Saturday, September 1, 2012

I Hate Composition

I hate Composition. Not “writing” in and of itself simply for the enjoyment of putting words to paper in a pleasing manner. I love writing and am thrilled to have refueled my passion for it. But “Composition”. I’m talking about the class. And the homework. And the not knowing how to explain it to my 11yo when it is like second nature to me.

I enrolled him in said class because the two of us had been struggling with it now for two years. Two years. I don’t know why he doesn’t get it and I definitely don’t know how to teach it…to him or anyone else, for that matter. I do sympathize with his position – the not understanding something. There are plenty of things which I don’t understand, but I don’t know why I don’t understand. If I knew the why, I would tell you and we could move forward. All that to say, he and I are clearly at an impass. Time to bring in a mediator of sorts.
To do this, we are, I mean HE IS, enrolled in the middle school composition class in our co-op. I thought “This cannot be any better. There will be someone else to teach that at which I have failed for the past two years.” Have I mentioned that it’s been two years?

Much to my chagrin, after we’d paid our fees and our syllabus was distributed, I discovered that I would essentially be the one teaching him. Yes, he will go to class one day/week, with another teacher who will lead that hour and a half, but he has assignments each week-day in which he’s not in class.
I feel like the message may be getting through to me: “YOU are the one who is supposed to teach him.” Fine…but at least I have back-up in this co-op teacher.

So this week we have been working on our first actual “writing” assignment. It is a descriptive paragraph ranging in length from 6-9 sentences. He has to describe an item that can be held, felt, smelt, etc, but cannot be a person or an animal. And there are other stipulations as well, which are reviewed on the “Writing Skills Checklist”; I’ve listed a few below for your reading pleasure:

·         Do all my sentences support my topic sentence (no “carrots in my cookie jar”)?

·         Does my title capture the essence of my paragraph?

·         Did I use no more than one “to be” word?

·         Did I use concrete words and avoid weak words?

·         And my very FAVORITE one: Did I vary my sentence structure by using EACH OF THESE in my composition:

o   Began with a participle

o   Began with paired adjectives     

o   Began with an “ly” adverb

o   Used a simile

o   Used a subject-verb sentence

o   Began with a prepositional phrase

o   Used an appositive

So…feeling very much like a dunce despite my journalism degree, together we looked up each of those terms to ensure that we had included them all. I knew what some of them were, but really? “An appositive?” I know how to write it, but I don’t know what it’s called, nor do I really care, Scarlett.
Needless to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, we were both nearly in tears by the time we had gone through the checklist.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the premise: it is to get kids to think about sentence structure and how to prevent their writing from being boring or stilted – to keep it from being ALL subject-verb sentences. But seriously, I’m not 100% confident that I can do it…this process might really push me over the edge. I know I personally would be hard-pressed with such an assignment.  Remember…this paragraph is only allowed to be 6-9 sentences.   I like to ramble…shocking, I know. I like to use dashes and dots and colons and semicolons. Who doesn’t? It gives my writing voice. Well, at least that’s my theory and rationale for my somewhat sloppy grammar and punctuation.
I know there is a time and a place for following those rules, but my blog is obviously not it. My 11yo will need to use and hone his writing skills in various and sundry ways throughout life and better he learn from one a little more rigid than his mother who is all loosey-goosey with her sentence fragments. Right? Once again, I’m thankful for the back-up I will have in the co-op teacher.

One other thing that has made this experience so difficult is that I struggle with my desire to “just fix it”. Sitting on my hands has never been so hard as through this process. Pray for me, people, as I know this is just the start of a tedious experience to be sure. I want him to learn how to do this himself, without his mother holding his hand.
That being said, my son clearly knows his mama and her weaknesses…I mean her take charge leadershipness…ok, her weakness.

As we were working on the first revision, I could tell he was frustrated, as was I…I will be perfectly frank. I asked him what was wrong…specifically wrong, not generally…I knew the general reason. This was hard stuff and he didn’t want to do it.
 “Well, you’re a writer so I just thought…” and he sort of trailed off. Is this thought under construction? Do we need to throw down some flares for our safety?

“You thought what?”
“Well…” Again with the trailing off, this time accompanied by down-cast eyes.

“What did you think? That I’d do the writing and editing for you?”
“Yeah, basically…I was hoping for that,” he nodded.

He clearly has much to learn in many areas…and I’m in for a long year.

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