Monday, November 25, 2013

Mom as Teacher

My daughter's first grade teacher invited me to read a book to the class and do a craft with them. She then laughed at the resulting look of horror on my face. Reading aloud sounds swell, but leading thirteen six- and seven-year-olds in anything terrifies me. My response: "Thanks, but there's a reason I'm not a first grade teacher."

There is no way I'd have the patience for that. I deeply appreciate my children's teachers on a daily basis because I know they are providing a service I cannot. I barely have the patience to manage the two who share my DNA. Heaven knows what inappropriate things I might say to a room full of little kids I did not gestate.

Teacher--especially elementary school teacher--is a profession for which I am ill-equipped. I understand why teachers do it, though. Regularly witnessing the aha moment when a child first puts the pieces together must be rewarding. It is one of my favorite things about parenthood, especially when the subject matter is dear to me.

Last night, I helped my fourth grader with a short book summary. Summarizing is a challenge for him right now. He notices and remembers detail and has a hard time winnowing what he knows to what is essential.

On Writing Well - Flotsam of the Mind

At my son's request, I wrote down the summary he dictated. He planned to copy my dictation onto the school form. He convinced me that all the work and words would be his. It seems his writing hand just can't keep up with his brain.

Once I'd completed the dictation, I asked my son to sit next to me and see how we could edit what he'd written. I was in my element. I may not be a great writer, but I'm quite good at slashing words from other people's work.

I pointed out a few unnecessary prepositional phrases and descriptors. Because I hadn't read the book, I asked my son sentence-by-sentence whether each was essential. He deleted about one-third of what he'd dictated.

I really got excited when he started excising superfluous adverbs and phrases on his own. When he deleted deathly from afraid, my inner editor cheered, "By golly, I think he's got it!"

I'd like to think that my critical questions and editing examples helped him turn a corner, but I suspect it was something else I said. I explained that the more he pared down his summary to the essential parts, the fewer words he'd have to write on his paper. That did it. Introductory phrases, unnecessary descriptions, and adverbs flew off the page as he cheered "That's one less word!"

That wasn't the primary writing lesson I was trying to teach, but it's not a bad one. William Zinsser would be proud, and so am I.


  1. I love it. D has the opposite problem; his teacher is trying to get him to be more descriptive. I may have to read this book. (I can't believe I haven't!)

    1. The Zinsser book is great--practical but entertaining. I keep it in my car and read bits when I have time to kill.

  2. One less word. Always = WIN!