Why You Gotta Make Me Keep Writing So Much?

Teaching writing to seventh graders is often quite tedious. Most of the kids really don’t want to write and, if they do, they don’t want to go through the arduous process of revising, editing and re-writing.

Still I love what I do…most days. This year, I am really enjoying using our new software that allows me to monitor, from my screen, what every student is doing on his/her screen. What is really cool, is that I can enter any student’s essay at any time from my desk and offer suggestions to keep the writing going. It takes a bit of managing as all 35 kids in a class want their work read immediately and all at the same time. But I am getting there…

Today, my students began writing their rough drafts of their creative stories inspired by the painting, “The Scream.” Many started raising their hands only minutes after the assignment was given.

“No,” I announced, “today you are going to work by yourself for the first fifteen minutes without my help. Have faith in your writing. When the time is up I will help one person at a time. Remember that you have your seat partners to read and revise with you.”

Nick immediately came to my desk. I looked at this quirky kid and repeated my directions. “Fifteen minutes, Nick. It’s only been fifteen seconds.”

“Okay,” he said with a sigh. He returned to his desk. “You’ll see. This one’s going to be a perfect ten.”

Exactly fourteen minutes and forty-five seconds after returning to his seat, the boy was back at my desk with a goofy grin on his face and his laptop in his hands.

“Nick,” I said, “I can access your computer without you even being at my desk. But I know how much you like me and need to be near your favorite teacher, so I guess you can stay.”

He rolled his eyes and gave another grin and then handed me his laptop. His story was about an orphan boy crying on a bridge under the bright orange sky. A couple comforts him and soon realizes that this is the boy they had given up eight years previously. They rejoice in the fact that they can have a family again. The boy, on the other hand, resents them for giving him awaay and allowing him to grow up in an orphanage. He runs to the railing and jumps to his death in the fjord below.

“Wow,” I said. “Pretty heavy, Nick. But, you know what? I don’t want you to kill him off. Besides this is only one paragraph long. I want a story. Let’s say the parents are really criminals trying to kidnap the boy. Try working with this line: ‘The townspeople hear the boy screaming and call the police to report two homeless people shoving a boy into the water.’”

Nick rolled his eyes and returned to his seat. I watched online as he wrote two more paragraphs. Then he approached my desk again. “Can you read what I wrote?”

“Already did. But I’ll do it again now since you need to be up here next to me.”

I reread his added words. “I like how you had two officers run after and capture the lady and the man and then another officer jumping in the water to save the boy. But the last sentence brings the story to an end too quickly.

“You mean this?” he asked. He pointed to the “sentence” in question: “The officer that dived in to get the boy touched his neck where his pulse was and the officer said, ‘he has perished from us all :(….’”

“Yeah, that one. I think you need to keep the boy alive a bit longer. How about you write this?” I typed into his document, “The woman grabbed her husband’s hand and they both took off down the road. The police chased after them and…”

“Go ahead,” I said, “go see where that takes you.” I chuckled to myself as I watched him plod back to his desk. On my screen I watched as the couple were pursued by the police and shot in their backs. Their skin was ripped open revealing their true identities as robots from another planet.

Nick returned to my desk yet again. “Robots…hmm,” I said. “I think you’re on to something here. I think you should write a little bit more about where they came from.”

“Oh my god,” Nick said.

“Great line,” I exclaimed, and entered his story once again: “’Oh my god,’ said the main officer. ‘What is that?’ Suddenly the sky turned a darker brick-like color. A humming sound came from the bloody sky. The officers…”

“Mr. Ramsey!” the boy complained. “Why you gotta make me keep writing so much?”

“Because this is a writing class,” I exclaimed with a laugh. I pointed to his head. “And I want to get all that crazy in your head down onto paper!”

He rolled his eyes and grinned.

“You have to bring this story around full-circle. Come back to your main character somehow!” I advised.

My crazy writer went back to his desk and attacked his keyboard once again. I watched as he added to his tale:

“The officers looked up in confusion and suddenly aliens with UFO’s come and pick up the boy and their robots that tried to take Jacob back to their planet. The aliens talk to the boy they say, ‘You have 2 choices child, we either take over the world and take you to our planet OR we send a magical dog that watches over you for life and we give you an infinite life.’” (Infinite was one of this week’s vocabulary words!)

Sure, the piece needs a bit of editing, but there’s a lot to celebrate about it as well. I got the boy to write! I helped him find ways to keep the reader guessing and helped him to build a little stamina as a writer. And I had a great time bonding and creating with this wonderfully humorous kid.

If only I had time to do this for every writer in my classroom.

Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2018.

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