Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Good Guys, Bad Guys & Befuddled Writing Teachers #sol15

Folding laundry in the basement, I listen as my four and a half year old son Alex plays nearby.  A battle is apparently raging where the good guys are fighting the bad guys.  Every so often I hear an "Oh yeah? See what you can do!" exclaimed or a "You'll never get me!".  He is completely engrossed in the story he is creating with the little figures he holds in his hands.  It dawns on me that Alex is only a few months younger than the kindergarten writers I used to sit next to for writing conferences. A light bulb flashes over my head in what Oprah would call an "Aha!" moment.  

You see, I often struggled with how to handle my little boy writers.  We would be in the midst of a small moments unit of study and I would pull up a chair next to a little guy who would have a frenetic scene scrawled across his page.  He would tell me a very detailed tale about bad guys fighting and I would inwardly groan.  What was I supposed to do with THIS? This was not a small moment about the time you lost your tooth or the first time you rode an airplane or met your new baby sister. Often, the little boy would be so excited about his work and I would struggle with my response.  Sometimes I would say it was a great story but not a small moment and we could keep it in the writing folder, but now we have to write the story that really counts.  Seeing Alex so engaged with his toys and the story he created, I see now that my kindergarten students were writing what they practiced in their play. 

Now I teach third grade and I'm finding that many of the boys have moved away from traditional bad guy stories and now focus on video games! We are doing a persuasive writing unit where the students should be crafting speeches to convince people of something.  A few of my students, yes- boys, have decided to write about a specific video game and why you should play it or not play it.  I am inwardly screaming about these topic choices- THIS is what you care passionately about? All of the problems in the world and you want to convince people to play a video game? A lot of what they are writing is terrible ("You should play it because it is fun"- oh, now I am totally convinced!) and I don't know what to do.  We know choice is so important, so how can I take away what they choose to write about, whether it is 5 year-olds and their bad guy stories or 8 year-olds persuading people to play video games? 

Tomorrow I plan to do a lesson that focuses on the students' topic choices and if they care enough about their topic to spend the time revising.  If they don't feel deeply passionate about the topic, I want them to abandon their writing and find what they are deeply passionate about, making that their new topic.  I'm afraid that some of my students are going to hold tight to the video games.

As a mom to a curious and creative little boy, please don't mistake this post as boy bashing.  I want to help all the children in my class grow as writers, both boys and girls.  Obviously, many boys grow up to be men who are skillful, eloquent writers.  I'm wondering if some of these men can help me understand what and how they wrote when they were younger.  Were they bad guy/video game story tellers too? What do you think boys need to be successful in writing workshop? Am I basing success on what I think they should be writing? Are boys wired differently to focus on battles and good guys and bad guys while girls are more attuned to emotions and stories about families? Am I making unfair generalizations? Sigh.  Befuddled with the battles and video games, I would love to have a conversation with fellow Slicers about your experiences with the difference between boy and girl writers.