Sweet Surprises

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One of the things you need as a writer is – more writers! Like any endeavor, it helps to be surrounded by people who understand the challenges, with whom you can exchange tips and commiseration. But writer-friends are even better than the average professional network, because they also bring you beautiful stories!

We read one another’s work – and sometimes, we “beta read” (read it before it’s complete) to help a fellow writer fine-tune their tale. I had the chance to read some of writer-friend Diana Brown‘s stories just before they were published, and I enjoyed them – so when they were released, she sent me a copy of the book! I’m looking forward to reading the other authors in Iron Faerie Publishing‘s Arcane Anthology!

For K-12 Teachers: Three Things You Can Do Now to Help Prepare Your Students for College

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I wrote the following post at the request of my friend Cambria Tooley, a teacher at an elementary school in Southern California who was looking for a guest blogger on her own site.  You can find her at http://tooleytalk.blogspot.com/2015/07/guest-blog-entry.html

Statistics show that in spite of rising tuition rates, a college education is becoming more and more necessary. Yet fewer and fewer of the incoming students I meet every fall are adequately prepared for the rigors of college-level thinking and writing. I hope these few tips will help K-12 teachers as they work to prepare their students for a successful college experience.

1.  Encourage Creativity, Confidence, Individuality, and Courage. Almost all of my incoming first-year students are good at memorizing and parroting back what they’ve read and been told, but most of them are severely deficient in their ability to form and defend their own positions or opinions. That is, most of them don’t know how to come up with original ideas, and the few who can are often fearful of expressing them. Too many have been told that “Nobody cares what you think.”

In college, we do care what they think. What they think, in fact, should be the whole point. I know it’s cliché to say this, but today’s children really are tomorrow’s leaders. They need to believe their ideas matter. They need to have confidence, at an early age, that they can change the world. Not the whole world, of course, but a little piece that they care about.

Questions that disrupt your lesson plan can be frustrating, but the paths these detours can take may wind up providing the most valuable “teachable moments” of your day—and theirs. If a student brings up a topic that you know is going to derail your whole day, tell her you find her idea very interesting and that you’ll make a note to come back to it later. Keep that promise.

2.  Grammar matters. Every year I get at least one student who tells me he got A’s all the way through school and nobody ever cared about his grammar. But in college, we do care. My students are often dismayed to learn that I will not give an A to a paper riddled with grammatical errors. A paper with extreme grammatical weakness will receive an F.

(An aside: My students are frequently astounded to find that it is possible to receive an F on something they worked hard on. I don’t grade a paper based on the amount of effort that went into it. I grade it based on its success as a focused, well-supported argument.)

If your own grammar is sketchy, work to improve it. This is something you and your students can do together. You already know that the best way to learn something is to teach it!

3.  A Note on the Five-Paragraph Essay.* On the first day of class, I ask, “How many of you have spent the past four years perfecting your five-paragraph essay skills to prepare for college?” Usually all but one or two hands go up. The students whose hands are not in the air swivel their heads around in panic, thinking they are not prepared and that they don’t belong here.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s the thing. I spend my life un-teaching the five-paragraph essay. It’s a valuable tool, no doubt—there’s no disputing that the “training wheels” it provides can help younger students learn to recognize and eventually master the basics of essay writing—that is, the importance (and the benefits) of keeping an essay focused on proving a single clearly-stated central idea.

But nobody ever won the Tour de France using training wheels, and college writing is no different. The 5P structure simply doesn’t allow for the complexity most college-level assignments demand.

By the time they leave high school, whether they plan to go to college or not, students should know that there are as many ways to structure an essay as there are topics to write about. An essay should be organic. Content should determine form, not the other way around.

College has become almost universally necessary, and the time to start children on the road to a successful college experience isn’t somewhere in the distant future—it’s now.

Can you think of anything to add to this list? What do you do now to help your students prepare for college?

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*A five-paragraph essay is one that begins with an intro containing a three-part thesis. The intro is followed by three body paragraphs corresponding to and developing the ideas contained in the three parts of the thesis. The essay then concludes by reiterating the thesis and main points.

Shifting into Low Gear

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A new semester is getting ready to begin.  In fact, for many, it’s already begun.   But where I work, the first day of classes is next Thursday, September 5, and since all of my classes this fall meet  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the semester will begin for me on Friday.

It might seem odd, starting a semester at the end of the week, but I actually like it.  It gives me a chance to get all of the introductory material done and out of the way on that first day, let everyone enjoy the weekend, and then hit the ground running the following Monday.

That’s my plan.  Hit the ground running.  And we’ll run, more or less nonstop, until the semester ends on December 20.

You may be wondering, what does this mean for the blog?

It means that starting next week, it’ll be shifting into low gear, and I’ll be posting once a week instead of three times a week.  Tuesday will be Blog Day, and the monthly schedule will look like this:

1st Tuesday of the month (starting Sept 3):  WIP

2nd Tuesday:  GUMP/College Writing

3rd Tuesday:  Pot Luck

4th Tuesday:  Bookshelf.  (Ooh, a new category!)

5th Tuesday:  Not sure yet.  There are only three 5th Tuesdays coming up in the next few months (October 29, December 31, and April 29), so I’ll try to make them worth looking forward to.

Hope you enjoy the last few days of summer!

Are you happy to see summer end, or are you dreading it?

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