The Blog as a Tool of Reaction – or – Students and Personal Essays – or – A Good Blogger Is Hard to Find

by Mr. Sheehy

Most of my assignments and blogging with students ends up being posted elsewhere, but I find that concrete examples are usually the most interesting things we as teachers have to share. In that way, I have decided to double post an assignment I am giving to my juniors this week. It’s a writing assignment in the middle of a unit called “Quizzical Writers,” and it follows a fantastic experience we had while reading Flannery O’ Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” The experience arose from my perpetual quest to enable students to share synchronously the thinking they have as they read a text.

Ideally, I’ll someday discover a way to share this thinking while students read silently, but for this story, we formed a circle and read it out loud to each other. At the end of each page, we stopped and everyone wrote a question, comment, or thought about the story. Then everyone read what they’d written, and unless it was a question for clarity, we did not stop to discuss the comment or question. We simply listened, appreciated it, and moved to the next comment. Then we’d continue reading the story. It was great to hear students highlight key points of the story and latch onto themes and important characteristics, and the sharing obviously helped fellow readers recognize details we hadn’t considered as carefully.

My favorite part occurred half way through the story. For the first three pages, every time we stopped students erupted into laughter and Tom Foolery, joking about how terrible the Grandma is and how funny the children are. Then the Misfit entered the story on page four and it became obvious the story was not going to recover from this dark turn. When we stopped that time, no one uttered a single silly comment, and students wrote in silence. O’ Connor had them wrapped so tightly in her narrative arc that they couldn’t get out.

Now, I want to hear them talk about the story more, and this is how I plan to do it. We’ll see how it works.

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Having read Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” you know there’s no way to escape writing about it. Maybe in some corner of my pinky finger there had been hidden a cell that might have let you out of a written assignment for this story, but then I read Kyriana’s and Nate’s fabulously articulate responses to O’Connor’s other story, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” and I couldn’t wait to hear more insight and perspective on more of O’Connor’s work. From a teacher’s perspective, this is what I saw in their articles: effective, engaging personal essays that expressed top-level reading. My natural response is to attempt to bring on a bit more.

For this article, however, I am going to dictate the format a little bit. I want to give you a chance to write an article that injects quotes from the text like little asides. It would be the writing equivalent of when a radio announcer makes a statement and then jumps to a sound bite – but where the sound bite is not specifically introduced or acknowledged in the language around it. I did this a lot in radio when I’d make little promotional spots. One time I recorded a letter to my brother to say happy birthday, and I filled the letter with ridiculous advise and bits of wisdom. After each bit of wisdom the audio would cut to a quote from a movie that we had seen and loved. I never said anything about the quotes, they were just there to augment my points by juxtaposition. In that case, obviously, they were also there to get a laugh.

I do this at times in my blog (see this article on the meaning of poetry for an example), and I think it’s a perfect form for the medium. I take the quotation in question and at the most opportune time I insert it as its own paragraph. I set that paragraph apart with the block quote formatting (located in the tool bar Blockquote Image ) and never specifically mention the quote. But it does fit in that context, and it does support my point. I also do this with photographs which I pull usually from a search engine that mines Flickr.

The advantage to you, of course, is that you don’t have to worry about how to punctuate the quote in your article. You simply stick it in there and keep trudging along with your insight.

That is what I want you to do in terms of format. In terms of writing, I want you to use the same general topic that you had for “Winter Dreams” and “The Life You Save May Be Your Own“: say something interesting about the story by reflecting on it personally, and do so in at least 250 words. Use four quotes from the story as asides to support your reflection. For “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” you should feel free to compare it to “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” since you’ll see obvious similarities. You don’t have to do so, however.

Write on!

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