Veronique Darwin

Posts Tagged ‘Education’

What It Means to Me

In My Writing, Teaching on November 16, 2013 at 7:54 pm

It’s the only way I can find any words.

It’s the way I see things: in a blinking scroll bar, on a blank space to the right of what I wrote before.

It’s how I make things right: grammar, spelling, everything in order.

It’s where I find energy, not from sleep or caffeine but thoughts.

It’s what I can give back, after taking so much from other people’s books.

But I’m not doing it so much right now. And it’s not because I’ve found words somewhere else, or because I’m seeing things differently. It’s not because I have things in order or because I already have energy  or because I’m not reading anything myself. It’s because I’ve found another passion that opened up another well inside of me: one that doesn’t want to find words. One that doesn’t want to create something beautiful! It’s a well inside of me that exists for the purpose of motivating others to create something beautiful.

I thought I was being idealistic about teaching during my education program. I believed in teachers being able to inspire students. I believed in students being able to inspire teachers. I believed in a relationship of mutual respect, of sharing thinking, of equality. I believed in motivating students to become self-directed learners. But honestly, deep down, I thought it would all fall apart once I started teaching. It didn’t. It came alive.

And teaching, I realized, isn’t going to be this thing I do on the side of writing. It’s going to be this thing that opens up a whole other part of me. Another life I can lead besides my life as a writer. Beside my life as a writer. More things I can do! More things I can create!

I assigned a Science project. They each created a world. I assigned a Halloween poem. Every one made me jump. I assign journaling every morning. Three students are working on a novel. I teach grades 5 and 6.

I’m not writing not because I’ve lost it, or because I don’t want to. It’s because a new thing in me emerged and I need to nurture it, make sure it stays, before it can stand guard as I hide away in the evenings and write. Every day I’m getting a little more embarrassed by this blog, a little more far from my novel’s core, a little less reclusive and a little more real world. But every day I know I’m building something – some foundation I’m going to need to make this a life.

Because I’m not Walden. Because I’m not a hermit (though I’d like to be). I need both.

Kids Who Were Into Reading

In Book Club, Literature, Teaching on January 10, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Today I read a children’s book with my grade three class and told them we had to make up the story. It was a book that, of course, allowed for that: illustrations and sentences that only suggestively went with them, the way The Mysteries of Harris Burdick did.

I was obsessed with that book growing up, because it contained the most stories ever. Every time I looked at an image and the sentence next to it, I could make up a new story. I hid the book outside my bedroom every time I borrowed it from the library: it haunted me, the ability to create the scariest of stories.

Allsburg

“Under the Rug: Two weeks passed and it happened again.”

(from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, Houghton Mufflin 1984)

The book I read today was far less scary, and in French. I first hid the sentence, to see if the kids could make a story out of the illustration. Once they had come up with several reasons as to why a man was looking into a smoky sewer grate, I revealed the sentence: he thought he saw an angel. Everyone was stunned: we can be that creative?

Even more fun was the fact that each page was alliterated like an alphabet book. First Alex Algodon did something with a lot of A-words, then Bernard Boulet. The kids started predicting the names of the next people, and what it was they might be doing. One girl stood up to show what tap dancing (“claquettes”) was, and another led the class in The Sound of Music’s “Do Re Mi” to show others what the word “mi” was. It was so fun to hypothesise about what these characters were doing with students who weren’t afraid to hypothesise wrong. It was so great to see students so excited about reading.

Most people I know who are at university have a common excuse for not reading: I read for school. If we at university, wise as we are, think reading is something we do for school, what do you think students in elementary and high school, when learning to read is the thing, think about reading outside of school? And if you spend your first twenty-two-ish years not reading because you’re reading too much for the sake of school, what are you going to be like when you turn twenty-three? When no one cares whether you read?

I have thus concluded that school has too much reading. A larger percentage of school reading should be fun reading, but mandatory fun reading. If up until the age twenty-two everybody was forced to read for fun for at least half an hour a day, what excuse could you use when you’re twenty-three? I’m tired of reading for fun?

Reading is my passion because I love words. I get that others don’t love reading because they don’t have the same strange obsession as I do. But reading should be so much more than the words: it’s images, it’s meaning, it’s inferences and rhythm and relationships. Reading is everything that’s missing in bad television. It’s like opening Christmas gifts.

I think we forget that kids love silent reading. It seems ridiculous to an adult, the idea that little students and teen-aged students might have to sit at their tiny desks and look down at a book for half an hour every day, but to the kids I have observed, it’s FUN. It’s engrossing. It’s a passionate thing.

When you read you put a bit of yourself into a book. To understand it, you need to let the content pass through your body. When you do so, the book becomes your own. It’s something kids innately understand and get excited about: I built this book. It’s mine.

I Like Homework!

In Inspiration, Teaching, Thoughts on Writing on November 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm

We are discussing motivation as a central issue to teaching: how can we motivate our students? But the question was more like, how can we stop un-motivating our students? I am doing my practicum in a primary classroom, where kids just want to do everything all the time really well. It’s when they get older that they lose it, that it gets taught out of them. Younger children are inherently intrinsically motivated; older children have learned to depend on something else to motivate them.

I guess I never grew up because I still like homework. Last year was the first year I wasn’t in school. Instead of basking in free time, I decided to create a project for myself. I decided to create the biggest project possible. I decided to write a novel, which I’ve read on average takes most authors 2-10 years to write, any less or any more so incredibly rare that it is statistically irrelevant. So that’s what I did in my year off. I assigned myself a 2-10 year project.

Now I’m back at school learning how to never leave school and how to convince students to never leave school either. If we really did our job as teacher, students shouldn’t want to leave school, or at least shouldn’t ever want to stop learning. They should fall in love with the act of learning.

I don’t know that I ever fell in love with the act of learning, but I did fall in love with the act of producing. I love making projects, I love writing essays, I love doing homework, I love writing anything. I love drawing things. I love finishing things and handing them in. I love finished products, but I also love drafts. I’ve kept everything I’ve ever done at school. Only a few years ago I threw some things out. I miss them, my PoliSci and History 12 notes, as though if I had them I would read them all the time.

Why am I like this? I like to think that it’s because I’m a writer. School was practice, it was preparing me to write a novel. My fingers have typed enough papers now to write a full-length book. My English Literature brain has pieced together enough book themes to make one of my own. Enough evenings have been spent working at some project that I know what it’s like to plug away.

(image from mtrmedia.com)

And my motivation was never purely intrinsic, of course. Yes, I was working hard at school because I wanted to improve on skills, so that I could eventually, though I didn’t know it, write a novel. But I was also working hard at school because I wanted to see my name on the final product. Because I wanted to see the A next to it. So I knew that what I had done really was an exceptional effort.

And my motivation now is not in itself to write a novel, though a lot of it is. Yes, I want to improve on my skills. Yes, I would be happy if I wrote this thing in a cabin in the woods and no one ever saw it. I would still feel something; I would still have done it. But there’s something else too: I want to see my name in print. I want to see a positive review next to it. I want to be published so that I know I really did do something exceptional.

So right now it’s still weird that I like homework. Right now it’s weird because we’re trained out of liking homework. I hope to bring this love of learning and producing to my students, so we can all be in on it together, this weird thing called motivation.

Where the Soul Sits

In Thoughts on Writing on September 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm

My soul sits in the pages of my novel that are right now in their latest form on my computer. My soul sits somewhere in my computer. This computer is bound to break soon: a Mac 2007 can only hang on for so long. I ward off its demise by talking about it.

I started the Education program at UBC. It’s not that my soul isn’t here with me – I’ve known for a long time that teaching can be a place where I bring it with me – but it’s been fractured. It sits partially in my computer, in a story I’ve touched for minutes only since last week, when I started this whirlwind.

I watchedInsidious this weekend, after trying so hard not do but still, strangely, dying to. That’s the thing with horror movies: we know they’re going to terrify us, and we take it as a challenge. As it happens, this time I won. I wasn’t very scared.

To not give away any plot points, I will just say that Insidious deals with the soul, and how it can be overtaken if left alone too long. I found my soul in writing. I took a year off to write and felt so fulfilled by it. I fear now that any pursuit that moves me away from writing is a weakening of my soul, a chance for it to break away. I want to keep my soul close, of course.

(I’m sorry, I don’t remember what blog this is from, but the picture saved as “Leanne in studio,” so Leanne, I love your studio. It seems so soulful).

I think this must be what happens when people start jobs or school programs that don’t make them happy. They know their soul sits elsewhere, but are afraid to join it. So they let something insidious seep in and take over: the poison of a life they’re not supposed to lead. And they lose sight of the soul they once had and they think this is what life is – a soulless thing.

Fortunately, though I’m confused about where my soul is (I think it’s on a computer), I also know that the school program I’m doing right now will lead to a fulfilling life. I feel I have found a job where I can let my soul live in two places: my daytime teaching job, where I live to help my students, and my nighttime/early morning/lunchtime teaching job, where I live to write my life’s pursuit. Of course, my soul lives in my relationships, in my family and my boyfriend, in my downtime and my fun time and in all the other things important in my life. But the soul that cries out to do something with my life, that soul can be shared.

I’m excited that my first week in the education program is making me think about my soul. I think that means something.

Dismissing the Adjectives

In My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on June 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm

I took out all the adjectives. No longer do my characters smile a certain way, or say something other than how they say it. When I find an adjective I think I need, I find a way of squishing it together with the noun that it modifies. I have created such hybrids as wiseman and redcar.

A book called The First Five Pages told me to do it. It’s on the list of bestsellers at Indigo, so I initially didn’t want to read it. I’m not going to be that person carrying around three copies of Fifty Shades of Grey. But I knew it was what I needed. I borrowed it from the library.


I’m near to being done my book. I need now to make my sentences flow so that agents will read it, so that I can read it. I need to start new paragraphs with tabs, and I need to get rid of fluff and other stuff. I was warned that rhymes in prose are the worst. I love it when I find one; it makes me feel that my writing is magical.

And then, of course, adjectives and adverbs must be removed.

“I heard a few small whines”? Really? How big can your whines really be, Gil?

“The first time I met Gil”? Oh yeah? Did you meet him a bunch of times?

Story telling became storytelling.

Lobster tail became lobstertail (I need to say whose tail).

And then I started changing other things too. Hey Mr. Lukeman, why do your interns have to be “angry” and “overworked” when they’re reading my manuscripts? Wouldn’t being overworked make them angry? And “the next five thousand manuscripts” – isn’t that a bit wordy, not to mention unrealistic? And an editorial assistant, couldn’t that just be an editorialassistant?

Red scrawls and editorial loops on more than just the First Five Pages of this book suggest that maybe I should have actually bought it… no, that I should have bought it.

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