November 13, 2013

A Thousand Words

November 14, 2013 Photo of the day: "Trust the Gush!"

As bell work in all of our Pewaukee High School English classes, students spend ten minutes each day reading a book of their choice. Although ten minutes is never enough, the time is meant to establish a culture of life-long readers by taking time to read for pleasure. Reading and writing are the cornerstones of any language arts course, yet constantly prescribing what students must read is counterproductive to developing a passion for reading. Likewise, it became evident that after six weeks of teaching students how to write a well-constructed, persuasive paragraph using the Pewaukee High School "IT'S CLEAR" format (Indent, Topic Sentence, Context, Lead-In, Evidence, Analysis, wRap-Up), we had taken much of the joy out of the writing process. Student writing had become so formulaic that individual voice, style, and passion had been sacrificed. How could we also establish a culture of life-long writers by encouraging students to write for pleasure?

On the last day of the first term, my colleague, Nan (who has been my mentor as I teach American literature this year -- my first English class since 1994), attended the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English convention where she heard Professor Tom Romano speak about the writing process. Dr. Romano instructed teachers to encourage their students to write what's on their minds and in their hearts: "A good writer has a distinctive voice. A great writer has an inimitable one. Regardless of subject or place in time or space, good and great writers share one trait—they are true to their personalities, spirits, and characters. Craft an authentic voice in your own writing. Then revel in the candor and insight, the absorbing and entertaining stories, the clear thinking, the good, maybe even great writing!" 

Therefore, during the second term, in addition to ten minutes of free reading, we began devoting ten minutes of each class for students to write what they are thinking, feeling, contemplating, worrying about, celebrating, and anticipating because, after all, this is what writers do! The activity has been named "Trust the Gush!"  Each day, we provide students with an image, quote, letter, or idea that may elicit a visceral and/or creative written response. Students are not required to write about the inspiration, but they are encouraged to keep their writing (either on paper or digitally), to "welcome surprises of language and meaning." Students have also created blogs to share their "gushes" with classmates and/or an audience beyond the classroom. 

The student response to this activity has been overwhelmingly positive. Although we recognize that it is necessary to learn to write for a variety of subjects and purposes, it has been wonderful to see what students can write when allowed to "trust the gush!"

Nan also recommended A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie. The book is a "collection of anecdotes, lessons, quotes, and prompts...[that] provide a delightfully varied cornucopia of inspiration —nuts-and-bolts solutions, hand-holding commiseration, and epiphany-fueling insights from fellow writers...who have gone from paralyzed to published." 

This book has served as inspiration for many student gushes and has also encouraged me in my own writing, which brings me to the real purpose of this post. I know you're out there, dear readers and followers of my blog! I know this because many of you have mentioned that you look forward to my posts each day and because my Blogger stats indicate that there are about a thousand hits on my blog each week. As my 2013 Project 365 enters its final fifty days, I am already planning for next year's project. I have learned so much this year about photography, writing, social media, and most of all, about my own aesthetics. I have blissfully reconnected with my visual and verbal creativity. What began as a simple photo of the day has evolved into inspiration for my own "gushes." Sometimes the images inspire the writing while other times, like today, the writing inspires the photos. I have several ideas for next year, but I haven't quite decided what I will do in 2014. I do know that I want to continue taking pictures and writing, but I'd love to know your opinions. Do you read what I write or do you just look at the pictures? Are you tired of flowers, landscapes, shorelines, clouds, sunsets, pages of books, my nephews (these seem to be recurring themes)? Should I choose a topic for each day of the week or perhaps focus on a specific idea or color for a week or a month? Rather than a quick post each day, would you prefer a more carefully crafted weekly post?  I welcome your suggestions. During the holidays, I will curate this year's photos into collections and decide my direction for a new year of observations and reflections. Will it be "A Year of Writing Dangerously" or will a picture be worth a thousand words?