Kocher 1 Ziona Kocher Dr. Jennifer Wells LAE 5946 17 July 2013 Reading came first. I would like to say writing followed along shortly, but it didn’t. It’s not that I didn’t write, I simply didn’t enjoy it — or at least I didn’t enjoy what I thought writing was. When I first started writing in school, it was all about staying within tightly constrained prompts about our pets, our favorite meals, what we wanted to be when we grew up. A few years later, it was whether or not T.V. had a negative effect on society, if students should have to wear uniforms in school, the best way to increase the use of first aid training programs. Why on Earth would we ever want to write about these things? Writing was boring, but I knew that it wasn’t supposed to be. I tried to make it more fun, but couldn’t quite manage it. As elementary school continued, I became less and less interested in FCAT practice and daily writing exercises. I knew what to do to make my teachers (and the all-‐powerful FCAT graders) happy, so I stopped pushing the boundaries. I gave them what they wanted, and tried to stop worrying about it. There was always the question in the back of my mind, though: how could the process of writing be so incredibly dull when it was the root of my passionate love of reading? When I say “passionate love of reading,” I am in no way exaggerating. I was that kid that would rush through her work to have the free time to read, and luckily, my teachers were more likely to encourage that behavior than punish me for it. Looking back on letters and cards from my dad and great-‐grandparents, they always asked what I was reading, and my report cards consistently mentioned that I was reading above my grade level. There
Kocher 2 was even a time when my fourth grade science and math teacher tried to convince me to read War and Peace because after that I would never have to take another Accelerated Reader test again — perhaps this was a desperate attempt to stop me from reading unrelated books while in his class? The look on his face when I simply responded “OK” and went to look for it was priceless, though admittedly I had no intention of meeting his challenge. Instead, I blew through an unending string of chapter books. Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume were two early favorites, but nearly everything my teachers threw my way would be finished in a few days, and the longer a book was, the better. I am endlessly grateful to J.K. Rowling for her Harry Potter series, because it was one of the first times that my peers were as excited about reading as I was. There was some backlash, though, for while our teachers would let us read these books in our free time, they were never considered “serious” enough to be placed on our reading list. I tried to pour my excitement for reading into writing through book reports, but it never worked quite as well as I had hoped. There were certain expectations surrounding the types of books we could write about (Harry Potter wasn’t allowed because teachers knew we would all turn in enthusiastically identical reports), the assignments still seemed formulaic (tell us the themes and outline the plot, but don’t let it get out of hand!), and I put more effort into the creative aspects than the written reports. I remember fondly the elaborate board game I created with my mother for my project about Black Beauty, but I’m fairly certain the report itself was a rather dry recitation of the basic facts of the book — a desperate attempt to tell my peers what the book was about without giving anything important away. On one hand, I could understand, because the point of the report was to get our classmates interested in a book they might not have considered without spoiling
Kocher 3 the plot. One the other, it was torture. I just wanted to analyze things! I didn’t even know what analysis was in elementary school, but looking back, that’s what I wanted to do. As far as writing is concerned, this creative book report assignment was the first time I experienced what McLeod describes as “internal motivating factors,” specifically “task involvement [where] the task is inherently valuable and becomes an end in itself” (429). Though the paper wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, I had expectations for it outside of “extrinsic motivating factors” (the approval of my teachers and a passing grade) and that was a huge step in the right direction (429). Coming out of elementary school and entering the vast, unknown world of middle school, I had a growing appreciation for what writing could be, and a desperate desire to put my internal motivation to work. I knew that the FCAT was inescapable, but I was entering the pre-‐IB program — things just had to get better. And they did, up to a certain point. There was one thing that I couldn’t rid myself of, though, and that was the dreaded five-‐paragraph essay. While it was an efficient way to write for tests, and surely an easy format to grade, I dreaded five paragraph essays like some kids dread eating their vegetables. I was particularly irritated by the fact that every time I wrote one, I was plagued with memories of a ridiculous hamburger diagram we were given one fateful day in elementary school. In this diagram, the top and bottom bun represented the introduction and conclusion, and the lettuce, beef, and tomato represented the three parts of our argument. There was something about that construction paper sandwich that bothered me more than was healthy or normal, and I wanted to be rid of it. But rather than giving up on writing once and for all, I decided it was time to take things into my own hands. I was
Kocher 4 convinced that I was going to be a writer, and if school assignments didn’t give the thrill that reading did, I just needed to start writing on my own. That decision led to some rather interesting results. During this period of my life, I was utterly fixated with retellings of classic fairytales, and loved nothing more than stories about young women with special abilities leaving home to go on adventures. The next logical step in my preteen mind was to try it out myself — after all, how hard could it be? I had inhaled a countless number of similar stories, so surely I could figure it out. The road to my own creative writing, however, was not as smooth as I imagined it to be. McLeod, pointing to Mandler, claims that “a major source of emotion is the interruption of an individuals plans or planned behavior, plans which have a tendency towards completion. When our plans are interrupted, our autonomic nervous systems are activated and the physiological evidence is interpreted as emotion — excitement or frustration” (431). I had obviously had an emotional response to writing long before my decision to venture into the world of creative writing, but that was nothing compared to the irritation these attempts at stories brought about. My writing process was little more than an endless string of interrupted plans. At times it helped to motivate me, but in my desperate attempts to write something, ANYTHING, I filled my ancient computer’s desktop with draft after draft of the same basic premise that never moved past the fourth page. For all that I tried, I couldn’t get Annabelle or Lorelai or Cleandra beyond her first few steps out of the kingdom. Faced with the prospect of choosing my own adventure, I froze. I swore I would persevere in the next story, or the one after that, but I never succeeded. My dreams of writing fantasy novels were soon abandoned, and I grudgingly accepted my future as a professional writer of five-‐ paragraph essays.
Kocher 5 High school, like middle school, seemed like another opportunity to turn things around, and fortunately, I was finally successful. Though I always had what McCarthy, Meier, and Rinderer refer to as “strong efficacy expectations,” in high school I was finally able to meet my own expectations in addition to those put in place by my teachers (466). The IB program allowed me to flourish, and gave me the tools I needed to talk about literature in ways that I had always wanted to. Gone were summaries and annoying papers intended to teach us how to defend both sides of an argument. Instead, analysis was the name of the game, and while it took me a little while to wrap my head around it, I was willing to put in the extra work to see the huge pay-‐off. I also stopped beating myself up about my failures as a creative writer, because I began to recognize that picking apart characters and plots could be just as constructive as creating them. Writing was finally meeting my expectations — it was interesting and exciting, and I was allowed to connect the books we read to real life. I was one of the few students who seemed to be interested in discussing the societal implications of fiction, but I was lucky to find a support system in high school that pushed me in the right direction, and kept me thinking about the big picture, rather than simply allowing the works we read to exist in a vacuum. It was this support system of teachers that also really emphasized the importance of transfer as I completed high school. Perkins and Salomon write about the difference between “near transfer” and “far transfer,” and through the assignments I was given, I was able to utilize both (2). Near transfer was somewhat familiar to me, because throughout elementary and middle school I would utilize the skills I gained from assignments to those that were similar or related. In high school, however, I really began to grasp far transfer. I began to apply the concepts and approaches I used when reading literature to my history
Kocher 6 texts, and I was able to recognize that the two subjects weren’t that different. My history papers improved, and I found the topics infinitely more interesting than when I was simply trying to memorize facts. My Extended Essay, written at the beginning of my senior year, cemented my love not only of writing, but of research as well. By combining the skills I learned in my English and history classes, I was able to write a reasonably thorough analysis of the different kinds of propaganda used in the debate over abortion rights, and it was then that I decided that studying English wasn’t enough: a minor in gender studies would be a requirement for college. Undergrad ended up being a dream come true. New College took the skills I developed in high school and let them run wild over a series of courses heavily focused on the ways that gender, race, and class function in literature and society. My papers became longer and more complex, and by the time I reached my thesis, I was unstoppable. I was no longer constrained by assignments for class; instead, I was writing freely on my own time, spending hours picking apart media and pointing out the ways that it was damaging for women or people of color. Nothing was safe from me, and while it was liberating, it was also upsetting to see that even my favorite shows reinforced terrible messages about minorities and oppressed groups. As McLeod suggests, though, these emotions just pushed me forward. I found my voice as a writer, and things expanded even further. I began writing about myself — not for other people, but to simply try new things and explore my opinions and feelings in a way that I could reflect upon. As my personal writing grew, the papers for my classes became even better, and I realized that I was the writer that I always wanted to be. The question then became, “what do I do now?”
Kocher 7 The amazing professors I worked with in college helped me realize that writing was something that I could actually do for a living. I had previously wanted to go into library science, and help others develop a love for reading like the one that I possessed, but the summer before my fourth year, I realized that teaching could help me do that and so much more. It is still a dream of mine to one day work as a librarian, but right now, I want to help the kids like me recognize that writing is amazing. I want to find the kids who love to read, but can’t quite figure out what the whole writing thing is about — I want to show them that writing can take that love and make it even more powerful through examination and reflection. This is a lofty goal for someone who has never really taught before, but I think working in the writing center and teaching First Year Comp will allow me to hone the skills that I need to help students love writing as much as I do. As I connect with them, I hope that they begin to realize, just as I did, that writing doesn’t have to be one specific thing. In order to be successful, you must take writing and make it work for you, not simply work at writing, and while this takes time and effort, it will eventually become a labor of love.
Kocher 8 Works Cited McCarthy, Patricia, Scott Meier, and Regina Rinderer. “Self-‐Efficacy and Writing: A Different View of Self Evaluation.” College Composition and Communication 36.4 (1985) : 465-‐ 471. Print. McLeod, Susan. “Some Thoughts about Feelings: The Affective Domain and the Writing Process.” College Composition and Communication 38.4 (1987) : 426-‐435. Print. Perkins, D.N., and Gavriel Salomon. “The Science and Art of Transfer.” Web. 1 July 2013. <http://learnweb.harvard.edu/alps/thinking/docs/trancost.pdf>