After a particularly fertile conversation with Jesus this morning and after jotting notes on the new title He suggested, it becomes obvious that sections of my notes from the third chapter of the Gospel according to John and Oswald Chambers can do triple duty today serving by turns as blog, NaNoWriMo and catalyst for today’s lesson plan. Writing now, after class, I determine to post (instead of the paragraphs I received as my students worked their freewriting on a fitting tribute to veterans into five paragraphs using a particular rhetorical pattern) the steps I took to get us all writing in the vacuum created by the missing team of teachers due to present today.
Still feeling hopeful at 7 minutes into the hour with only five students present, I post the freewriting topic, set a 10-minute alarm on my phone, and head downstairs to collect and cut the feedback forms I printed in the English Department office in case any of the team members decide to attend and present. Due to budget cuts (right) I am asked to print downstairs instead of at the communal printer in the suite of offices I share with Health Sciences faculty.
By the time I return, no additional students have joined the class. The following paragraph is what write in the remaining few minutes.
I think the only fitting tribute to veterans would be an end to war of all kinds. But how can we end such aggressions when we can’t even stop self-sabotage. The truest phrase in this circumstance is hurting people hurt people and that’s exactly what we see on the playground, in the classroom, in congress and on the battlefield. Is the hurt real or imagined and either way is it worth killing for? The best revolution is one that makes life worth living. Quality of life matters.
When students have submitted their word counts (180/236/110/223/?) I ask them what they wrote about. They answer variously:
They are not really taken seriously.
You see a lot of homeless veterans which is pretty upsetting.
I think we should have a parade. (2)
I think we should appreciate what we have more. They’d probably like it.
Then I ask what they know about arguments and college writing. When the first response is, “you don’t always win arguments”, I decide to try another tack. What do you know or remember about rhetorical patterns or types of arguments. Again, I draw a blank or five. I start again by saying perhaps they’re no longer teaching patterns in high school but maybe you’ve heard of Comparison / Contrast. As soon as the words leave my mouth I am full of regret. If nothing else, that’s one mode I’m sure they would have guessed successfully had I left it on the tree as low-hanging fruit. Wincing internally, I continue soliciting responses and working with whatever comes my way.
Evaluation? Well, yes, evaluation is part of each type of writing but most present in a pattern called Division and Classification. I give discuss types of engines or footwear by way of example. One student, usually silent and hooded in the last row, stops texting and says I’d win if the essay were on shoes. I forge ahead, encouraging even this one.
When the next and following students suggest tentatively, freewriting and revising, as patterns, I say, these are parts of any writing process but not the patterns we use when developing paragraphs. Noting the abstract grows more abstract by the minute, I list a few more rhetorical modes and ask each student to select one the better to make things concrete. We are going to get as close to five paragraphs using the selected pattern as we can in five minutes. By way of encouragement, I give an infomercial for NaNoWriMo so I can share the Leonard Bernstein quote: To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.”
Two students select Comparison and Contrast. Another two select Cause and Effect. One chooses Division and Classification and I choose Narration, set the timer for five minutes and begin typing with the picture muted so as not to disturb them.