Friday, December 30, 2011

New Mistakes to Enjoy

After today's morning class, I got cornered by an usual request: a high school student had come off the street and wanted help with her writing. Um, OK. She was right there, and I couldn't bloody well say no—could I?—when she was standing right there. It was a short story, a great break from the usual monotony of five identical sentences ("I like cheese. I like pizza. I like blah, blah, blah.") Even with all the mistakes, they weren't the usual mistakes. This girl, in twelfth grade, was from Maple Leaf, and she could understand everything, more or less. On her paper, her teacher had crossed out her mistakes and written the corrections. I went through the story with her. It was one of a grandmother recounting the time she'd gone to help earthquake victims, including a scene in which she jumped in a river after a girl. Not bad. The student's teacher gave her a low score. Maybe I've been over here a long time. If one of my students had written that story, my head would've exploded. By no means a brilliant piece, it was at least interesting. On the last page was written, "Show don't tell." The teacher's suggestions were valid if a little curt: her characters were flat, the story needed big-time work, etc.

"What specifically do you want me to help you with?" I asked.

"I want you to rewrite it for me," she said, looking right into my eyes through the lensless frames resting on her face.

I said I wouldn't do that. Instead, I walked her through ways she could make the changes, giving her questions to ask so she could do this kind of work on her own. You know, the things teachers do. It felt great to be talking with a student about writing. Of course, at the end of our meeting, she admitted she hated writing. Well.

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