Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Think Spot!

Okay, Spot, okay. I know I pushed my luck today. I asked you to think, and really? It's only Tuesday...two days after turkey overload. "Stop the action," I said. "Put me inside your brain." What was I thinking, honestly?

I looked up from the piece of writing I was crafting in front of you and all the other pooches...and that's when the smiles and the smirks began. Inside your heads, you were thinking...lunch, definitely, lunch or recess, definitely, recess. You were chasing a squirrel or sniffing around a bush in the park. I knew that, Spot. After all, I'm not that old a dog myself. I get it.

It was writer's workshop time, and we were and still are embarking on a whole new journey. You see, Spot. Teaching is not just about tests. My job is to get you to make your thoughts and feelings known and expressed clearly on the page. So...when everyone loosened up a bit, I could hear the laughter erupt around me. The conversations about what you were all thinking broke out and that's when the fun began. I caught myself...I was being the 'sage on the stage' talking too much and forgetting to engage all of you.

The lesson; crafting a meaningful 'thought shot,' slowing down the action within a story to live inside the character's mind. Lemony Snicket, EB White, and JK Rowling were our guests today, and what a great job they did! You see, Spot, there's no greater teacher than those kind of experts. I can talk and talk until, as my dad would say, I'm blue in the face (oy, that's an awful thought!). But the truth is, kids love to dig into great literature. They can find those thought-shots, watch the true writing unfold and talk to each other to discover what to put on their own page.

So, now, after a very long day in the trenches, Spot...I'm thinking. Some folks call it metacognition, when a person thinks about and evaluates their own thoughts. But...I'm thinking about your thinking, so I'm not at all sure what you call that! I'm after elaboration...in small vignettes, in the exposing of the moment and in the snap shot too. I have a range of doggies this year, who seem to fall in the 'somewhat developed range' with either inadequate or minimally adequate details. My challenge is to get you over the fence, to think as you write, and to express all the smallest details.

So Spot? No more chasing rainbows...I want you to grab that squirrel by the tail! Specifics, that's the difference in your work.

Here's a bit of JK Rowling's specifics for you:

Harry looked around. One thing was certain: Of all the teachers' offices Harry had visited so far this year, Dumbledore's was by far the most interesting. If he hadn't been scared otu of his wits that he was about to be thrown out of school, he would have been very please to chance to look around it.
It was a large and beautiful circular room, full of funny little noises. A number of curious silver instruments stood on spindle-legged tables, whirring and emitting little puffs of smoke. The walls were covered with portraits of old headmasters and headmistresses, all of whom were snoozing in their frames.
There was also an enormous, claw-footed desk, and, sitting on a shelf behind it, a shabby, tattered wizard's hat--the Sorting Hat.
--JK Rowling, THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, ch. 12

JK did for me what I could not do for myself: she showed, firsthand, how to put a few thoughts on the page, create a mood and then show me what Harry was walking into. She had us eating out of the palm of her hand, Spot! We could see, feel and think right inside Harry's brain. And, best of all, she got us to the sorting hat...which, of course, is where she wanted us all along!

So tomorrow, Spot, we'll think it, show it, and make it real for the reader, because that, in a nutshell, is what good writing is all about. Find that in all your reading, and believe me, Spot, you won't chase the squirrel, you'll be chasing those words on the page!

Good dog, Spot. You're dismissed for today!

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