Thursday, February 10, 2011

Notes on a First Draft

I was back at the continuation high school today. English class (next door to yesterday's math class). They were beginning an essay on Of Mice and Men.

Yesterday, their teacher spent the period brainstorming the essay with them. Today they were supposed to be ready to start it. They finished the book. They had the instructions. This was the last thing they needed to do before moving on to a new topic.

Luckily, I had an incentive to get them to work. They had to complete at least two paragraphs (of a five paragraph essay) of their rough draft if they wanted to buy out.

Many of them had a hard time getting started. I offered my help, and some of them actually took me up on it.

They had a hard time figuring out what to write as their first sentence. My advice: don't. Since the first sentence, is the hardest to write, why write it first? I encouraged them to start with the second sentence and let the first sentence come to them later.

Then in 3rd period towards the end of the period, one girl told me that she was not going to finish the two paragraphs. She explained that she wanted to get them just right, and she didn't have time to do this. I reminded her that this was a first draft and it wasn't supposed to be perfect. It should be a mess. Mistakes could be made. It was more important to get something to work with to edit later than to get a pristine draft.

The girl disagreed. She said that it would be easier later if her essay was almost perfect now. Then all she would have to do would be to type up what she wrote in the first draft. I attempted to explain that spending time editing and perfecting later was a good thing, but she wasn't having any of it.

I encouraged the others to make a mess of the draft. They asked for erasers to erase mistakes. I encouraged them to draw a line through the stuff they didn't like and just continue writing. This horrified them.

I find this with students all the time (especially middle school students, but high school students too). They'll spend ten minutes erasing something rather than crossing it out and moving on. While there are some circumstances where the thing they turn in should be pretty pristine, many times the assignment doesn't necessarily need to be completely blemish free.

Some of them finished two paragraphs and stopped working. Some of them got a complete first draft done.

A couple of them asked me to read their essays. I had to be careful not to go all grammar police on them (I can get brutal). I wanted to encourage them. Mostly, they had done a fairly good job.

They have a couple more days to work on this. I was glad to see that mostly they made good progress. (I guess the buyout carrot worked.)

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