Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Writing Wednesdays - Feedback and Connections

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the type of feedback we give writers lately. I think, if I’m being honest, at the start of my teaching career, I did a crap job of it. Twenty plus years ago, I probably had my students write a rough draft, edit for grammar and mechanics, turn in a final draft, and I likely write a word or two on the top with their grade.

I wasn’t a writer.

Today, if you were in my class, there still isn’t a ton written on the final version of a written piece. However, if it’s a big project, we’ve met and talked about your writing several times over the course of the assignment. I’ve given you feedback on either what I love, what I think you need to fix, and what I feel like you could do to take your writing up a level. Sometimes, I might tell you something in regard to all three.

I first hear Donalyn Miller talk about writing feedback to our students in terms of bless, press, and address years ago when she was writing Reading in the Wild. I believe Donalyn mentioned she heard it from Penny Kittle. I know I’ve read about it from materials the National Writing Project puts out. Where ever it came from, I’m beyond grateful for the concept.

See, as a person who writes now, I know these types of feedback are vital, and they are each important to me at different times.

Right now, as we all know, I’m trying to write a romance book. It’s hard. I lose faith in myself on a regular basis. This is not something I’ve mastered in any shape or form just yet. So when I first shared it with my two friends who agreed to read it, I was a mess. Luckily, they were big on blessing my writing giving me a few things to address. They also pressed me to keep going.

I was relieved and got back to it.

One of those friends said she’d be willing to read book two as I wrote, chapter by chapter. Twelve chapters in, she’s still reading and sending me feedback each week. The other day she apologized, saying she knew she was just praising my writing and it probably wasn’t helpful feedback at all.

I laughed as I listened to her Voxer message and immediately sent one back. I told her about the concept of bless, press, and address as writing feedback. I talked about how isolated and unsure I can feel and that her feedback helps me to keep writing. Without it I am certain I would have given up.

Which, in turn, takes me back to my students. I wonder sometimes about those kids who are only told what they are doing wrong. Who only get feedback on what to address, but aren’t blessed on what has been done right. Or aren’t pressed to take their writing to a level just a bit above where they are now? I wouldn’t want to write anymore, I don’t know why they would.

Or yesterday, when I saw that one of my favorite romance writers, Penny Reid, shared this post on Facebook, I gasped out loud at my computer:

Now, the post is longer than that, but for the sake of this conversation, that’s what you need. I’m specifically looking at the paragraph that begins, “Second…”. Because, I mean, what the heck? People have asked me before why I don’t write anything negative about a book online. Honestly, the comment has puzzled me. I mean, a book might not be a good fit for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit for anyone else. And the thought of actually writing an author to tell them you don’t like what they wrote?

I have no words.

That’s not true, I totally have words. I’m filled to the brim with words that I won’t type out here on my public blog, but if you were reading my romance book right now, there would be a lot of cursing, because that’s what is happening in my head.

I’m trying to decide when we have become a society that emails people to tell them they are doing what, in our opinion, amounts to a crappy job. When we have become a society that will take to social media to say a business or teacher or restaurant has done something we don’t like. And, if we’re doing that, how often are we doing the opposite? Are we going online to praise when everything goes well?
Not often.

I don’t get it.

And that takes me back to my students. Today I sat with the majority of them, going over a book they’ve created to hand to the kindergarten buddies in a few weeks’ time. With each kid, no matter where they are in their writing journey, you can bet I found a lot to bless. We laughed. We talked about what poems they liked. We looked at how to make the assignment just a bit better.

I could have looked over their slides in Google Classroom and told them to print them. I could have left them typed comments. Instead, I met with each kid at my little round desk in the front of the room. I spent only about five minutes with each, and I will finish up tomorrow, while the rest of the group worked on three poetry assignments we have coming up.

I think that in person meeting is important. See, I think people are emailing amazing authors like Penny and saying crappy comments, or hopping on Facebook whenever they’re irritated, because we’ve forgotten the human on the other side of the screen. I don’t want to do that when I look at their writing. Because if I just look at my student’s poem and see that once again, she isn’t done with her work, I will get irritated. But, if I sit with her for study hall, if I talk to her and bless what she has written, she might confess she’s confused and didn’t know what to say. We might work together for twenty minutes to the point where she says, “Mrs.S, I’ve got this. I’ll finish tonight.” She might leave study hall and come back to whisper, “Thank you,” before running down the hall to lunch.

And then I’ll sit at lunch and listen to my friend Karen give me feedback on chapters eleven and twelve, and I’ll beam. Because she reminds me, my students will remind me, that connection is vital. Blessing each other is critical. And I’ll leave the day wanting to sit down and write just a bit more because they have given me the confidence to do just that.