(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
Beginning my project with the Farendé Writers’ Society has been extremely exciting but also challenging. At the beginning of each class—which inevitably starts 30-45 minutes late, we will do a short writing activity, have a lecture on the genre we are discussing that week, and then discuss how we can use what we learned in our own writing. It is important to find sample passages for the genre we are covering each week, but it is sometimes difficult to find ones that students will understand. When I am selecting example pieces, I often feel like I am looking at a target but just hoping the arrow lands somewhere different from where we started. The first week we were working on description and read a short passage about the beach, but even though everyone knew what the coast is, not all my students could relate to all the descriptive details. As we moved to poetry this past week, a sonnet comparing the change in seasons to changes in a romantic relationship may not have been the ideal example, but we still managed a good discussion about how poetry can have different interpretations. When we studied the haiku, students enjoyed the simplicity of the examples and this prompted some good writing about nature. Although the class never goes exactly as I had planned, we are making more and more progress each time we meet.
Before each class, they turn in their journals for me to read and write comments in. This gives me the opportunity to provide individual feedback, and more importantly, to encourage each students that their writing is important. Seeing their notes and writing pieces also helps me to plan the next class. As I plan each lesson, I try to come up with material that will be challenging and useful for the older, more experienced students but still accessible to the newer ones. No matter how slowly I speak or how I try to find new ways to explain something, at least one student is usually giving me a blank stare as if I have been speaking English the whole time. The older students are also a great resource in class to help explain something in a different way to the younger ones. In their journals, the students are making good progress and writing about their lives in ways I may never otherwise get to hear about.
With some of the initial shyness and confusion behind us, students are showing more and more enthusiasm for their weekly writing projects. I have just given them cameras to take pictures of what they write about and am trying to emphasize that we plan to publish their writing. I am now working on finding new ways to teach “reading out loud” since having them read the example passages has not made much progress with the younger, quieter ones. Even though each class brings new frustrations, I am really enjoying working with these students. In each of them I see the opportunity to connect with and understand a new person. We are now about halfway through our classes, and as I write at the end of my comments in their journals each week, I am really excited to see what they will write next.