Disclaimer: I’m cheating a little tonight by revisiting a piece I wrote in March of 1999. I wrote this as a reflection during a workshop, but when scanning through documents saved on my computer, on the eve of yet another go-round of FCAT/Florida Writes, I thought this piece had particular significance. And (full disclosure), The Voice starts in about 40 minutes, and although I’m taping it, I really can’t wait to see my old friends Blake, Adam, Shakira, and Usher again!  So, here’s some inspiration for you and me—copied and pasted almost 15 years later (am I really this old?):

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I’ve been using Super Sentences in my classroom since I returned from Session I (of the workshop).  I love them.  My students are still undecided.

Since the first week of school I have encouraged interaction with texts.  I know that I am way over my copy budget, but I want them to mark up the text.  They’ve hated it from the first of the year, and now I think I’ve figured out why they hated it (and recently seem to be hating it less and less each week).  They didn’t know what to mark.  I’d give them a poem with directions: mark it up—underline phrases that you like, circle, highlight anything that excites you, ask questions—easy directions, I thought.

After a month of Super Sentences, they are really marking the texts.  They look for fresh comparisons, dashes, adverb clauses.  They want to show off their newfound knowledge.  They’re even circling coordinating conjunctions, noting “cc” in the margin!  I have not asked for this—my directions have remained unchanged from the first: mark it up.  It is their responses that have changed:

August

  • “What? Why did they die? Aliens?” (Rachel Carson’s A Silent Spring)
  • “Fish head—gross!” (Li Young Lee’s “Eating Together”)
  • “This isn’t a short story.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams”)

February

  • “Good use of semi-colons and mixed sentences.” (Isabel Allende’s Paula)
  • “Tense mood. Close to discovery.  Author likes repetition—effective.” (Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John)
  • “Similes and metaphors in one sentence.” (Annie Dillard’s “Living Like Weasels”)

Although I am very impressed by the effects of Super Sentences on the reading habits of my students, I am electrified by the improvements in their writing.  The first essay assignment post-Super Sentences was to write about a personal experience that taught the student something about life.  I offer two excerpts:

The epilogue to my tale of childish fright teaches the lesson that things are not always as they appear, and fearing things because of premature judgment only makes one look like a fool.  My parents had discovered I was missing and sent the “demon” in search of me.  He had seen my friends in front of the graveyard and gone from there.  The creature I’d feared so much was reborn “to protect and to serve.”  I returned to the graveyard during the daylight and found it to be a peaceful, relaxing, almost beautiful place to be.  Graveyards are commonly associated with darkness and evil, yet they are as calm as the flowers that fill them and as pure as the song of the birds that reside there.  Who knows what other treasures remain covered by our fears?

After a short while, we reached a cinnamon-hued lookout point, with two benches and a rail intended to keep inattentive gawkers from falling over the cliff edge.  Over this could be viewed a great glacier, far below, nestled between two rock beds like a glob of putty that has been sitting in one’s hand long enough to take on its shape, like a mouse snuggled up in a hole it has dug for itself in its bedding.  The glacier was an icy brown, its snout the brownest of all, with a muddy stream of meltwater flowing out from underfoot.  Though it was a savory view, I tasted only the bitter nagging of hurriedness.

After months of dredging through typical tenth-grade Florida Writes five-paragraph essays, I shuddered at the thought grading another stack of essays—I had paid my dues.  As soon as I talked myself into starting, I couldn’t put these essays down!  I wanted to grade them.  I wanted to read them.

We did Super Sentences and that has made all the difference.

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Doesn’t that make you want to teach Super Sentences?  I am sorry that I ever let them go–and now they’ve gone so far that I don’t even really remember them!  How I could I have forgotten about a strategy that achieved that…in one month?  Believe you me, I’m going to dig a lot deeper and will share what I find and how it works with students in today’s classes.  In the meantime, I did find one promising link.  The target audience is grades 3 – 6 (as for most of my initial Google searches), but it does provide a structure for using the technique and I love the list of topics on page 9—I’ll find many uses for that, even in high school classes.

Anyone a fan of Super Sentences?  How do you use them in your classes?  Was this just an amazing group of students I had way-back-when or do they really work?

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