet how.” He obliged by offering vague encouragement and vacating the premises. (Note: guest-blog about living with a RWW teacher?)
The physical presence of these knit squid-carapace non-hats helped me begin to see: I have to tether these loose pedagogical tentacles to some greater purpose for the rest of the quarter. I decided to make use of this textile and cephalapodian imagery to look forward in concrete ways.
1. Infusing revision strategies across writing “laps”: My sophomores have two working drafts right now, not by design but rather by my inability to return either assignment in a timely way with any meaningful feedback. So, the “loose threads” of the skills they need to move these pieces forward — engaging leads, arguable claims, effective discourse markers to signal arrangement — will the the focus of mini-lessons next week, which they will then apply to both pieces of writing (a multi-paragraph media review based on a mentor text a la Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell and a focused one-page mini-essay supporting an arguable claim). The hope is to reinforce the value of these writing attributes across the singular tentacles of “assignments.”
2. Revitalizing independent reading: Last year I tried Amy’s personal reading challenges, which she writes about here. In true late-to-the-party form, last year I finally got around to it in the middle of quarter 3. But with love to my student Nasade and gratitude for providing confirmation of its value beyond my poor planning in the 11th-reading-hour of sophomore English, she so politely suggested, “Ms. Maguire, maybe we should have done this earlier in the year.”
3. Thus, weaving the threads of our RWW community: I’ve come to live with the reality that RWW workshop courses tend not to coalesce or liven up until second quarter (even though I totally forgot about that and beat myself up about it for all of first quarter). Nevertheless, it’s happening now with my sophomores. With of course a few exceptions, they are sharing book recommendations and writing challenges at their tables as a matter of course. Rather than follow my tendency to focus on the outliers — who (at the risk of abusing the metaphor) may need a new color/texture of yarn or needles of a different size — students will be invited to channel their writing conversations into more focused workshop experiences (for quarter 2, based on skills outlined above), to make their impromptu book talks more public (in place of my [ir]regular book talks), and to continually share titles via their reading experiences and their personal reading challenge cards.
The knitting analogy only goes so far — after all, those tangled shrouds need to be torn out and started over, which isn’t the most productive option in RWW if students are producing any writing at all. And thicker, fuzzier yarn may only serve to better conceal those gaping holes. But as it turns out, the fresh eyes that come with a brand new project out of class can renew the perspective from within.