Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Tedium of Final Drafts

I used to think that teaching writing was all about the big, important questions--how does a writer share an experience? Which details are most important? What brings a piece of writing to life?

But now I know that there are tedious, mundane questions that must be answered as well. Which is what led me to teach a lesson about notebook paper.

Why notebook paper? Well, there is not enough time before the holidays for every student to type their essays, so students are writing out their final drafts by hand. As they create final drafts, they need to understand how to use notebook paper.

When I first started teaching, I didn't really care much about how students created their final drafts. I didn't want to be as tyrannical as the teachers I had had growing up, who would get out the ruler to make sure that my title was precisely centered. But when I didn't take the time to build expectations for final drafts, I received--well, very interesting papers. Final drafts on the backs of notebook paper, pages with titles scrawled across the top, pages with food spots on them. This made the task of grading (which I hate anyway) even more depressing.

Now I realize that it is important for students to care about how their final drafts look. And I need to teach it! So we spent class time this week examining a piece of notebook paper. Where do the holes go? (My students don't use binders, so putting the holes on the left does not seem like a big deal to them.) What do those pink lines mean? Where should a title go? What do we do if we make a mistake?

"This is boring," one student sighed.

I have to agree. At the time of the final draft, all of the possibilities of the writing task have been narrowed into one and only one product. Whether you are typing or writing by hand, creating a final draft is tedious. It doesn't have the fresh sparkle or amazing possibilities of the composing process. Making a final draft to share requires intense focus and discipline.

But it is a step that cannot be forgotten or pushed to the side. Just as we have to answer the big, important questions of writing, we also need to answer the small and mundane ones. Like this:

"Mrs. Kissner?" a student whispered at my elbow. "Can you help me? I don't think I really know what indenting means."

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