I found Ursula LeGuin’s blog a few years ago and fell in love. Funny and fun, her blog showed the wise and witty thoughts of a master writer.
This week I started reading a collection of her blog posts, No Time to Spare, Thinking About What Matters, Her ruminations leave me laughing out loud and thinking. About cats, literature, and teaching.
The other day, I was reading a post entitled “Kids’ Letters”.
…so many kids are perfectly willing to write a book (the book may be fifty words long). They are confident about doing it and about illustrating it. They take obvious pleasure in giving it chapters and a table of contents, and a cover, and a dedication. And at the end, they all write “The End” with a proud flourish… To have written a book is a very cool thing, when you are six or eight or ten years old. It leads to cool things, such as fearless reading. Why would anybody who’s written a book be afraid of reading one?
I have students write books and have been tickled by their table of contents and about the author pages, but I had not thought on the “cool” side effects. At least not in the way LeGuin puts it. If you write a book, how could you not want to be a part of? What an important breakthrough for those who fear or perhaps say they “hate” reading. How can you hate something you lovingly add a dedication to?
As I’ve moved my students’ writing toward electronic composition, the booklike quality has diminished. When printed out on paper it does have the page-turning book feel. Maybe that’s why students want their fonts so large.
I read on.
…I can say the best letters and books by kids are handmade. A computer may make writing easier, but that’s not always an advantage: ease induces haste and glibness. From the visual point of view, the printout, with all indiosyncratic characters blanded into a standard font, is drably neat, while the artisanal script is full of vitality.
This notion of handmade haunts me. The things we piece together manually connect to us in a different way. I have been and am a proponent of writing electronically. I enjoy it. It makes the craft and revision easy, even playful. Copying text and moving it from one place to another allows a writer to try on different structures and sequences. Why not allow students this same ability?
Of course. But, I’ve seen that skill used to lift another’s work and represent it as original thought. Perhaps I am asking too much of young writers. Perhaps this copy/paste function is too tempting. Rather than liberating students from the arduous work of recopying their writing, the ease of movement makes interpretation of text seem silly. Especially when the resource states it so clearly. Why not simply copy/paste and modify a few words?
All of this has me thinking about how to approach our next round of writing. How my fourth graders need a mixture of technologies when then write. For years I had one device for every two students. That forced moderation. This year, I have a device for every child. While I’ve tried to be purposeful in the selection of writing tools, the electronic world is slippery and seductive. And a little heartless.
With every innovation and increased access to technology, we need a careful examination of writing purpose, genre, and student need. Why not a melding of the past and present writing tools rather than a wholesale adoption of abandonment? Tricky, but exciting.
Tomorrow, with a mixture of source material and media, we will start to write information books about things and ideas we know a lot about.
Things we have experiences with.
Things we want to learn more about.
Origami, guinea pigs, penguins, and competitive swimming.
World War II, soccer, basketball, and owls.
Cats, dogs, foxes, and Star Wars.
All of it interpreted by students.
Guided by picture book mentors.
I’m hoping for books
a page-turning quality,
and perhaps a heartfelt dedication.