"A Linguistic Process"
[Wednesday, August 17, 2011]
Everett was asleep at his desk when
Professor Burr gently shook him awake.
"Sorry, sorry," Everett said. "New baby,
haven't gotten a good night's sleep since."
"Of course," said Professor Burr. "I just
wanted to tell you that I got off the phone
with the University of Nebraska and they
finally agreed to take our students after
release, so now the guys aren't restricted
to the community colleges. We're going
to need more extracurriculars, though."
"Nngg," Everett said as he tried
to drag his brain back to work. "I'm
still trying to figure out how to stretch
the family budget for a new member."
"So make up another club here,"
said Professor Burr. "It'll pay, but
it won't take nearly as much work
as teaching a whole new class."
"Club, sure, I can do that
on a different day than
Book Club," said Everett.
"What are your students into?"
asked Professor Burr. "Where
are they clamoring for more than
what we're already offering?"
"Creative writing," said Everett.
"Every composition class has
one or two students who just
catch fire, but there haven't
been enough together for it
to justify holding a class just for
fiction or poetry. Maybe journalism,
some day, but we're not there yet."
"Could you make creative writing
work as a club?" said Professor Burr.
"Well, yeah, I think so," Everett said.
"Most towns have a writing group of
some sort. Writing is a linguistic process,
and so you have to learn it by doing it."
"How would you structure that kind
of club?" asked Professor Burr.
"Normally, each member brings in
an item for everyone else to read
and critique," Everett said. "I would
have to give these students prompts,
such as 'Write a letter to the editor about
this current event' or 'Write a 500-word story
occurring in autumn,' but it should work."
"If you want them to give feedback,
you will need to teach them how, and
cover civility and conflict resolution,"
Professor Burr warned him.
"I plan to, and I'll want to find
a good scoring rubric too, so
they know what to look for,"
Everett said, nodding. "We
should award points for
attending those lessons."
"Agreed," said Professor Burr.
The point system rewarded
inmates for prosocial behavior
and other desirable activities,
so they got an immediate payoff
to encourage them to do more.
"I figure we could --" Everett yawned.
"-- switch off among different types
of writing, so the guys get a chance
to try nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.
They wouldn't have to attend all of
the sessions, just the ones they want."
"That gives it an advantage over a class,
where their grade suffers if they skip
a lesson," said Professor Burr.
"Plus it will encourage me
to make sure every session
is as fascinating as possible,"
said Everett. "That way
more students will come."
"Do you have ideas for
that?" said Professor Burr.
"It would be fun to do a set
inspired by the famous authors --
You Can Write Like Langston Hughes --
and maybe some on specific forms
such as Let's Make Quintillas,"
Everett said. "I can draw on
things the guys already like."
"Oh, I had a high school class
where the teacher handed out
worksheets with a sample poem
and a description of its form,"
said Professor Burr. "Then we
just wrote ours on the back.
I made so many cinquains!"
"I had a teacher who told us
to pick a poem from the anthology
and look up how to write its form,"
Everett said. "I'd go to the library,
start with that one, get sucked into
the facing page, and next thing I knew
it was dark and I'd missed my bus."
Professor Burr laughed. "Maybe
we can share those experiences
with our students here, minus
the part about missing the bus."
"All right, then that's a plan,"
Everett said. "Thank you."
"Thank you," said Professor Burr.
"Scribeship used to be among
the most respected professions;
it's good to pass that along."
"Can do, said Everett.
Then he ambled off
in search of coffee.
He had work to do.
* * *
“… the truest writers are those who see language not as a linguistic process but as a living element….”
-- Derek Walcott (St. Lucian poet and playwright).
A writing workshop involves a process of people writing, exchanging the materials, and then critiquing each other's work. People often hate it for valid reasons, but there are ways to fix that. Learn how to conduct effective workshops. Understand the methods of critiquing a student's work, teaching student's to give effective feedback, and critiquing a classmate's work.
A good rubric frames analysis and feedback. See examples for nonfiction, flash fiction, and poetry. Learn how to design an effective rubric.
Explore famous black writers and compare the styles of different writers. Mimicking famous writers is a useful exercise.
Poetic forms are sets of parameters for creating specific types of poetry. See examples in the Poets' Garrett online or in The New Book of Forms.
Spanish poetry includes some interesting forms. They work great in Spanish and also pretty well in English, making them fairly accessible to beginners. The quintilla uses a 5-line stanza that allows a choice of several rhyme patterns.
Point systems have pros and cons. Here is a typical example. Terramagne-Nebraska Penitentiary uses a positive-reward system to help inmates grasp the connection between desirable behaviors and desired rewards. Most of them don't have a good intrinsic sense of satisfaction from accomplishments, and this helps teach that.
Prosocial behavior includes things like kindness and cooperation that make society work. There are ways to teach this at home, at school, and at work. Regrettably, local-American prisons destroy prosocial behavior. Because humans tend to be highly contextual, they usually absorb the beliefs and behaviors of those around them in order to fit in. Thus, abusing prisoners encourages them to abuse other people, whereas modeling prosocial behavior encourages them to act decently.