Some Back Story: Last month my precious baby boy turned sixteen which means he got his license which means that Mama got herself a new/used Jeep Wrangler and handed down the 140,000+ miles car to her boy.
The thing is, I have no idea how to drive the Wrangler.
It’s a manual.
How I picture driving a manual Wrangler: There are a bunch of rrrrrrrrr, rr, rrrrrrrr sounds as I push in the clutch, press the gas, switch each gear. Maybe I go off roading (of course I go off roading–it’s my daydream), maybe I get stuck in the mud and I have to shift, shift, shift, to get this baby out… maybe I don’t, either way I am driving around in my automobile like freaking badass Barbie.
The reality of me driving my manual Wrangler: I stall. A. Lot. When I’m going 35, I feel like I’m going 90. And I can’t remember if I’m supposed to put it back into 4th or 3rd when turning a corner. There are so many numbers. And how am I supposed to look at the dials and drive at the same time? And what in the world happened to 10 and 2? How can I keep them at 10 and 2 when I have to shift? And I have to Jeep wave? What? Oh, I threw it into third trying to start from a stop and that won’t work? Why not? How do I know which gear I’m in, there’s this sleeve over it. It’s like the mystery sleeve, guess which gear you are in Zakrzewski? And maybe there are a few choice words…give or take.
It’s a process. I’m working on it.
I’ve been driving for over 27 years (Oh sweet mother of victory, I did not think the math would give me that number). So, with 27 years of experience, this should be easy. I mean I’ve been driving a car for a long time. Gas means go. Break means stop. Turn the wheel. Easy freaking peasy.
The thing is, even if you’ve been driving for years, learning to drive a manual is just a little bit different than driving automatic. And it takes practice–in all kinds of situations–practice.
And here comes the parallel (kind of like parking–see what I did there with a sweet continued analogy; you’re welcome).
This Is What Writing Is Like for Kiddos.
They’ve done it for years. They’ve felt like they’ve been doing this since kindergarten. And they have. So when some kiddos come into the classroom and we ask them to write, some become frustrated because they feel they should know how to do this. This shouldn’t be hard for them. They have been throwing their essays into gear for years. But they aren’t in automatic anymore. Now they are in a manual. And that can be very intimidating.
As they move up through the grades, there are subtle changes, subtle shifts. New expectations.
You can’t use I.
Try to avoid passive voice.
You can use one word for emphasis if you want.
But don’t use a fragment here. It’s a fragment.
Oh, but this fragment works because you are emphasizing.
Use a comma here.
You need paragraph breaks.
This line can stand alone…no it’s not a paragraph, but it works.
You can use personal experience.
No you can’t.
You need quotes.
No you don’t.
Can you add more of your voice?
Be more formal.
So many nuances. So, for writers who were used to writing one way, (maybe the five paragraph way; maybe the flip the prompt way; maybe the “get in and get out” testing essay way) what was comfortable before is now hard.
So what do we do? How can we help teach our young drivers how to shift into different gears and just take off.
Write all the time.
You write. Show them what you do. Show them your mistakes. Show them your corrections. Talk them through your ideas. Laugh at your own phraseologies and savor your own voice. Show your “go to moves.” And write in different situations, casual and formal; academic and non-academic. Experiment.
They write. Ask them to tell you how they are coming up with their ideas. Have them show you their mistakes and give suggestions in how to fix them. Talk through both of your ideas. Enjoy their phraseologies and savor their voices. Identify their “go to moves” that you are starting to see. And have them write in different situations, casual and formal; academic and non-academic. Experiment.
There are so many paths to writing. So many routes to take. So many ways to do it.
And it can be really fun. As teachers, we can take them off roading, off of the five paragraph essay, off the flip the prompt. We can show it as a structure, absolutely, but we can show them how to break the rules and use those broken rules to make something spectacular.
Be patient. These kiddos are just trying to learn how to push in the clutch, shift, and press the gas. Let them keep practicing because that is what it will take to enjoy the ride.