Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Draft 3 Writing Memoir

In fifth grade, I spent a good deal of time wondering why Mrs. Peters wore such ugly, old fashioned shoes and how she formed her near perfect, cursive writing. She spent all day firmly planted in her desk at the front of the room (offereing us hours to look at those shoes under her desk); however, at night, she must have spent hours filling the chalkboard with nealy written questions for us to answer. Our job was to turned in neatly handwritten pages to the bin on the corner of her desk. Neatly formed cursive letters were the goal and to be quite honest, I do not think she read what we wrote! My year spent pleasing Mrs. Peters convinced me tht IF your written schoolwork LOOKED good, then it would be pleasing to your teacher!

I subsequent years of school, I must have written a few things; however, I really do not remember anything of substance. Those were years when education focused on science and math, a movement fueled by the Russian launching of Sputnick.  They were also years with very large public school classes (35 students was the norm) fueled by the “baby boom!” Now that I look back, I suspect my teachers taught from their teachers' manuals and there was not manual for teaching writing.  Perhaps my teachers believed what I inferred: IF you read enough AND if you were “born” to be a writer, it would happen to you!

When I arrived on the campus of Syracuse University, they ASSUMED that IF I had qualified for advanced placement English, then I was a writer! I am POSITIVE that I did not take ANY writing test before coming to college or qualifying for Brittish Literature; however, in the fall of my freshman year, it was learn to write or return home a failure – so you know what I did!  I carefully drafted on legal pads, writing and revising and rewriting. I went in for extra help with teaching assistants who offered me the greatest of teaching gifts: models of what was expected. They did not want neat handwriting or neatly typed papers. They did not want me to write a specific number or words or a specific response to a question. They wanted me to express my ideas in writing using details from the text to explain my point. Sounds simple when you state it like that! NO matter what the task, students need models and scaffolds in order to progress within their zone of proximal development.

I’m not very proud of those early years of my own teaching of writing. Like MY teachers, I focused on copying rather than content. I focused on learning to read and then learning to write. Yet, I knew in my heart that there needed to be more and thus I read and studied the works of early writing researchers such as Donald Graves.  Their ideas morphed my thinking and teaching. I dove deeply into the teaching of writing as I researched and wrote my own dissertation. My mornings and evenings are now always spent in front of a computer. I write now because I can and because it is how I clarify and share my ideas and knowledge.

I’m not sure that I would consider myself a confident writer even now. My dream of publishing my collection of easy readers for beginning readers is still a shapeless vision. I do, however, know what I need to make that writing dream a reality: someone to guide me to if not through the maze of publishing.


MrErenberg said...

I really enjoyed reading all three drafts, Dr. F. One point of praise that I noticed was how, in your first draft, you seemed certain part of the problem in your grade school education was the heavy Sputnik-era focus on Math and Science. In your second draft, you seemed a walk that statement back a bit when you offered that you'd "like to think" the deficiencies in your training as a writer had to do with the emphasis at that time on Science and Math. You don't seem so sure what the root of the problem was in this draft, and I honestly preferred the confident tone of your first draft, on this particular point. Finally, I was happy to see, in your third draft, that you removed the part about how you'd "like to believe" it was Sputnik-related, and returned to the tone of certainty from the first draft. Seems to me, if you simply say you're not sure why your early writing education suffered, the reader might suggest you're harboring something. The stronger sounding statements that indicate you know exactly what was wrong with you early education would tend to make the reader grant you more credibility about your thoughts on how the problem should have been fixed.

A point of growth that I can point out would be the need to maintain the sort of mental pictures your first paragraph in the third draft call up in the reader's mind, throughout the piece. My favorite part of your third draft, which I noticed evolving in the second draft, is how your description of Mrs. Peters produced such a vivid image (between the shoes and the cursive perfection)in my mind's eye. I wish your subsequent paragraphs could find a way to bring the same evocative imagery to the fore. While those paragraphs do a fine job of relating to the reader how your practice and understanding of the writing process changed over time, they seem to do so in a more rote manner than the more powerful first paragraph might lead you to expect.

-Margo- said...

Dr. Ferreri,
I also enjoyed reading your piece. I love how visual the first years of your education were. It was very easy to connect to you as a writer when showing me how your ideas of education were formed based on the experiences you had early on. As a reader, I am instantly pulled in by the power of description and detail you showed. Your beginning will captivate it's audience.

Although you show a few possibilities of why your writing attitude was weakened from the start, you then dive into "writing because you can." I would enjoy reading a little more reflection on your later years of writing, as you get to your main "Ah ha!" and then never explain how YOUR feelings about writing changed. How did you become a practicing writer that despite a lack of full confidence, uses writing as a now personal hobby? I feel that we model the writing process for our students through personal stories and writing to get things off our mind, yet don't show them our true attitude towards writing. It seems you write children's books through a personal place and would be interested to see how writing helps you escape now. As we are learning from you, not all writers will have perfect grammar or handwriting, yet can achieve heart and soul writing when we dive in ourselves.