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Friday, September 27, 2013

Building A Better Student Series: Two for One Special #mommiesnetwork

Building a Better Student: Is That Writing?
By Dom Testa

The middle school writing assembly had gone well, with an energized audience and a fun exchange of ideas. Then a young man raised his hand. “I want to write a comic book  Does that count as writing?” My answer aggravated a few adults in the back of the room.
The same issue arose when I spoke at a conference, and a librarian and I agreed to disagree  “That’s art, and it’s cute, but it’s not really writing,” she told the panel.
At a book signing last year a young student in line showed me the first few pages of her graphic novel. I cheered her on, only to have her father say in a hushed tone, “It’s nice,but we'd prefer that she focus on real writing.”
I find this angst over comics and graphic novels perplexing. Tweets and texts and socialmedia outlets seem to generate similar dissatisfaction. But the goal, as I see it, is to encourage young people to explore their creative side while finding interesting outlets to express their ideas. How can stifling - or belittling - those attempts be productive?
Times and technology change, but different tools don’t necessarily mean inferior ideas.No doubt somebody told Gutenberg that his movable type was an abomination, and centuries later people looked with distrust upon the earliest typewriter. It’s hard to imagine today, but as recently as the 19th century all novels were deemed trash.

Thankfully, the early pioneers persevered.

Can a private journal be considered writing? Of course. What about a blog post?Certainly. These are not only conduits for the expression of ideas, but also comfortable starting points for young people to develop their voice. The more practice they get, the better.
If a fifth-grade boy shows an interest in creating a comic book, we should celebrate it! He’s placing one story idea after another, learning the craft of writing through a visual system combining picture and story. Do you have to be a fan of comics? No. But you do need to be a cheerleader for intellectual expression.
Some adults might worry that kids will never progress beyond tweets and texts and comics  but I think that’s a baseless fear. Think of these forms as training wheels,helping to build confidence. Students today are inundated with video, and more than ever they process words with pictures.
But it’s still writing; they're actively participating in the delivery of words and ideas, of dreams and concepts. They're not all thought-provoking, perhaps, but I guarantee you
that Clemens and Tolkien and Angelou spewed fairly inane stuff before they hit their stride . . . and their parents likely were unimpressed.

Children don’t begin by running; they wobble, they fall, they wobble some more, then they manage a tentative step forward. Their writing is no different. Kids apply a great foundation with coloring books, followed by scribbled stories and funny pictures, before advancing to the next logical step.

Yes, we'd all like to see significant improvement - and more critical development -through high school, but the early formula for a student is simple:
Write anything.
Then write something else.Keep going.............

Building a Better Student: Life’s Buffet
By Dom Testa
Consider a typical week in the life of Taylor - and I intentionally chose a unisex name,because this story applies to both girls and boys.
Taylor either expressed an interest in a particular sport at an early age, or was deemed to have exceptional skills in that area, or was pressured into it by a zealous parent.Regardless of the catalyst, Taylor now spends a minimum of five days a week practicing and playing the game.
And usually that game alone; the stories of multi-sport athletes are diminishing.
The weekend is dominated by a tournament, which can run from dawn to dusk both days  Summer vacations are limited because of offseason workouts and full-blown camps. Needless to say, the family’s entire focus becomes that one sport.
Or musical instrument, because the same thing happens with artistically-gifted young people  Perhaps Taylor devotes a sizable chunk of time to the cello.
In some respects, all of this is fine; millions of American kids are becoming proficient in football  basketball, or volleyball, and at least getting exercise. Parents across the country often encourage this single focus by rationalizing it this way: “Taylor might get a scholarship, which would pay for school.”

Now for the reality check: Financial aid through sports is unlikely. According to the NCAA  two percent of high school students receive even a partial athletic scholarship in college  let alone a full-ride. For 98 percent of kids, organized participation in their sport of choice ends at age 18, unless they attempt to walk-on and gain a spot on a university team  After ten to fifteen years of all-encompassing devotion, the instrument or sport might become a part-time hobby, if not abandoned altogether.
I'm all for kids putting effort into discipline and practice. My concern, however, is what they give up in exchange for that single-minded focus. What other areas of Taylor’s life might atrophy from lack of attention?
It’s an interesting dilemma. Our culture emphasizes becoming the best, but to achieve that greatness today requires total diligence and a time-consuming schedule. So, do you want your child to be the best at one thing for just a few years, or to develop a wide range of interests and talents that she might enjoy for the rest of her life?

A friend of mine fondly recalls her days in high school when she was a cheerleader,played in the band, starred in volleyball, and served in student government, all while working part-time at a variety of jobs. Her teenage daughter looks at her today with disbelief and asks, “How did you possibly have time for all of that?”
Exploring a diverse palette of options allows a young mind to experiment with multiple points of stimulation. To me, today’s laser-focused attention on a single extra-curricular activity robs students of the chance to sample life’s rich buffet. Will they be sorry later that they limited themselves to such a tiny fraction of their choices? Or will they never even know what they missed? I'm afraid it’s probably the latter.

And what about the effect on the brain itself? Does a one-track mind lack complete development  I don’t know the answer to this - but I have suspicions.
While I understand - and even appreciate - our nation’s competitive spirit, it’s possible that the result will be generations of young people who left too many doors unopened as they matured, unaware of the wonders behind them. Wouldn’t Taylor be better off fondly looking back on a multitude of memories and experiences, instead of that one short-lived dream?

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty two years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people recognize that Smart Is Cool. More info

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