Make Writing #SOL22 13/31

I suspect that I found Angela Stockman through my knitting and reading (and all around awesome) friend Lisa Noble, though I honestly can no longer remember. I’ve lurked around Angela for a while – reading her emails, checking out her free units. Not only is she incredibly generous and thoughtful, her specific thinking and doing around writing intrigues me to no end.

Lately, I’ve been reading her work on using “loose parts” to teach writing. I find it fascinating, but each time I think about using it in the classroom I balk: I’m just not very spatial, I tell myself; I haven’t tried this myself, I worry, how will I explain it?

Angela writes, “Offer writers a variety of loose parts to build their ideas, responses, and drafts with.” In this phrase alone, I see all the reasons that loose parts fit with my writing pedagogy: play, multimedia thinking, draft, response… still, I couldn’t do it. Once I almost brought in a tray of thingamambobs, but then I didn’t.

On Friday, a student asked to conference with me about her personal narrative. She knew what she wanted to say, but she couldn’t figure out how to tell the story. She could articulate that the beginning was too long, “too much exposition”, but how could she tell the story without the background? She was stumped.

As we brainstormed, I found myself wanting to take scissors to her work – to physically move pieces around and see what might work where, but of course the writing was on the computer and somehow we couldn’t quite *play* with it. Play – PLAY! Of course!

I reached over to my desk and found some loose parts – a few pen caps, some paper clips; some random yarn (I have no idea – don’t ask) and a box of tacks. I plunked them down on the table where we were working. “Ok,” I said, “bear with me. What if these three pen caps were the aunties…”

We named parts, moved them, played around, and she ended up with this structure:

The final essay structure, minus a pen cap.

“This is great!” she said. “I can see exactly how to do it!”

I could, too, so I snapped a photo as the bell rang and thought, loose parts play. Got it.

Next step: figure out how to incorporate this on purpose. I have a feeling I won’t have much trouble with this now.

Many thanks to Angela Stockman, who doesn’t even know me, but who nevertheless just made my teaching better than it was before. Amazing. (And thanks to Lisa, too, for her neverending encouragement.)

17 thoughts on “Make Writing #SOL22 13/31

  1. OH MY GOODNESS! You are such an engaging writer! I feel like we just slid into a coffee shop together to debrief. Amanda, Lisa is just such good people. The first time I met her in person, she dropped into a session I was facilitating with Pam Taylor, Melanie Mulcaster, and Amanda Williams-Yeagers in Ontario. I had a raging migraine. She had essential oils with her and offered to work out the knots in my neck. She has been one of my favorite people ever since, and I am so delighted each time I meet someone new from her circle. She’s just a GEM of a human. And I am rambling…but suffice it to say that I am very grateful to her for connecting us. This is just such a gorgeous reflection. It’s rare for people to share the context behind the images they tweet my way, and I’m always wondering. This is such thoughtful work and such a generous peek into it. I hope you’ll stay connected. I can’t wait to see how all of this unfolds for you and what you discover along the way. It’s always something a bit different…and better…than anything I can imagine.

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    1. I absolutely will stay connected – in no small part because my family is from Buffalo! In fact, I just offered my knitting buddies (including Lisa & Beth) a place to stay if we wanted to go to one of your workshops. 🙂 So glad you were able to see the context behind the picture. This student and I both had light bulb moments as we moved things around. ❤

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      1. That’s amazing! I actually live in Kenmore, so if you’ve been around the block here, that might orient you well. I’d so love to see all of you here. Hopeful that border opens wider and stays that way. Gosh, I miss everyone.

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  2. This is so fantastic! I adore the idea of loose parts while creating – it’s something I have always done instinctively in my own writing nook here at home, and very much a part of daily play with the preschoolers I taught for years. Love the way the loose parts made for physical movement of the computer writing – absolutely exhilarating! I know this student was inspired by this discovery!!

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    1. She really was! I loved watching it. And I’ve just picked up a Lynda Barry book about writing and drawing – again the associations with childhood & play & creativity. I sense movement in my pedagogy!

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  3. I’m so glad Angela found your post. Amanda. Saved me from sending it to her. The term “loose parts” is new to me, but the idea isn’t. I credit my speech and drama background with teaching me to cut and paste and manipulate objects, things I later taught students. Back in the early 90s there was a game called preposition pet on a leash in a textbook. Play is such a good way to teach grammar. When I started teaching in Arizona in the early eighties the only way I knew to teach my migrant students prepositions was through performance. It was fun. This is all to say I love this reflection and the brilliant way you sparked your student’s learning. I believe students appreciate teachers taking chances. They see the risk and are more willing to take risks themselves.

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  4. I’m still not sure I quite understanding the loose parts pedagogy, but I am so glad you discovered it, went out on a limb to try it, and your student benefitted from it. Great slice. I miss connecting with you regularly.

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  5. This is such an amazing idea and story and there are so many amazing connections here! Your example of using the loose parts to brainstorm ideas brings this to life in a way that I hadn’t imagined before. I can visualize you in your room and navigating that space of imagination in a way that is so encouraging and supportive. But this dialogue: “This is great!” she said. “I can see exactly how to do it!”
    Wow. Thank you for the inspiration to make this change and I cannot wait to discover where this goes.

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  6. Amanda! This was perfect. I love how you had loose parts on your mind (and, honestly, I did a lot of reading about it between Angela Stockman and Pernille Ripp), and sort of just…let them go… but I digress…
    What I love is how a student’s moment reflecting on their writing prompted the loose parts — totally organic and necessary for the student to move forward in their writing. What I love is your conversation, and your giving the student the tools, and then moving away. Thank you for this! I hope you write more, and you’ve inspired me to tackle more loose parts after the break (which, I was already going to…but am going to go back to).

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  7. Wait. Everyone doesn’t have random bits of yarn in their desk? Really?

    This is the wonder at the heart of loose parts! Grab some stuff and have a kid turn it into a story, or a setting, or an argument, and have them see their way to figuring it out.

    I am honoured to have introduced you to Angela! I am so very glad the connection has been made! Road trip sooner than later.

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  8. Lisa Noble is AMAZING! She is so connected to so many cool people.

    I love this loose parts play. Such a cool want to visualize moving pieces of writing around. I didn’t think this is what you were going to write about at all though. You’ve triggered in me a memory of an activity that I am doing when we get back. The first time I did it was in a workshop. We were asked to pull three things out of our bag/purse and write the story of those things. Another time we were asked to go through photos on our phone and write about one of them. But I like to do a thing with students where they fill a small bag with favourite things at home and then we “show and tell” then “write and tell” their stories.

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  9. That photo, “minus a pen cap” — does that mean one of the aunties ended up on the proverbial cutting-room floor? Revision is hard, but essential work. With Angela Stockman’s inspiration, I love how you illustrate the ways that play reveals new possibilities.

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