Student writing: raising standards without dampening enthusiasm

First of all, thanks to all of you who have looked at our Satire Ning. There’s a hush in the room when I show them our Clustr Map with visitors from other parts of Australia, many parts of America, and from Canada, Scotland, England, France and Finland. And thanks, too, to those who have sent me comments, which I have passed onto the boys. Karen, Scott was very pleased!

Those of you who have had a look will understand why I’m feeling quite buoyant about our satire project. There are evolving and maturing thoughts being expressed, good interactions happening, an obviously growing interest in the nature and potential power of satire … and the boys’ own original satire is beginning to pop up! As yet I haven’t been the target … but that will come!

But not all is rosy. Today I want to think aloud (and with you) about how best to respond to a piece of writing that is not well written.

I have asked the boys to explore a question about satire that intrigues, puzzles, concerns or otherwise stimulates them. They each need to discuss a particular satire which helps them to think more deeply about their chosen question.

One of the boys (I’ll call him Peter) has chosen the question: Does satire have to be in the form of comedy? It’s a good question.

Yesterday Peter found a satire on a politician’s attempts to be modern and ‘with it’. He wrote about this piece (and his question) as follows:

In the piece of visual satire in using is the politician with his car thing. The connection between this and my question is on first seeing the text you may laugh at it but as you think about it you see some deeper levels to this text they might be funny but there are some points in their like how young/old the politician is ect.

I think the author is trying to show in this text that the political party sometimes has ‘radical’ stances on some subjects when compared to the majority of others but this piece of satire and completely different to the party we know and therefore I think that the author is tyring to show how different the political party is.

Also I think that the author is trying o show how this political party has continued to have a lot younger followers and audiences and generation ‘x’ is into fast cars and therefore the party trying to appeal to this in this text. Although the writing in a bit seventies I think that’s what the author trying to show what the politician has brought to the party.

This text has shown under all pieces of satire there are man deeper levels to it whilst the first is normally comic the rest aren’t and are issues that the author thinks needed to be addressed.

I would recommend this to other students but all satire has deeper levels to it so I think that you can look at different pieces of satire.

Now Peter is a conscientious student who takes a lot of pride from being on top of his work. He’s found a good question and he has clearly been thinking about it. He has written more than many of the students. But the writing is rushed and full of errors, the thoughts he has had are not well-expressed, and he hasn’t yet found any strong or useful connection between this particular piece of satire and the question he is seeking to explore. He has completed the task, but not progressed in his thinking.

As I read his piece, I formed a picture in my mind of Peter doing the writing, his fingers flying over the keyboard, his mind on the clock and how quickly he could finish the writing; or, given his general conscientiousness, his mind distracted by anxious thoughts because he was sensing that he wasn’t really on top of this task.

My mental picture of Peter was influenced, perhaps, by a recent blog post by Jim Burke called Are we all becoming distracted teenagers? and also Michael Wesch’s video A Vision of Students. Today. Peter, like the students in this video, undoubtedly has a very full life of his own which is not necessarily visible in the classroom.

How should I respond to Peter? I want to acknowledge his conscientiousness (he is more on top of this course than some of his classmates, and he is obviously thinking about satire); but I don’t want him to think that it’s OK to write like this. The class is a new one, so I’m not sure how this piece of writing measures up to Peter’s usual standard.

How would you respond?

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