We are in the final sprint before our state's blessed event, and on Friday, I was calm, secure, relaxed (or kind of anyway) thinking that the fourth graders were as ready as they were going to be. I decide that we will do one last prompt, a persuasive letter to convince people that students at our school should/should not wear uniforms. The format is similar to one we have used five or eight or ten times this year-- pick a side, choose two or three reasons and support them with a solid argument.
Mondays are often rough at our school and today is no exception. The kids have been noisy and restless and argumentative. It's hard to get everyone settled for quiet writing, even after read aloud, which is usually their favorite time of day. I crouch next to J., generally a fairly proficient writer. Today J has written a decent introduction, but has then gone on to make a list:
Reason #1: Kids like wearing their own clothes.
Reason #2: Uniforms would cost too much money
Reason #3: Uniforms would be ichy (itchy)
She is up to reason #5 when I arrive for the conference. There is no supporting evidence or details for any of her reasons.
Most of the time, I am pretty good at conferring with young writers. I know that kids generally have a reason for what they do, and I try to explore and honor their intentions. When a kid seems off track, I generally say something to the effect of "Tell me about your piece…" Today, however, is not one of those times.
"What are you doing?" I say, in a tone that is probably more than a little accusatory. "This is a just a list of reasons." (Please note that several months ago, lists were pretty much what they wrote in persuasive pieces and we have worked long and hard to get past that place, especially with writers like J).
J looks up from her writing with more than a little disgust. "You said seven reasons," she says disdainfully. "I can't write that many arguments in one day."
"I said to think of several reasons. Several is two or three."
"No, it's seven, several is seven," insists J.
"I'm sure it's not sweetie. Several means two or three. Do you want us to look it up?"
"No. Do I have to start over?"
"You don't have to start over. But you do have to pick two of these reasons, pick your two favorites, and develop them into paragraphs."
J looks at me with more than a little disgust. As I walk away from this less than successful conference, I hear her say to D, who sits next to her, "I am sure several means seven. She just doesn't know."
At some level, I think J might be right. There are days, lots of them, when I just don't know…