Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What mayhem and madness are afoot?

I used to teach college students Composition, Literature, and Public Speaking courses. One of the things I would do to start each day was require a daily writing. My assignments would vary. Sometimes I would give a quote on the board and ask for a response. Other times I could play a song, or ask for a descriptive writing piece. I would even give a stanza of poetry and a bit of modern day music lyrics and ask for a comparison. Other times I would just write some random gibberish on the board and ask for a reaction. Students kept all these assignments journal style and I would collect them over the period of the semester. I'd usually give about 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class and I would want a 5-7 sentence paragraph.

I loved to give quotes. At the beginning of the semester, while this was all new, students would struggle with what to write. I would give them very few parameters on these assignments, really. They would ask, "what does it mean?" or "what do you want me to write?" I would always smile my Cheshire cat grin and tell them that figuring it out was part of the assignment. That self discovery was part of the writing journey that could often lead to a creative power that was dispelled from the pen and forever imprinted on the paper.

Favorite quotes that always elicited interesting responses were:
1. "I've had a good time, but this wasn't it." Groucho Marx
2. "Success is the journey, not the destination." Arthur Ashe
3. "If you can't say something nice, come sit next to me." Mae West
It was fun to watch the students evolve in their writing.

The title of this posting was my all time favorite random writing to assign. I would do it in the later part of the semester. Students would stare at me like I have grown three heads, then whisper and murmur. They knew better than to ask me for any input. They would chew their pens. They would be whipping out dictionaries to see the definitions of "mayhem" and "afoot." When that light bulb clicked on, it was great to read what they developed. Sometimes this struck a poetry chord, other times it took the short story path. Most writings were of the autobiographical style, brief memoirs. They got into the spirit of the language. Usually entries were funny- I remember a great writing a male student about taking his girlfriend to buy shoes; I haven't laughed that hard in ages!

Now, I've tried quotes with high high school students when I was in the Wild West and I finally gave up, except in my honors class. No matter what quotes I used, the kids responses at that age, frankly, sucked. And you can bet your butt that I haven't even tried it with my Special Education 7th or 8th graders. Why torture them OR myself?

I am going to slip into teacher mode and ask you bloggers to please feel free to respond in the comment section here (or over at your own blog- and if you do at your own, please let me know so I can link and read), "what mayhem and madness are afoot?"

Happy writing,


Bragger said...

Madness for me is the long wait between the end of football season and the beginning of baseball season. Perhaps it's why I became a fan of college gymnastics ... it fills that void. I also go slightly mad in the winter. I hate cold. I hate cold. I hate cold.

Jimmie Earl said...

Madness to me is standing in a line at Walmart trying to check out a cart full of groceries and they only have two out of 21 lanes open. This at 4:00 PM when they should have all the lanes open for those of us who actually work during the day and need stuff on the way home. Mayhem could be afoot and erupt when the woman in front of me has to count out her change one penny at a time time. Just give the clerk your darn money, take your change and MOVE IT!
Mad as hell!

Curley said...

Madness to me is when you turn in a prescription at the drugstore and they tell you 20 minutes and it takes 45 minutes to an hour. Now if they would tell me 20 minutes and that I'm 4th in line then I could understand. Don't tell me 20 minutes when it ain't happenin'.

Maggie said...

Bragger- what ever gets you through the winter!

Curley and JE- might I direct you to a post where I talked about not sweating the small stuff and it's all small stuff?