Monday, October 27, 2008
Wow, week 5 already. The time certainly goes by fast. We missed two weeks of the class (One their fault, the other ours) so we were forced to end poetry quicker than expected. Last class, we gave each group the assignment of writing either a sonnet (16 lines) or 20 lines of free verse. We came in today expecting to spend the class period workshopping and and nobody had done the assignment. In the advanced class two girls were furiously scribbling down lines as we walked it. It was completely frustrating. Our lesson plan was shot and we had nothing to do with them, coupled with the sheer insult of realizing that we have not garnered enough respect from the kids for them to do their simple assignment. We begged and pleaded for them to finish it for next week and after that we sort of flew by the seat of our pants for the rest of the time period. I had photocopied the Isaac Asimov short story "Franchise" for them to read for next week. They all seem to be politically inclined (a testament to the historical aspect of the election) and I figured this would be a nice topical introduction to fiction. The story is set in a future where each election year one person is hooked up to a machine and asked questions, and the answers to the questions determines the way the electorate would vote given the choice. We read the first paragraph in class and I lectured a bit on what the first paragraph is supposed to accomplish. I likened it to a newspaper article. It has to answer the five W's: Who, What, Where, When and Why. Then we talked about how the Asimov story did this and we had them write a few lines about where they think the story was headed and then a second paragraph of the story thinking about what direction it is heading it. It was interesting, a lot of the kids disagreed with the idea that the first paragraph had to do anything at all. They leveled a ton of charges against this idea. "What if you never name your character?" "What if the main character dies?" "What if the plot starts in the middle and then flashes back so you don't know where they are?" I implored them to go back and read stories like that and see how there is some basic orientation done to make the story readable, and that a hallmark of bad writing is throwing a reader into the plot without basic information. They seemed skeptical but I think ultimately they accepted the idea. It is so interesting to teach them the craft because at that age so much of fiction seems mystical, as if there are no rules and no formula. It's nice to encounter the innocence of untainted eyes, where great stories seem to have come from another world. Hopefully as we get into more of the technical aspect I don't ruin reading for them. I feel like I have still kept that childlike marvel with certain particularly well written books (Blood Meridian for example) and hopefully we can teach them a great deal and have them still retain that as well.