Yesterday, the Summer of Innuendos came to an end. Our Summer Institute's deep inquiry into writing instruction yielded language play and an awareness of how sexy the English language can be. Although Brian joked yesterday about how completing the puzzle seemed more urgent than learning new ways of teaching writing, I'm sure that most of our SII fellows left with new ideas that will influence their pedagogy. And I'm glad that we also had a lot of fun along the way.
As I reflect on our month together, I'm struck by what a collegial group this was. I felt like everyone took the time to get to know each other--and it seemed to me like everyone got along well. I also felt like real friendships were formed--and I hope that many of you (if you're reading this) will stay in touch with each other. I know I'm so grateful for my friends from last year (Esther, Mike, Mary, Kathy, Barbara, and the spouses and children that I've met through them)--I'm glad that even though a year has elapsed we still support each other as teachers in addition to being friends. I hope the 2008 fellows will keep in touch like we have.
I also hope that the 2008 fellows will try new teaching strategies this year--and that you will see your students' enjoyment of and expertise in writing increase this academic year. I look forward to our meeting in October. It will be great to see you, but it will also be great to hear about what you are trying out in your classes--what's been effective and what hasn't worked so well. I also hope that you will have success as you piggy back off of what we've learned this summer.
So whoo-ha! Zing-Zing! Get your squap on!
Deborah Dean's Strategic Writing transformed how I think about teaching writing. I'd already become a devotee of the idea of teaching writing as decision making, i.e., helping students understand that writers make choices when they write and that those choices change the text in crucial ways. Dean's book helped me build on that idea with her emphasis on how human beings are strategic and how we can help students understand that they can be strategic when they write.
Yesterday, Debbie spoke to the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project's Summer Institute (held in conjunction with the Merced Writing Project). Her workshop emphasized that, for most students, the writing process involves creating a series of products that mark the "steps" of the writing process. As teachers, we fail to help students understand that the parts of the process are actually strategies that can be used in different writing situations. In her book and workshops, Debbie works to help teachers shift the way they and their students think about writing. She has developed a number of creative assignments that help students practice different strategies, and she asks students to reflect on how the strategies they use for one assignment can be used in other writing situations.
This approach makes so much sense to me. As teachers, we should be more concerned with helping students develop a wide variety of writing strategies that can be used outside of our classrooms and beyond the school experience. We do students a great disservice when we teach them that they can follow a series of steps that will "work" for any writing situation. Writing is too messy and complex for that to be true. Debbie's book encourages us to transform our classrooms in order to help our students become independent, successful writers.
During spring break, I made my first visit to London. While there, I went to the Gilbert & George exhibit at the Tate Modern. (I first became acquainted with their art in the early 90's when I saw one of their pieces at MOMA in New York. I even have a funny photograph in which it appears that my friend Tom is holding hands with Gilbert & George--who always include their own images in their art. The exhibit has ended but you can still experience it virtually at the Tate Modern's website.)
In one of the first rooms, one of the "sculptures" (they call their pieces sculptures and label themselves as performance artists) contains the caption: "We believe that love is the path for a better world of art in which good & bad give way for Gilbert and George to be." This idea intrigues me--it points towards the relationship of the couple Gilbert & George with the artists Gilbert & George. And it positions them as outside of attempts to evaluate what is good and bad art.
What seems to matter here is the creation. the collaboration, not any specific finished product.
I've been thinking a lot about collaboration lately. I'm amazed that Gilbert & George could have such an intense personal and professional relationship for so many years--that, at least to the general public, they seem to have worked and grown together. I realize that what they present in their art doesn't necessarily include the fissures and challenges of their relationship, but the fact that any difficulties can be overcome to produce something so fascinating . . . well, that's remarkable.
Recently, in my own work with the Writing Project, I've been beginning (finally) to understand the joys of collaboration. Yesterday, we had our second meeting--this year, it feels like no one in particular is in charge. As a control freak, that has been a little difficult for me. But yesterday, I had many moments in which I really loved that we were collaborating effectively. Everyone in the leadership team contributes--we're all willing to do what needs to be done in order to create a good workshop.
What I realized yesterday is that I don't have to do it all. I'm working with smart, hard working people who will do their part. And that's what I've been experiencing for the last year.