|My son's new birthday tricycle...see how he rolls :).|
This summer, my two-year-old received a retro Radio Flyer trike as a birthday present from my parents. He LOVES it and insists we ride around our driveway, taking a special detour down the bumpy sidewalk leading to our front door. Everyday; same routine.
The funniest part --- he doesn't use the pedals like we may expect. His bruised, reddened shins bear testament to his improvisation. A couple weeks ago when the trike magically appeared at the birthday party, Reid had never taken a ride. So, in days since, he has figured out a way to make it go where he wants. You see, earlier this spring he landed a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe (which is basically a big, plastic version of Fred Flintstone's car) from a family member and he quickly pounds the pavement to travel around our house. I love that he applies what he's already experienced to his radiant red tricycle. He moves his feet; he sits on the seat; he holds onto the handlebars; he steers; he approximates.
Trailing behind him this summer on the aforementioned route, I've had mountains of minutes to think about how his riding relates to writing. And, it does. In so many ways...
As writers ourselves, we are always approximating. If I love the way Stephen Stills writes his song lyrics and want to take a leaf from his book, I can. I can come near in degree, nature, or quality (as the Yahoo dictionary suggests!). If I love the way Cynthia Rylant shows passage of time, I can emulate her work in The Relatives Came and share it with my students. But, another way I am considering approximation on our daily trike rides is this --- as a teacher of writing, how am I approximating the genres, craft moves, etc. in which I am expecting my students to excel?
One of my goals this summer is to travel as a writer through the units of study my students will experience. I want to understand where the tricky parts will be (and if they're tricky for us as teachers...how can we portion them out for our students in ways that make sense?). I want to understand stamina from the inside out. I want to own a nuanced sense of anticipation for text features...minilesson topics...unit goals...and appropriate exemplar pieces.
If I were teaching a reading unit on mysteries, I would have traveled through my school's library with sticky fingers before heading home for the summer. If I were teaching a unit on the French-Indian War, you bet I would've done the same thing (because right now, I can't think of a solitary tidbit I know about that topic...excepting who participated). So, why is teaching writing any different?
In a sense, I am approximating writing in each genre. Yes, I bring an educated background to my notebook each day; but (and this is a big but), I don't remember being taught to write explicitly in any genre other than research papers...and even that instruction was meager by today's clarity standards. In my toolkit are reading experiences, professional institutes/workshops, past teaching topics, an analytical, thoughtful eye, and samples of writing that speak to me. I parlay these treasures into pieces of writing worthy of my wide-eyed, malleable students.
Sometimes, I feel like I'm just pushing my way around on a tricycle like Reid does. However, I know just as he will soon discover the pedals and their power, I will continue to gain strength and confidence putting myself in print for my students and colleagues. I will approach my teaching as a writer first...experience: my true north.
The magical quality of approximation is its fleeting nature...