For this assignment, I worked with Joy, a 14-year old eighth grader, and family friend. During our meetings, I implemented several different writing strategies and techniques, with at least two opportunities to experience each technique.
5-Minute Quick Writes
Adhering to the philosophy that writers have to write….something, I gave Joy two opportunities to do 5-minute quick writes with the instructions that she could write anything she wanted, as long as she wrote for the entire five minutes. One day she wrote about missing her mom during a recent business trip. On another day, she wrote about her dog, which just had puppies. Joy states that she had experience with 5-minute quick writes, but when she explained what she wrote about, it was usually planning for an assigned essay. She apparently didn’t have many opportunities to write about whatever she wanted during classes. I talked to Joy about the content of the piece, but didn’t point out spelling or grammar errors. I think this might have shut her down if I had done that right off the bat.
Feedback to the instructor
I explained to Joy that in a community of writers, all writers not only give feedback, but receive it as well. I thought giving me feedback would help her be less self-conscious about sharing her own work. I shared two of my pieces in progress (from the writing class) for Joy to read and asked her for her feedback and suggestions. The first time, I got a lot of positive feedback and had to encourage her to make suggestions. During the second review of my work, Joy made comments, gave positive feedback, and gave really meaningful suggestions for ways to improve the piece. It turns out that she had never been asked to give feedback to a teacher/instructor before. She was quite good.
Read Like A Writer
I read a passage with Joy as we worked on setting a scene, creating a picture with words, and capturing a “snapshot moment”. We looked at various ways the author used words to create a scene and capture a feeling. I asked Joy to read a one page passage from a novel, picking out words and phrases that she thought were effective in creating a scene. She picked out interesting phrases including “her eyes hardened” (one of my favorites). She understood how the author turned phrases and chose words to convey a specific meaning and tone. The question remained – would she be able to do this in her own writing?
Writing Descriptive Passages
I encouraged Joy to do a 10 minute write, focusing on descriptive language. For one assignment, she decided to expand on her quick write about her mother. She wrote a poem (which she gave to her mom). The poetic language was surprisingly advanced for an eighth grader. For her second descriptive writing passage, I asked her to write about a vivid dream, being as descriptive as possible so that her readers could see what she saw and feel what she felt. At first, she interpreted “dream” as life goals and visions. I redirected her, and as an example, I shared a recent version of a recurring dream in which several tigers invaded my home and cornered me. Joy took this and ran with it, writing a story about three tigers who terrorized little children and one tiger with a good heart that wanted to make amends and basically improve public relations/public perceptions of tigers. It was quite a good story. I asked if she used my story as a starting point and she said yes. I gave her the feedback that as I read, I could see the story unfolding in my imagination and I thought it would make a really good children’s book. If we had more time and additional sessions, I would ask Joy to expand and edit this story (which she might do on her own). However, this was our last session.