I started this blog post with the last writing prompt and never finished it. I blame the writing prompts. Ha. Anyway, we are on our last writing prompt now and I thought I’d throw it up on the blog…
So, my second-grader has been assigned the first of many, many writing assignments he will complete in the course of his K-12 education. They are called simply the “writing prompt” and as of this week, we are on the third one. The assignment, which takes students through the writing process, is sent home on Wednesday and due the following week.
I love these assignments…in theory. The high school teacher in me is impressed and grateful. I mean, a mini-version of the writing process at eight-years-old? Awesome. Thank you, second grade teachers! By the time the students get to ninth grade, they won’t go cross-eyed when I suggest that maybe—just maybe—their first draft shouldn’t be their final draft. And the writer in me is loving it. #blessed.
No, not #blessed. The whole ‘getting to share my love of the written word’ with Jackson, my adorable, dyslexic, ADHD son? Not so much. This past week, when we sat down to work, I pointed out that I tutor kids in writing (and I’m good at it).
Me: I’m a writing teacher. You’re lucky because your mom is a writing teacher.
Jackson: You’re a high school teacher. Not second-grade. And you’re not my writing teacher. You’re just my helper.
Well, I guess it’s good that our relationship is clearly defined. That way, Jackson won’t have to pay me my rate per hour. Just a helper. This isn’t a tutoring sesh, mom. Really? Cause it sure feels like work to me, kiddo.
Jackson doesn’t need my help (according to Jackson). He will just model his stories off his favorite author Dav Pilkey and the Captain Underpants series. And this technique might be okay if Jackson were writing a graphic novel and not prose.
An example. For the first writing prompt, Jackson chose to write about spring break. Below is an exact line from his draft…
Then back in the hot tub…whaaaaaa????? Darcy What are you…whaaaaaa????
Me: Jackson, who is saying this?
Jackson: Me, I’m talking to the reader. And then Darcy is interrupting me.
Me: But you need punctuation here.
The ‘special snowflake parent’ in me wants to commend Jackson for breaking the fourth wall. But the sensible writer in me knows that we need some clarification if the reader is going to have ANY IDEA what the heck is going on.
For the second prompt, I wised up and got C.K. involved. Jackson wrote about plants. Well, the question was to explain what plants need to survive and showcase his knowledge about the life cycle. Jackson decided to write about buying me a lemon verbena for my birthday because I love the smell.
(Aside: Jackson is the best. I’m love my lemon verbena because now he will stop stealing the leaves from an enormous plant on the school farm. The leaves are sweaty and crumpled and he watches me like a hawk until I put them in my tea.)
So, after Jackson spends the entire first paragraph describing the ride to Calloways with C.K. (no mention of plant knowledge but plenty about my birthday, the gift, the party, etc), he knocks the transition out of the park with “Okay, so you probably know what this paragraph is about.”
The above sentence is what happens when I loosen the reins and let my husband do homework with Jackson. I thought I was being smart. I was saving myself the stress of doing the writing homework with Jackson for the evening and C.K. would get to see Jackson’s brilliant but bouncy mind in action. C.K. would appreciate my efforts. Jackson would spend quality time with his father. I have awesome ideas, right?
No! That is hardly what happened. The one (ONE!) paragraph they worked on together was a hot mess. The rest of the paragraph talked about the various parts of a plant. Jackson wrote something like this…
Okay, so you probably know what this paragraph is about.
Oh sooooo cute…. leaves + stem + roots + flowers
No flowers = still perfect
When I called this paragraph to the attention of my hubs and asked, “H ey, did you read this?” I asked him with NO ATTITUDE WHATSOEVER because I NEVER HAVE AN ATTITUDE and I’m the PERFECT SPOUSE.
C.K., who has not one but two advanced degrees in English, looked at me incredulously as if to say, “It’s a rough draft.” Yeah, rough. Like Jackson wrote this on a dang cocktail napkin.
The third prompt is about Earth Day. Dare I say, things are going smoother. Or the plying him with leftover Easter candy after each sentence is making it bearable. Or we’ve gotten used to the torturous 45-minutes a day we spend “writing” together. See, by the afternoon, Jackson’s meds have worn off. So, he spends a lot of time fidgeting. And talking. And walking around the chair twenty times. Today, Jackson took three whole minutes writing the sentence “Earth day is coming.” I know it was three minutes because I used the hyperlapse app (video compression) to record it.
While Jackson wanted to write about Earth Day, he doesn’t like thinking about what would happen if we didn’t take care of the earth.
Me: Okay so, you’ve you got ‘If we didn’t take care of the earth,…’ then what? What do you want to say?
Jackson: If we didn’t take care of the earth, we would die.
Me: Okay, write that.
Jackson [starts to write]: I can’t write that. I can’t start out so violent. I can’t go dark so quickly.
Me [sighs]: Well, it’s true. If we didn’t care for the earth, we wouldn’t be able to live here anymore. Maybe say that animals could go extinct instead.
Jackson: That’s even worse. I don’t want to think about animals dying.
We decided on “If we didn’t take care of the Earth, we couldn’t live here anymore.” This produced a lengthy tangent on how cool it would be to live on the moon or Mars. And how the guy who made the electric car Daddy wants is going to set up a colony in outer space.
Throughout this paragraph, since Jackson had to describe what would happen if the earth continued to be destroyed, we used the word “would” a lot. That is, until Jackson announced, “Calm down with the ‘woulds’ already. I’m not writing it anymore.”
I debated attempting to explain future conditional verb tense. Instead I resorted to this: “You have two more sentences. Just write it two more times and then we’re done. And I’ll give more M&Ms.”
This was acceptable.
[UPDATE: We just finished the rough draft of his last writing prompt. It was a letter to next year’s second grades explaining the pros and cons of writing prompts. Jackson’s conclusion read like this: “You shouldn’t have to do writing prompts because they take forever. But good luck.” #nailedit ]