|Recommended Reading! See Review below.|
So the the question is, "How can we improve the flow of ideas in student writing?"
Outlining and organizers and transitions can play a critical role in focusing writing, but once the words hit the page they tend to form sentences which stand only shoulder to shoulder, rather than arm in arm, with one another, failing to effectively carry the reader from one point to the next.
I pulled a similar example from our sixth grade social studies textbook, which I've paraphrased here:
These symbols came to be known as cuneiform.
Cuneiform, or wedge shaped writing, could be combined to stand for words or sounds.
"She might have done it on purpose, but only because it sounded right."
"I think she wanted the reader to follow her thoughts."
"If it's such a serious class, then why're they all wearing dresses?" he responded, again to laughter...
They also enjoyed hearing the very short chapter "A House of My Own" from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The combination of simile, personification, repetition, and rhyme make the prose so rhythmic that students couldn't believe it wasn't a poem until I showed them the words on the page.
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man-when I could get it-and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or Negroes’ rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech is another beautiful example of flow created through repetition, alliteration, metaphors, and familiar literary sources.
Putting It Into Practice
For one of our first attempts at creating flow, I asked students to respond to a question based upon Island of the Blue Dolphins, our current classroom novel. The prompt read, "Why would the dogs, which were previously owned by the villagers, attack and kill Ramo?" A class-sourced response read:
by JJ Johnson
In a bold experiment, homeschooled Evensong Sparkling Morningdew chooses to spend senior year in a public high school. Book smart yet naive to the "social minefield" of high school, Evie soon finds herself increasingly ensnared in a struggle for power and freedoms which she, herself, initiated. Her attempt to give students a voice backfires as the voices become cruel and out of control. In no time at all, Evie has endangered not only her college future, but also the new and fragile friendships she has forged. Someone else might give up under these trying circumstances, but this girl is different.
In a style of writing which is John Green meets John Hughes, JJ Johnson crafts a funny and engaging battle of wits and wills which keeps the reader engaged until the very end, which in my opinion came too soon. For ages 14 and up, I recommend this title for book groups or as a welcome addition to any classroom library.
You might also want to check out this author's most recent book, The Theory of Everything, which explores one teen's struggle to deal with the loss of a friend. While everyone else is ready to move on with their lives, Sarah still needs to find some meaning to it all. From the publisher: "But Sarah's not ready to move on... Her grades are plummeting, her relationships are falling apart, and her normal voice seems to have been replaced with a snark box. Life just seems random: no pattern, no meaning, no rules - and no reason to bother." A last ditch effort might just rescue Sarah from sadness, and from herself.