Shameless Spelling turns one year old tonight! The costs for the new year are $6/month or $60/year. I've held pricing on my LEXinars through the summer, and haven't raised prices on my materials ever, but now that I know what goes into a year of Shameless posts and Pop-Up classes, it's time for me to add another gumball onto its cost. Thank you!
The years do go by fast, don't they?
Today marked the 10th Etymology weekend conference.
This week, I realized that I've been working with one of my high schoolers for five years. That's a third of her life, and half of her years of schooling. I call her Clara, but that's not her real name. The name Clara shares a denotation with her actual name, though: 'pure, clear.'
This past Tuesday, Clara brought me an essay she was working on for her 10th grade English class. They've been reading A Midsummer Night's Dream, her second experience with one of Shakespeare's plays. The prompt she chose for the essay was something along the lines of how the play presents love as something that is deceitful and victimizes people. It asked the student to agree or disagree with the prompt and support her claim.
Clara came to me a little distressed, unhappy with her thesis. She had decided to agree with the statement, but was dissatisfied doing so. She had wanted to write about love versus infatuation – a not uncommon theme in Shakespeare's plays, and one that's really good for highschoolers to explore and understand. But in talking with her parents about the assignment, she saw that what she wanted to write didn't answer the prompt.
"Well, unless you disagree with it," I suggested.
"What do you mean?" she asked. "The relationships in the play really do deceive people."
"Yeah, but you've already said that those relationships are more infatuation than love," I explained. "You can still write what you wanted to write, but you have to make it fit the prompt."
She nodded slowly.
"What if you disagreed with the statement on the grounds that it's not love that's victimizing people; it's something else." We revisited the quotations she had already selected from the play to support her claim, and we found that in each of the three examples she'd chosen, the characters don't really love each other. In one situation, the character Titania is the victim of a spell that curses her into falling in love with a donkey, but that's not love; it's magic. In the second situation, Helena begs Demetrius to love her by comparing herself to his "spaniel," but that's not love; it's obsession. In the third example, Clara argued that even in non-romantic relationships, there's something other than love at play: Helena and Hermia are portrayed as friends, but their long relationship is predicated on envy, not on love.
Over the course of our hour together, she landed on a thesis statement that she could get behind: "At first glance, it seems that A Midsummer Night's Dream portrays love as a negative affliction to which characters fall victim, but a closer examination of the text reveals that what is actually motivating characters negatively is not love."
We met again on Thursday to go over her draft, and she had done an impressive job rounding out her argument. Once you actually have something to say, the saying of it is so much easier. It's a critical piece of being literate – figuring out what we actually have to say – and writing helps us figure out what we actually think about things.
Along the way, Clara also identified a dangling participle. I highlighted a sentence and said, "This is a good perspective, but the sentence needs some grammatical retooling."
She saw it right away. "Oh, is that a...a participle? A dangling participle?"
It was! She fixed it.
I pointed out to her that the success she felt in writing this essay – finding a thesis she could stand on, and recognizing the grammar that needed fixing – that success is cumulative. It's happened over time. We've studied thesis statements and participles for years, and she now has the foundational knowledge and skills to write a really, really good high school essay.
Most teachers only get a year with their kids in a classroom. I always encourage parents to take the long-range view of literacy, the understanding that literacy is something that develops over the course of a lifetime, not overthe course of a school year. I'm so lucky that I get to see it happen in so many ways. Not just that initial spark of print recognition in a beginning reader, but also the deep satisfaction of finding one's own voice and agency as a writer. And not just at that individual level, but I've also gotten to witness the literacy of a whole community of scholars change over the past 10 years.
To those who are new to this study, and to those who have turned many calendar pages with me, Thank You, and You Are Welcome, in every sense of the word.
Here's to another Shameless trip around the sun.