Saturday, October 6, 2012

practicing for the big game

As my last post detailed, I’ve been reading Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better, by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi. Reading this book, along with continual discussions with other teachers at school, has helped me make some changes to my teaching this year that I believe are already reaping some pretty neat rewards. This week though, we will see if the changes have taken root.

I titled the post, “practicing for the big game” because, that’s essentially what we’ve been doing for the past several weeks. On the second week of school, we began freewriting as a class. At that time, it was a low-stakes opportunity to increase the quantity of writing and to work towards a more thorough and specific understanding of revision, rather than editing. Since then, we’ve studied parts of speech, types of sentences by purpose along with end punctuation, internal punctuation, and types of sentences by structure. I emphasized that good writers learn from other good writers by reading good writing and imitating good writing. (Often, “good writers” came to be defined as the published writers that the students were reading on a regular basis, and “good writing” came to be defined as grammatically correct writing that held the reader’s attention over time and offered some sense of ending or resolution.)

In practice, we found examples of how parts of speech were used in sentences, and different types of sentences and different internal punctuation, and we discovered and explained how each of those grammatical elements were used for effect (or to the writer’s advantage). We also noticed that elements of each of those seemingly separate skills—parts of speech, punctuation, and sentence structure—were intertwined. If we wanted to identify a compound sentence (sentence structure), we needed to first identify two independent clauses, which in turn required us to identify subjects and verbs (parts of speech), and then we could move on to the internal punctuation used for the sentence to be a compound rather than a run-on.

Building upon the identifying and imitating practice, we challenged ourselves during our freewriting in different but intentional ways: to use certain parts of speech while avoiding others, to try out internal punctuation that we don’t normally use, and to include different sentence structures throughout our freewriting. All in a limited time and space.

And all of this practice was for the big game. Last Wednesday and Friday we played several practice games incorporating many of these grammatical elements of writing. Questions were asked and hopefully answered, and examples were found and parsed and imitated. It was pretty fun too. But now one of the big games of the year is upon us.

Monday we will begin working on a Book Review assignment that will be due on Friday. Some students will type their book review and some will hand write, but hopefully all will utilize the skills that they have acquired in understanding how to use grammatical elements for effect, or to their advantage. Students will use much more than grammatical skills, though, to write their book review. Students will summarize the book with a bias; from the beginning the students should be intentionally arguing on the book’s behalf or against the book—for any number of reasons, including: writing style—word choice and sentence structure, narrative structure--organization, presentation. Students will attempt to describe the type of reader who might be interested in this book, based on the cover, title, and content. Students will provide at least two quotes from the book, again with the intent of arguing on the book’s behalf or against the book, for we know and have known long before the CCSS came along that evidence is essential to any argument. And then, in the end, the students can make their personal claims regarding their opinions of the books they have read and are reviewing.

It’s a lot to accomplish, but all the practice has led us to this point. The end of the first quarter is nearly here, and so is the “big game.” We won’t stray far from nonfiction structures just yet, but in the second quarter we will dip into fiction elements, and all the while, I have a feeling that the methods of our practice will be influenced by Practice Perfect, especially my top five rules so far: rule 4, “Unlock creativity … with repetition,” rule 5, “Replace your purpose (with an objective),” rule 8, “correct instead of critique,” rule 10, “isolate the skill,” and rule 12, “integrate the skills.”

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