Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More than One Way to Skin a Cat

Yesterday I had fun. It was Evil Fun. But, in doing so, I believe I made a point and turned a potential struggle for control in the classroom into a comedy show.

This is my first full, five-day week with my writing students (all of them, that is, except the ones out driving with the drivers' ed teacher). As such I am taking time each day to explain and practice with them writing to each of the different types of journal prompts I use in class.

To digress, at the beginning of class I have a PowerPoint presentation that automatically loops around and around to the five different prompts. The first slide is a quote, the second a picture of some sort, the third a story starter from The Writer's Book of Matches: 1,001 Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction by the staff of fresh boiles peanuts, a lterary journal, the fourth a question from the Book of Questions, and lastly a chance to write on whatever topic interests them that day.

So each day this week I am introducing them to a different kind of prompt, getting them to write to it. Writing to it myself. Yesterday we were writing to the picture prompt. It is an old one of some football player being tackled. I don't even remember where I got it. I told the class, after we talked about what kind of writing could come from the picture, that it was time to start and to get writing.

One young man, who I promised would remain nameless here, wasn't getting started. He was just sitting there. I stage whispered to him, "Nameless--it's time to get writing, man."

He looked up at me with a direct challenge in his eyes and said, "I don't want to write."

I looked at him in mock horror as I could feel the eyes of the rest of the class stealing over to the scene. They wanted to know how I would handle it. Would I yell at him, threaten him, ignore him and let him get a zero? Was this a path they wanted to follow him down?

I said in my best fake choked-up voice, "You don't want to write?"

Then I literally fell to my knees in front of his desk, clasped my hands together in supplication and began to wail in best theatrical voice, "Oh, Nameless, PLEASE write something! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!"

The rest of the class was silent for a moment. Whatever they expected, it sure wasn't this.

"Please, Nameless," I wailed, false sobs ripping from my chest, "Please write something during journal writing time!!!"

At this point he jumped up out of his desk and started backing away from me as the class dissolved into helpless laughter. I followed on my knees still begging him in my best theatrical manner to write.

He returned to his seat and picked up his pencil. The look in his eyes said he wasn't sure if he should be angry at me for the show I was putting on or scared that I really was a crazy man. I began to implore him. "Nameless, all you have to do to make me stop is to write something in your journal. Please writne one little thing in your journal so I can stop doing this!!"

He relented and began to write in the journal. As he finished his first word he looked up at me to see what effect it would have on my weird behavior.

Still on my knees I raised my hands into the air and shouted, "Halleluja! He's writing! Nameless is writing!!!" Still fake sobbing, now in joy, I rose to my feet, dusted off my knees, looked at the rest of the class and asked in my normal voice, "Is there anybody else who desn't want to write in their journal today?"

The room was silent except for the scribbling of pens and pencils on paper.

All in all, it was one of my better performances.


Professor Stanton said...

Yes! That is my secret, too: always make them wonder if maybe you're not actually certifiably insane. Or at least blow their minds by doing something so dadblasted unexpected that they have no coping mechanism.

It takes the power back immediately, doesn't it? Yet it gives them something to talk about, and that returns power to them. The negotiation, I wouldn't be surprised, will give you a dedicated student who will give you more than he probably gives anyone else.

Well done!

PoetLady said...

I still hope to go back and become a teacher so I will have to remember this:)

My only worry (and perhaps it wouldn't be one), if a faculty member came in the middle of this, would it be easy to explain?

I am sure all of your students will be telling this story for years to come...and will never dare not write in their journals:)


Krisca Te said...

Hi Art,

Kudos! When I came across this story, I thought that you can make use of this article as a relevant resource to your site: It talks about how learning spaces should adapt to the needs of different types of learners.

I would love to know what you think. It'll be great if you can feature it on your blog as a resource or on any future posts you might have, it would be a privilege! :)

Thank you so much!

Krisca Te