Friday, January 21, 2011

Student Connections

Today I met with Tara, a 9th grade student writing a novel about shape-shifting humans, werewolves and vampires. Two days ago, she handed me her notebook for feedback as I looked through 9th grade papers in her classroom. I wasn't prepared for the amount of writing that she had done on her "novel" or for the tiny, single-spaced, light pencil that it was written in. I struggled to read it, but was amazed by the intricate plot structure she had devised and the complicated code that involved what the characters could do and how their names were created and what each name signified. How do you give feedback on such a big piece that is still a rough draft? I wondered where she was going with the piece - which authors she read on a regular basis - and what kind of feedback she wanted from me. I left her a note to come to The Write Place to talk about her piece, and today she showed up.

She was nervous, swinging her foot rapidly as we began to talk. I asked her to tell me about herself as a writer and she apologetically recounted how she started out by "plagiarizing" other authors. That led to a discussion of the difference between plagiarizing and emulating. I told her about using books as mentor texts and inspiration which is very different from stealing an author's plotline. That seemed to calm her down. She told me that when she reads, she gets inspiration for new plots and characters. Once she started talking about her story, she seemed quite at ease.

The feedback that she wanted was an evaluation, really, of whether what she wrote was any good. I gave her lots of praise about the intricasies of her plot and the character relationships. I pulled out Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, Orson Card's Ender's Game and J.K Rowling's Chamber of Secrets and talked about how she might use her own mentor texts to create description and detail that would help the reader follow the story. (Her piece was filled with dialogue.) She said that she adds description when she types up her drafts. I don't know if I gave her enough, but I wanted her to think of this as a positive experience, so I'll just have to wait and see where this goes...

I encouraged her to come back with new sections or any other writing that she wanted to have feedback on - I also encouraged her to send her friends to The Write Place to talk about their writing.

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