Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reachin' out with both hands

I'm back, I think. I've been using my scheduled blocks of writing time mostly for writing. I have refused to beat myself up if I miss time because of doctor appointments or other assorted household duties. That's the whole "flexible" part of a flexible schedule, after all. At the same time, I am managing to not give in to my more manic urges to spend every single free second on my current project. (Yes. THAT one. I refuse to say it out loud for fear of jinxing myself.) So I am working, but trying to not burn out. I'm sure at some point I'll suffer at least a minor burnout anyhow, since that's just how I do things. For now, though, I'll take the upswing and run with it.

In the course of putting together a new, longer soundtrack for THAT project, I rediscovered John Mellencamp's early stuff, from back when he was still just John Cougar. He's gone on record a time or two saying he doesn't think very highly of some of those earlier songs, but I still like them.

(Find the playlist here. Warning! Pop-up and possible music at the link!)

This week, my writing students turned in the rough drafts of their stories so I could offer feedback--and to give them a breather and me a chance to offer some individualized encouragement along with comments. (I have lots of opinions about encouragement being as valuable as criticism to the writer, and at some points even more valuable. Heck, it applies to more than just writers. I won't haul out that soapbox today, though.) I decided to let them go through the first draft process with some basic instructions on what should go in the beginning, the middle, and the end, but with no warning labels about common writer hang-ups in each part. The idea was to let them have their own unbiased experience with the process and then compare notes, because they seem to be a bunch that learns more from doing than from just listening.

In class, after collecting first drafts, I passed out cookies to celebrate the milestone and then read them "The Ransom of Red Chief," both as a good short story example and because it's fun. Next class, we'll dive back into the work. In the meantime, I am impressed with the general quality of their first drafts. We're not talking Pulitzer-level work, obviously, but most of them really grasped the basics I tried to teach them, and a couple showed a good grasp of some more advanced topics we haven't even talked about. I'm most impressed, I think, by their willingness to dive in and attempt the work and get their hands dirty as they try things. Good for them. I'm really enjoying the chance to work with them. I'm willing to bet I'm learning a few things along with them, too.

Michael's sinus infection worked itself into bronchitis, for which he has another round of antibiotics and some serious cough medication. The headaches seem to have resolved, though. I'd noticed over the last month or so that he was going through one of his phases where he was really struggling to remember things and get homework done without spending hours staring off into space instead of actually working on homework. My error in handling it was to merely remind him that he needed to focus, which has become my shorthand for "Remember all the tricks I taught you in years past to help in getting school work done? Do that now." He's grown and matured so much over the last couple of years that I'd started thinking he no longer needed extra help from me. I eventually realized I was wrong, and he and I sat down to talk things over. Once I gave him my full attention and acceptance, he gave me honest answers instead of defensive ones to my questions, and we were able to figure out some things we could do together in an attempt to make homework less torturous for him.

We've set up a regular schedule of focus exercises (which we used to do every day but had stopped), we tracked his actual hours spent on different activities for the week so he could objectively see that it just FEELS like homework takes up all his free time, and I help him organize his homework and work space before he gets started. I also tracked how much homework time he spent on actually doing homework and how much he spent being distracted--which gave him a goal, to bring down the amount of distracted time over the week. By today, he was down to zero minutes spent staring into space. Funny, how just giving him that simple goal gives his mind something to fixate on and snaps his attention back into place. The real key, though, was getting me to stop showing irritation with him, which in turn convinced him to be honest instead of defensive and also irritated in return. Once we actually, you know, started talking TO each other, it went so much more smoothly. Lesson to remember for me.

1 comment:

Sean said...

*Has flashbacks of when he had to get his homework done.*

So glad that is past me now. :P