The Hoarder’s Writing Shop and Table Revisited

[Way back in the Fall of 2012, I wrote something about how I shepherd writing ideas. Not long after I wrote it, I started using Evernote, as it had a functionality and flexibility I liked. I still use it, particularly as a sort of thought scrap-book from which I can draw at some point later. With Evernote, a stray thought, a link to a magazine article, and a photograph each find a easily organized platform. This app also makes it easy to connect different devices–a new note I write on my computer instantly arrives on my phone and visa-versa. I find it particularly useful when I travel as I am navigating back and forth from phone to computer continually. It has improved my work flow and my ability to preserve my thinking.

I am fascinated when I find something months or even years afterward that I wrote very quickly and without much reflection. A number of the ideas that in the past might have been fleeting get a second life. Many of the scraps become part of something larger. Additionally, I have noted more and more often that a number of these one-off thoughts are not actually one-offs but instead are part of an interconnected web of ideas.

I am sharing what I wrote in 2012 as it captures something that remains true about how I conceptualize my work. Evernote has come to house my writing shop and table. This way of thinking about my approach to writing whether it be for the blog, for some other aspect of my work, or for the poetry collection, reminds me continually that the best writing is not born of a lightning strike of inspiration but from hard work at a craft.]

The Hoarder’s Writing Shop and Table (2012)

–Something from Ecclesiastes…

–Some poems I haven’t finished (or rather am not ready to part with)… 

–Part of an email conversation about the role of technology in an English classroom…

–A paragraph I like from a letter I didn’t send several years ago…

I have a Word document that serves as a sort of a giant virtual workshop at the center of which is a virtual worktable where I can tighten the vice down on an idea or topic. Some things in the shop have been there a long time—projects continually pushed aside for more pressing ones. They hang on hooks on the wall next to virtual hammers and virtual screwdrivers.  I thought I would at last get to most of these over the summer—my May ambition to write more seems quaint to my September self. Somehow they never made it off the wall and onto the table. Some of them probably need to go to the dump, but I don’t quite have the heart to let them go.

Other things are in the shop and on the table only briefly before they move over to the blog. My last entry, for instance, about trading in my pick-up truck was only on the worktable for thirty minutes or so over the weekend before I moved it over to WordPress. I am writing this entry right now on the worktable. There is a television in the shop tonight, so the US Open is slowing me down.

This Word document is more woodshop than office, and its worktable designed more for a hack carpenter than a draftsman.

It is a place where the criteria for inclusion is limited to what may or may not be ever relevant to the creation of something else. In this way it is a hoarder’s writing shop, complete with overfull boxes of conceit washers, idea screws, and pentameter wood scraps.

If only my Mac could produce the perfect woodshop smell.

Finding a Purposeful Place for the Blog

Prayer from The Westminster Schools Thanksgiving Service
Prayer from The Westminster Schools Thanksgiving Service

The blog went dark over the last month, and I plan on rebuilding its momentum.  For over a year I had at least an entry a week, but I have not posted since late October. It is not that I haven’t been writing, but somehow I slipped out of the routine of posting.  I wrote a prayer for our Thanksgiving service, I wrote a brief devotional on Psalm 23 (that I may post later this afternoon), I wrote letters, and I have been working on a longer poem—it is far from ready for public display, however, and in fact, it may remain forever private. All the different purposes for which I write have temporarily ceased to intersect appropriately in blog entries, but I feel an intensifying drive to get back to it. I miss the discipline the blog takes, and I miss the demand it places on me to organize my thinking on a number of different topics.  The blog has helped me to be more purposeful in my work and in my living—perhaps I have been a bit adrift without it.

That said, as I have been working on the poem, I have been reminded time and again of the necessity of not feeling obligated to share everything or to share something before it is ready, before it has a purpose that includes an audience.  Interestingly, I have been good at telling my students about the powerful role of expressive writing—writing we do to think, to sort out, to leave unfinished; however, I have not been as good in the last year and a half or so of taking that good advice. Some personal blogs seem to seek a space that lives between writing expressively and transactionally—writing that has an audience such as is necessary for transactional writing but yet is still without a polished form or function, as is characteristic of expressive writing.  For me, however, this blog, Ross All Over the Map, is full of transactional artifacts.  While blog entries can be personal, having an audience is essential to them.

I guess this all leads to that conclusion that I need both forms of writing.  Some of it is not only “not ready for prime time,” but it is never intended to be ready for a wide audience, while other writing that I do benefits from the recognition that others will see and evaluate what I have written. I am looking forward to get back on track with the blog in the coming weeks.

The Hoarder’s Writing Shop and Table

Something from Ecclesiastes…

some poems I haven’t finished (or rather am not ready to part with)…

part of an email conversation about the role of technology in an English classroom…

a paragraph I like from a letter I didn’t send several years ago…

I have a Word document that serves as a sort of a giant virtual workshop at the center of which is a virtual worktable where I can tighten the vice down on an idea or topic. Some things in the shop have been there a long time—projects continually pushed aside for more pressing ones. They hang on hooks on the wall next to virtual hammers and virtual screwdrivers.  I thought I would at last get to most of these over the summer—my May ambition to write more seems quaint to my September self. Somehow they never made it off the wall and onto the table. Some of them probably need to go to the dump, but I don’t quite have the heart to let them go.

Other things are in the shop and on the table only briefly before they move over to the blog. My last entry, for instance, about trading in my pick-up truck was only on the worktable for thirty minutes or so over the weekend before I moved it over to WordPress. I am writing this entry right now on the worktable. There is a television in the shop tonight, so the US Open is slowing me down.

This Word document is more woodshop than office, and its worktable designed more for a hack carpenter than a draftsman.

It is a place where the criteria for inclusion is limited to what may or may not be ever relevant to the creation of something else. In this way it is a hoarder’s writing shop, complete with overfull boxes of conceit washers, idea screws, and pentameter wood scraps.

If only my Mac Air could produce the perfect woodshop smell.

Differentiated Assessment of Student Writing in an English Class

[In order to align myself fully with the vision of the school, I will need to improve my ability to differentiate instruction. As part of my self-reflection on this topic, not only am I thinking about areas where my teaching practice may be deficient (or more generously, ready for rethinking), but I am also thinking about areas where I may have done things as a teacher that already represent differentiated instruction well. Responding to the individual needs of students is nothing new to sound teaching practice, but the bar is moving up pertaining the level of attentiveness teachers need to pay to pedagogies incorporating differentiation. I find this exciting.

Successful writing teachers must differentiate based on the needs of individual writers. As this may be an easier concept to understand in teaching writing than it is in other areas of the curriculum, it may provide a good launching pad to reflect more deeply on how to transfer the idea of differentiation to other aspects of my teaching.

I think of reading, listening, responding, speaking, and writing as parts of one process rather than distinct ends unto themselves. To simplify this idea to its most basic form: clear thinking is the central prerequisite to excellent transactional writing. To reach the point of clear thinking takes time and focus, as well as a willingness to jettison one way of approaching a topic or issue so that one might replace it with something more sound. Clear thinking AND excellent writing are thus the result of an earnest and sustained ability to refine one’s approach, position, and voice. How teachers interact with students when they are working through that process has to be differentiated in order to provide students with the specific feedback they need most. Bottom line: students need us in different ways during the writing process. 

On an exam a number of years ago for juniors in my AP Literature course, I had a section in which they had to work on revising part of an essay they had written earlier in the semester. In order to create this section of the exam, I had to determine tasks tailored to each student. I have included several examples of those individual tasks below. Individual students were only able to see his or her task: they were not able to see what I was asking of their classmates. It is interesting looking back to see that in order to create an equal level of demand for the students, I needed to create a quite diverse array of tasks.]

Paper Revision. You may use your books and notes for this section, and thus you should complete this section after you have finished the first three parts of the exam.

J.C.          You are to write the first two paragraphs from the long paper option you didn’t choose on Dubliners.  In our conversation you said that you bailed out on the topic you really wanted to write about…well…here’s your chance to show me what might have been.

B.R.         Textual Evidence—I have not been kidding about its essential part in making a successful analytical argument.  With this in mind, I want you to revise the two body paragraphs of your shorter essay on Shakespeare’s tetrology.

P.S.          I want you to revise paragraph #6 of your long essay.  It is a long paragraph that is not as cohesive as it might be.  You may break it into two paragraphs (or not) depending on your thoughts about what is best.  There is a lot of good information and thinking represented in this part of your paper, but I think the overall essay would benefit from an overhaul.

J.M.          I want you to revise paragraph #3 of your long essay.  My comments should get you started.  This paragraph is choppy and largely unpolished.  It is also apparently incomplete analytically.