Tuesday, June 24, 2014


From P. 80

"But continual composing, searching, questioning, reaching for a story, a metaphor, a line, delivered the main insight that helped me report my data successfully. I have to be sure to allow information to flow freely between compartments or categories I may have artificially constructed. I've come to understand that these types of activities are part of the act of continual composition. While we compose we try to connect disparate understanding, like connecting what we've observed about fruit trees to what we see in humans."

I've always referred to this act that Graves calls continual composing as "percolating". Just like an old fashioned percolator coffee pot, thoughts, knowledge, research and ideas need time and space in which to "brew". If we do not allow enough time or attention to them, or enough time to allow the ideas to simply come to us, we may never make those connections. Our beverage will be watery, weaker than it should be. I find that my best ideas and connections percolate while I am alone driving.
I often wish I had one of those voice recorders so I could record my ideas while driving; I often fine that I have forgotten them by the time I get around to trying to write them down.

I worry that in this age of continual structured time and constant barrage of media input, students may never have the experience of making those connections. How can we ensure that we allow students time to follow their thoughts down complex paths? How can we ensure that the act of thinking is valuable enough for students to choose it for themselves, over a video game or cable t.v.?

1 comment:

  1. Two Questions

    1. Like Jill, I wonder how we can give students the TIME to engage in that slow, rich simmer of thought—what Graves calls long thinking and Jill refers to as "percolating." I'd love to launch students on this kind of intellectual journey every semester, but how can we make our curriculum (already chock full of required texts and assessments) accommodate such percolating projects? On page 57, Graves offers some direction:

    "Children take on the power of long thinking when they successfully identify areas about which they know a little and want to learn more. The are able to sustain their thinking using a number of resources and skills. It usually takes several tries before children begin to pass from outside their subjects to inside them and experience what successful long-term thinking feels like."

    Yes, that sounds great, but how do we do this? How can I make sure every student has an interesting point of personal entry into a given text, like Romeo and Juliet, for example? Where do we find the time to give them "several tries" to get hooked? The multigenre research project, mentioned on p. 56, might be good vehicle for such a journey. But what happens if a kid loses steam before they complete it? Perhaps we train them little by little, extending the length of successive assignments.

    The same questions apply to Graves' suggestion for authentic reading assessment. What do we do with standard texts in our curriculum when they don't address topics that students want to know more about? Of course, not every kid gets psyched about reading Romeo and Juliet or To Kill a Mockingbird. So how can we coax students to venture inside texts that they're required to read?

    2. My second question relates to the principle "what you pay attention to, you reinforce" (p. 38). I like Graves' focus on listening to students and reading their work with "loving attentiveness" (p. 15), maintaining an affirmative, encouraging attitude as much as possible. While I try to lead with this approach, I also provide plenty of "constructive criticism." After reading Brenda Ueland's book, however, I cringe to think that I may have been murdering imagination all along. Is there any such thing as constructive criticism in the classroom? I'd welcome specific advice on how to address weaknesses in students' writing in a healthier way.