Tuesday, July 9, 2013

It's Groundhog Day, Woodchuck Chuckers

Some days I feel like I’m failing my students.

And by failing, I don’t mean handing out Fs left and right. I mean failing as in I’m not a very good instructor.

And by some days, I mean most days.

I need to help them connect the dots.

They’re not dummies. Many of them are intelligent, with a lot of stuff going on in their heads that shows they’re just as smart – and smarter – than I am. I only have one edge on them: I’ve been around. So I need to help them connect the dots.

Example: One of the first assignments we do in FDENG 101 is a podcast in which students speak about a cherished belief, be it that they can succeed at something if they work really hard at it, or that to be a good friend, you have to be a great listener. We then move on to other assignments, including  a personality profile where they’re called on to interview someone and to use that interview to tell a story about that person.

This should lead, if I helped them connect the dots, to a final research paper that integrates personal opinion backed up by research, missed with some storytelling, evidence of interviews and such; into a lively paper. But what I get mostly are the stodgy research papers they wrote in high school. Because I’m not helping them connect the dots.

Writing can be learned. I have to remind myself of this. I don’t see that writing can be learned because the journey I’ve taken to become the somewhat passable writer I am today has been subtle, gradual, and taken over a long period of time. That’s the edge I’ve got: I’ve been around.

I’m not THE God, but I am A god, as Bill Murray might say.

“He’s just been around so long, he just knows everything.”

But helping my students connect the dots will take effort. You know, work. And I’ve never been good at that. I’ve got some errands to do.

So here’s my plan: Got to help students connect the dots. By working backwards a bit. I’ll start, first off, with the text for my “This I Believe” podcast, in which I outline the start of my own journey through writing, demonstrating my belief that by writing and taking lots of time to do it, I’m getting better. That’ll move into a personality profile of someone else making a writing journey – who that will be right now, I don’t know – but I’ve got a few friends on Facebook who like to write, so it shouldn’t be all that hard. That’ll culminate in a research project/presentation in which I research the habits of successful writers, and see how I could apply them in my own life. All the elements of the podcast and the profile will be included, in order to show how one writing exercise builds upon the other, and how my students can connect the dots between them.

I’ll even use Groundhog Day to help illustrate the idea.

So here’s to work. Gotta make today tomorrow.

First step, research.

Stephen King. Writing is self-hypnosis.

Elmore Leonard. Writing cinematically.

Elmore Leonard. Know Your Stuff.

Ray Bradbury. Writing persistently.

“All of my stories that are worth anything are based on some sort of personal metaphor.”

“After ten years, I’d written something beautiful.”

This is the story Bradbury speaks of.

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