Thursday, July 24, 2014

Year 8 Strikes Again!

What a weird week it's been so far!

Year 8A on Monday and this afternoon... It's so hard to know what to do. The two students who plagiarised did their hand written replacements without argument, though nether of them got past one paragraph on Monday. Today I sighed and told them they could start typing. Their story starts were fairly acceptable and today the girl, at least, got well past that, but I need to read it before deciding what she can do - it was the end of the day and I had to go to a staff meeting.

One student who is perfectly capable of doing more had to be made to handwrite his first draft on Monday and came up with something acceptable. I told him, too, he could type it today, but he showed me instead a new story he was typing! That, too, was acceptable if he finishes it, though I suggested e change the hero's name because he was using his own and it was not meant to be autobiographical. Whether he will complete it I don't know. What can you do with students who won't do anything outside of class time? Not everyone has a home computer, but there's always the library at lunchtime and I open three times a week. I may have to order some of these students to come in and use the computer room to finish at lunchtime. It worked last year.

I have an integration student who has done about all I'm going to get out of him - he has no classroom support and I can't persuade him to try another piece - so today I gave him a BBC vocabulary game to play while the others got on with it. I will have to come up with something else for our next activity.

There are the ones who have written thousands of words, but need to focus now on their grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.  How do you do this without having to mark every last missing comma and change of tense for them? And what do you do when, bless them, they want to write even more wen they haven't tidied up the six thousand word epic they've already done? My top student, the one who used The Hero's Journey to write a rather touching story about a boy searching for his mother, has now handed me another epic about a boy tangled up with the Taliban! I haven't read that yet, but did suggest she do a little research on the Taliban to make sure she was getting it right. Perhaps too much to ask of a Year 8 child? At her age I was writing dreadful historical novels I hadn't researched either.

And then there was the young lady who handed me some fan fiction... Well, she had written it herself, so I just suggested she make sure that readers like me, unfamiliar with the universe, could follow it.

And the boy with the gory story who decided not to kill off his hero after all and is up to chapter 3 of what's turning into a novel!

I don't know. I'm thrilled with the response from the keen students, but how much have I been able to teach them and the others? You spend so much time on discipline you can find yourself unable to sit down   with the students individually. It can be exhausting.

Tomorrow I am going to be with my history class as some do their presentations. Then we'll look at the iMovie trailers they did on Tuesday. More of that later.

Year 8 fiction - The Sequel! (From My Great Raven Blog

Well, the holidays are over and I've just finished reading the last of my student stories. They have ranged from a hundred-odd words to what has to be at least six thousand! Twelve pages of small print? Has to be.

Two of  them were plagiarised, word for word, beginning to end, from online sources and what I'm going to tell the students I have no idea. Clearly they couldn't handle the story starters I gave them last term and were desperate enough to pinch something. I'd love to just say, "Look, I don't CARE if your writing is bad! It's my job to help you fix it and I can't do that if I don't know how you write in the first place." If I thought it would do any good I'd say that. But I don't think it will. All I can do is offer them the chance to do it again, with a different writing prompt, by hand, in a single session.

There was a very short piece from a student who asked me for help for the first time this year. It sn't much, but it was what he could do. He did his best. I will give him some more short pieces to do. Perhaps start with a Cloze activity in which he chooses his own words to fill the gaps?

There was a story that used one of the prompts to have one gory murder after another, but the student really, really enjoyed the writing. He ended it abruptly with "and then he came back and killed my uncle and me. The End." but I think he just felt he had to finish. I went cross-eyed trying to edit all the punctuation-free sentences and the switching between tenses - finally I gave up and put in notes to ask him to make up his mind which tense he wanted and stick with it.

A lot were unfinished. I will get them to do a story outline before continuing.

I really must mention the two who used "The Hero's Journey." One was unfinished, but long, an account of a girl who is approached by a long-lost brother under mysterious circumstances, and broke off just as the siblings were about to escape from a murderous millionaire older sister... I have told her it's an exciting story and I'm keen to see how it ends. She used the basic elements - the call to adventure, the journey...

The six thousand word story was less obvious as Hero's Journey, but it also used the elements. The call to adventure was a young boy from a village deciding to go to the city in search of his mother, who was taken away for medical treatment by a doctor whose name he knew, but not much else, some time ago, also fulfilling a mission for a neighbour whose children have vanished into the city, and returning to his reward. It was written with a Vietnamese accent, as the young lady has only recently decided to join mainstream English classes, so it needs work yet, incuding some tightening, but she is proud of it, and so she should be.

I think the Hero's Journey is not a bad place to start students off and will consider using it again, but it's a work in progress, always needing adapting.

People keep telling me that because I'm a writer I should therefore be able to teach writing. I really don't think it's that simple.  There are a lot of people out there teaching creative writing without ever having sold anything. Then they sell a first novel and write in their bio notes that they teach it and I say, "Hang on, this is a first novel, not even a good one, and she's TEACHING this? How did she get the job?"

In my case, I know how I write, but that doesn't mean everyone does it the same way. For example,
I just start writing and worry about the quality later. But kids can't always do that, or they don't understand the concept of "first draft." I can't even show them my own work in drafts, because even my first draft is better than their finished products in most cases. I am never going to write a long, run-on sentence with no punctuation or change tenses and even person.

Guess I'll have to write something awful and let them crit it.