Sunday, February 13, 2011

Conflicting Feelings of Nyeeehh

Lately, my students have been writing persuasive essays on these topics. While they've been doing an incredible job writing persuasive anecdotes to sprinkle throughout their arguments, they have had trouble stating their opinions with conviction. 

For instance, I've gotten a lot of sentences that start like this:

"It's possible that..."
"One might think..."
"It could happen..."
"I can't promise..."

I want to scream the famous (within my family at least) line from the Brady Bunch, "SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, GREG BRADY!"

Why are they afraid to write with conviction? If they're not convinced, their readers will never be. Luckily, people exist who are more eloquent than me. One of them is Taylor Mali.  

Poet and Teacher Taylor Mali

If you are a teacher, a poet, a thinker, a breather, he and his words are going to be your new best friends. He wrote an incredible poem entitled, "Totally, Like, Whatever" that beautifully illustrates the point that I want to make to my students about using convicting language. 

Watch it here:

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

Perhaps, watching and discussing this video tomorrow will help us eliminate those invisible question marks, ya know? Hopefully, his words will encourage them (and me!) to be, like, personally invested in our own opinions.

And if that doesn't work, then I'm going to have to hang this poster on my classroom door. I am SO not above it.

I would be remiss if, as a teacher blogger,  I did not direct you to Taylor's most notorious poem "What Teachers Make." You can watch it below. His words and delivery will have you laughing appreciatively and nodding in agreement. 

"Be honest. What do you make?"
And I wish he hadn't done that 
(asked me to be honest) 
because, you see, I have a policy 
about honesty and ass-kicking: 
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

If you are a teacher and happen upon a down day, watch this and get rejuvenated. Take account of all the important things you do that cannot be measured or quantified.

Power to the poets,

Ms. P

8 bonus points:

Danielle said...

Aggressively inarticulate! As both a poet and a teacher, I really appreciate this post. My (college) English students still struggle with expressing their opinions without qualifying them first. I always cross language like that out and write, "It's your essay. It's obviously your opinion."

Ms. P said...

Oh, Dan-YELL! That's a good one. Starting the sentence with "in my opinion." Even better, "In this essay, I will..," oh law! I'll try to fix them before they make it to you. :)

Anonymous said...

A short defense of the un-convicted:

Somebody should kill "If you can't be right, be confident." What exactly can a middle schooler be confident about? You lose your high voice, you gain awkward imbalance. You lose an eyebrow, you gain a rep.

You're right that the persuader should put her best arguing foot forward. But what if your path through adolescence is trod on two left feet?

Teach them how to argue, sure. But don't be surprised when they can't say EXACTLY how and what the world is. Because NOTHING in this world is really confidently known by a middle schooler.

I think.

Ms. P said...

That is a fabulous point, anon. I think you have identified a chink in my teaching armor. However, consider this. As you may have readin an earlier post, I am not asking them to be confident about just any side of any issue. They had free rein to explore a number of hot topics before they found something they felt passionately about. Given that free choice, I expect them to be able to write with conviction. I don't feel like I'm asking them for something they can't muster up. In fact, their final essays proved they are capable of just that.

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