“I annoy my students on a number of levels. I don’t praise them enough: I’m always being critical, finding fault in their work. I make them commit to a writing project—choose the subject of their essays—almost immediately. I don’t tolerate procrastination. And I make them go out into the world and do immersions.”
This passage stood out to me as I read You Can’t Make This Stuff Up by Lee Gutkind. It reminds me of the old adage that a parent can’t be their child’s friend. It’s up to teachers to push their students and to set standards of excellence, even if it means some students won’t like it.
Of course, building a good rapport with students is essential. You need to let the students know you care for them. It’s not something you can fake.
Gutkind explains a bit more of his process . . .
“In addition to reading books, they dig into Wikipedia, conduct a few telephone interviews, and write something. They have to be involved—which is the real-life aspect of creative nonfiction.”
This is where I diverge a bit from him. I tell my students quite directly that I don’t want them using Wikipedia. There are a few reasons for this. One of the reasons is the validity of the information. There are often errors or unsubstantiated facts on Wikipedia pages. A second reason is that many of these pages are terribly written. They are not easy for many students to understand.
I tell me students that they can use Wikipedia to get a general idea or to use as a starting point, but they cannot cite it or use its information without having found it elsewhere as well.
Annoying Question Marks
Gutkind’s students really hate the way he marks up their pages with questions marks.
“When I read their manuscripts and find something I don’t completely understand, a reference or an idea that isn’t totally clear, and image that doesn’t make sense, I inscribe a series of questions marks in the margins of their manuscripts.
This is part of my ongoing campaign for clarity.
‘Words,’ I say, ‘should embrace the reader and help tell the story—not confuse readers or divert them to a dictionary or back to the essay to see what they missed in context so they can understand what the writer means.’
‘But you know what I am saying,’ my students object.
‘I know what you are saying, more or less, but I’ve known you throughout the semester and I know what you’re writing about. We’ve discusses your story frequently.’
Sometimes at this point, my students explain to me what they meant by a phrase or a sentence or an image. ‘Will you be around to explain to your readers every time they’re stymied?’ I ask.”
That’s a great lesson for students to understand. Sometimes a question mark is all you need. Other times a little note might help students understand your issue with the writing a little more clearly. Either way, the goal is to challenge our students, to make them do their best work, and to learn something in the process.
I hope that my students appreciate that I take my job seriously and won’t hate me for my methods. I bet there are times when we are both annoyed with each other. And maybe, that’s okay.
Teaching Tip Tuesday – inspiration and ideas from my classroom to yours!