25 in the collection
The Perfect World
November 18, 2006
My school is currently imposing a program that "trains" children to write the Perfect Sentence, then the Perfect paragraph, then expanding the degree of perfection to the Perfect composition.
This is an expensive Directed and so-called Explicit writing program from a particular position of looking at teaching objectives and student writing processes aimed at schools where one is "training" students to write so they can do well on assessments. That goal is not only the school mission, it is the purpose of the school life. Or as I was just trained to understand via the Hollingsworth DataWorks model, "All students taught at grade level (on Standards) all day, everyday, to achieve Proficient and Advanced scores." As the Mission Statement. That's heartwarming. Especially if you are six years old.
I understand in general this "model" of perfection in writing that our school is incorporating like a fast-spreading viral pneumonia allows for a kind of teacher, student and group focus and concentration on many writing agendas and is seen as meeting a desired District goal of same pages, same instructional process, same formalized method in every room, every day as a mantra of school writing done the "right way." Within the writing production one addresses many formal elements including it's current apex of " fluency," as Doug Noon at Borderland in his piece has explicated in greater depth than I address here. (He has defined much so well and so fairly to all views on writing it is well worth reading). His work allows insight into broader frames in writing across our country but in my small window on this writing "solution," being taken over in my world of instruction in an Under-performing CA School, I see a formalization of the writing process that I'm being required to use is really a kind concreteness, if you will. It's a rock. In my world of instruction, it's a program bound parasitically into a top-down teacher-led format, with "instruction" and "following direction" pieces tightly wound into the written process as the student has their written part so explicated (as concretely as granite) to "train" these children into working within these models of written construction process to "perfection" as defined to the letter by the instruction models.
Has each piece been polished up and worked as exactly stated to you to do? How artful.
It might be argued the student is really an unnecessary component now, perhaps in the way of achieving the product it's better to script them as well. Certainly they are parrots mimicking the product desired, but my cynicism serves no greater purpose than to alleviate a rather boring description I'm framing here. Believe me, that I know. That parroting and scripted piece was produced by this company and packaged to give the desired outcome...students will write so that they can take writing tests.
What they write will do exactly what they have learned exactly to do and they will "succeed."
At least in the game of school today.
However, if in the writing that exists in our world that we look to as exemplars for humanity, as pieces that stand the test of time, as inspirational, as capable of making connection...these seem to embody a concept called "art" or perhaps stepping out of the Perfection terminology these are the works of man, long known for his lack of perfection. This is the writing of a being trying to see through the glass darkly in the ninth hour. We are in the process of trying to cry out for our salvation, and for our our souls. It is this we bring to students as teachers in writing process and it is this many of our teachers, for good or ill, need the most work on understanding in training and in comprehension of methodologies for how to do this difficult and worthy task.
We are a world becoming devoid of those that can teach to child about a a man who is driven by his imperfection. We are a group so blind we are asking of a child something that cannot be achieved. We are paying a company to teach us to chant as a group about a "Perfect Sentence" looking the fool in the room. No such sentence can be written by mortal man. We are only capable of the angst of missing that goal. And knowing our own folly.
Standing in opposition to "perfection" is actually the written piece that verifies the value and worth in the search for meaning in imperfect worlds, the searing beauty that lies in the truth found in understanding that one always can't come to perfect knowledge or perfect insights. We are "imperfection" and our ability to develop this in writing is simply chimera like. We have flashes of insight that change through time, are context bound, we are the carriers of fatal flaws. We die never understanding why we were here...we write to find our path in utter darkness...we write to become huddled together communicating our human truths, we are bound by our lesson of knowing we are not a god. We are a man. A man without a "perfect sentence"....well, my fellow teachers, it's a very different kind of writing process that strives for writing as a way of relating, communicating inner life, finding connection than this one in our training on "Perfect sentences."
What I see are programs deliberately and intentionally dismissing these elements with elaboration of formal concerns that are only a very small surface piece of good written expression. We so short change students with our loss of "art" in writing process...we are giving them a level of ingenuousness unimagined. Go forth and lie. You can write to " perfection." What utter and astounding nonsense....The "authenticity" spoken to on the Borderland piece is such a central part of student writing, and it might convey speaking to race, class, poverty, cruelty, injustice, hurts, happiness, health, harm, love, inner voice.
It's apparent that the "perfect" sentence is one with things in the "right" places...fluent as all get out...fluent and graphed and sitting there on the page awaiting the scan-tron...but it's not the places that are where we are driven to write as a group of people that invented writing in the first place and drove it through the centuries. We as a people understood it existed to forge our humanity and drive us into meaning. It was there to help us move forward thorough the darkest hours and the days after the garden...it's our most holy of gifts. It's message, elegy, it's poem and post mortem. It's our call from the wilderness. We are here. And we want to understand why. And this is the work of teachers in writing process ever mindful of the pieces but never lost from that call....
I can't write perfect sentences, paragraphs, compositions and therefore cannot employ the Perfect program for Hathaway School and Hueneme District. Nor can I endorse writing as an end process to achieve a Standard or to get a test result. Though I think it's fine when it does gain a student these markers in the system. Yeah. It would seem to me that writing as a process of self exploration and of self expression, or to reveal one's relationship to material, or as a tool for relating experience in a very imperfect world still pervades how I view the teaching of writing.
Audience is an authenticity piece. It is a fundamental fact that when you make something in written form an audience awaits...how sad that in my world of instruction the audience for the child in these writing programs is often a critical teacher and a testing vehicle "grader". So much valuable time, energy, instruction is being directed into such little tiny tiny thoughts. In a world of newer, evolving, greatly dynamic ways for global interconnection and a need for written expression as never before located in greater numbers of ordinary souls -how silly that I'm directed to hold children to a "perfection" that is such a hollow man. Once students begin writing for peers, parents, those on-line, within model projects, engaged in learning that is broadly valid for them, note taking, revisiting, reflecting, reexamining, once the active engagement of child in communication is engaged within classrooms designed to foster their writing as an ongoing constructive process in a very "imperfect" world...so much forward movement occurs.
Just as an experiment I have been personally writing in several formats for six months. Essays, blogs, comments, reviews, letters, recipes, journals, formal works, a novel, designing a children's story.... My ability to make meaning, speak to a listener, connect and to design reasonable responses has grown ten fold, as has my connection to others and my effectiveness as a person been enhanced. This as a person in process, in written process in love with writing I can bring into my work with students.
My first recommendation is that should one wish to work with students to improve their writing process, rather than buy a program of Directed Explicit Perfection, this teacher should be actively seeking to write in an active lexicon to their meanings. A teacher should have something to say and develop their writing everyday in the saying.. With this engagement I think students will gain from the insights of a capable individual "doing" over saying.Because I fear those imposing programs on our children. I see this may gain them power, money, control and really they have so much time on their hands, they actually think they are able to" write to a perfection". It would seem that the art of writing should be a call to our teachers. We need to write my friends. We have much to say, and we have the lessons we have learned which the world needs to consider in designing the teaching in this very imperfect world.
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