Maybe you see this, too:
I’ve got truly brilliant, fun-loving, willing-to-learn students this year, but when it comes to writing, they are as sloppy as a room full of toddlers with their first plates of spaghetti. Missing periods and capital letters, too many commas (or not enough), and the makes-my-eyes-bleed lower case i. That one’s all over the room.
And I keep seeing this new thing: the missing “it.”
Take this for example, all sentences from a self-evaluation students completed last week: “My reading’s good, is something I do to release stress,” or this one: “Is the same thing as going somewhere,” or this: “My reading improved is better because I tried more.”
Do I worry about mechanics over ideas? Never. Do I worry that my students know better and are just not paying attention? Always.
I teach juniors in AP English Language. This string-your-spaghetti-anywhere-you- want-punctuation should not be happening.
So we slowed down a bit. Took a step back. Searched in our in our independent reading books for sentences that struck us as interesting.
Students wrote their sentences on notecards. Here’s some they chose:
“It’s easier to jump out of a plan — hopefully with a parachute — than it is to change your mind about an opinion.” Think like a Freak by Levitt and Dubner
“We looked over toward the echoes of burdensome chimes, the slip and boom of the clutch and rasp of gears as the ice cream truck entered the dead-end streets and curves of Las Lomas.” Always Running by Luis J. Rodriguez
“They played basketball the way basketball is supposed to be played, and in the end they lost — but not before proving that Goliath is not quite the giant he thinks he is.” David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
“The barber gazed in amazement at this man with long-thick and black hair and beard, which gave his head the appearance of one of Titan’s portraits.” The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
“When he smiles, she notices that he has a dimple on only one side, and there’s something about this that makes him seem endearingly off-balance.” The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
“At the end of the hallway is a boy so powerful, so fearless, that he’s set up shop in the middle of a sacred site and renamed himself Goliath.” Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle
“I felt a hot, tingly sensation spread spread over my skin as I slid down a few inches against the bench seat, wishing I could just melt directly into it’s crusty upholstery.” We Should Hangout Sometime by Josh Sundquist
“This is an ordinary Monday morning school day.” A Stolen Life by Jaycee Duggard
“You see, Cinderella and I know what it’s like to look in the mirror and not recognize the reflection.” Skinny by Donna Cooner
Then, in small groups we categorized sentences long and short, many punctuation marks or few. And we discussed the whys: How does that mark help create meaning?
We could have spent days on this lesson. I should have allotted more time, and we will certainly return to it (maybe next week — it’s that pressing).
Then, yesterday as a way to join in on the National Day on Writing, I asked students to create a slide that explained why they write. Their slide needed to contain an image, a beautifully crafted sentence that included at least one of the literary or rhetorical devices we’d focused on recently, AND everything had to be correct: capitalization, spelling, punctuation. You might call me out on Olivia’s, but I think it works.
The ratio for correctness on this voluntary assignment was 22:6.
Here’s some of their tweets, evidence of why I love my writers. And also the reasons I hope we can take a little more care as we write. They have such amazing things to say.