Postscript to the story of Peter: the link between clearer thinking and better writing

After reading my story of Peter’s writing, Teresa Bunner wrote:

It might be that a chance to go back and reflect on his work allows Peter to see for himself that he still has some work to go. After all, writers don’t write one draft and move on to the next chapter.

This was good advice. And here’s what happened next …

**************

This morning, I walked to class with Peter.

“I read what you wrote yesterday,” I said.

“Oh yes? What did you think?” he asked, looking anxiously at my face in the way that students do when they’re worried that they might have been found to be wanting. This look always distresses me, as it seems so often to be the instinctive reaction of students, no matter how hard I try to make my classroom a place where thoughts can be freely expressed, risks taken and ideas aired just for the sake of seeing how they sound.

“I’d like you to have another go at it.”

“Why, what was wrong with it? I’m pretty sure the spelling was fine. I put it through the spelling checker.”

“It wasn’t the spelling, though I’m surprised the spelling checker didn’t pick up a few glitches. No, it was something else.”

“Something else?”

“Yes, something else. But, before I say anymore, I’d like you to read it through to yourself when we get to class. See what you think? Don’t try to guess what I might be thinking. Just read it through to yourself, try to hear it in your mind as you read it, and then tell me what you think. And it’s OK if you tell me that it sounds just fine to you.”

As I said last time, Peter is a conscientious student. He’s also an extremely pleasant young fellow.

“No worries,” he said. “I’ll see what I think.”

So he read it through after we’d settled into our classtime, then called me over.

“I’ve had a read of it,” he said.

“And?”

“And I think it’s a bit jumbled up. I know what I’m talking about, but I’m not sure that someone else would.”

“So tell me now, in your own words, what you were talking about,” I said. I noticed that Peter was looking less anxious now, as if happy that he was being encouraged to discover some things for himself.

“Well, I was wanting to say that the satire works at different levels. On the surface it’s funny. But the more you dig down into it, the more you can see there are different issues that are being looked at.”

“Underneath the surface humour there’s a serious point being made?” I asked.

“A few actually. It’s as if there are quite a few layers when you dig down into it, and there are different points being made on the different layers.”

“What was your research question again?” I asked.

“Does satire have to be in the form of comedy?” said Peter.

“I don’t think that’s the question you’re actually interested in,” I said. “Or at least, if it is, I don’t think you’ve worded it in a way that conveys your meaning. You’re really interested in the question: Does satire have layers?”

“Mmm,” said Peter. “Or maybe my question is; “How deep does satire go?.”

We talked some more, then I suggested he have another go at the writing.

About twenty minutes later, he had written this:

pope

My question is how deep does satire go?

In the above piece of satire there are many levels in it, at the moment all the levels may not be apparent but I’m going to pull the levels out.

The fist level of satire is the comic level that is apparent, it funny because it’s not what you see with pope on a supped up car and channel V as a sponsor and the pope my ride.

The second level in this is the subtleties that aren’t easy to spot like V TV. What does the V stand for? Vatican that’s very funny because there’s is a channel on Foxtel called Channel V it’s a music channel, also that channel appeals to the younger audiences and therefore there’s another subtlety that isn’t easy to spot. On the pope mobile as the cars make badge it’s a cross which is funny but is very well thought out.

Another level on this piece of satire is this a radical thing that is shown, it’s not what you normally see the pope with but, the Vatican often takes radical stances on some things and this piece is also radical so it’s quite similar when you think about it.

The roman catholic church is known to have a following in which is very young generation, generation ‘x’, generation ‘x’ is known to be into fast cars, and ‘hip and cool’ things and therefore this satire shows that by the title pope my ride mimicking pimp my ride.

The author is showing all the levels in this piece of satire.

This is so much better than his first go, and all it took to transform it was a conversation to help him clarify his thinking and some further time to rewrite the piece.

We – teachers and students – can get stuck with ideas that writing ability is innate, that you’re either a good writer or not. While there’s an element of truth in this, incidents like this remind me yet again that good writing is connected to clear thinking, and that anything that helps to clarify the thinking is likely to lead to better writing.

**************

(Note: in my first account of Peter’s writing, I changed some details because I didn’t want there to be any chance of him being identified. But the postscript says such a lot about Peter’s personal qualities and thinking ability, that I’ve reinstated the changed details.)

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One Response to Postscript to the story of Peter: the link between clearer thinking and better writing

  1. Angela says:

    What a beautiful example of how powerful feedback can be. I wonder what he would have learned and how we would have grown had you just slapped a grade on this and called it a day? I plan to share your example with others.

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