5.27.2008

writing & gardening


Writing instruction is about error correction in the same way that gardening is about weeding. If a gardener spent all their time and energy weeding they would indeed have a clean garden: a clean and barren garden, plots and plots of empty dirt except for where the occasional wind-blown flower planted itself.

Instead, gardeners spend most of their time seeding and planting and mulching and fertilizing and admiring, then digging up and moving just this one plant, and maybe pruning another back a wee bit or quite severely. Gardening is about promoting and nurturing growth. Writing instruction is about nurturing growth in the flora and fauna of the mind. Good writing instruction requires energies directed towards the blossoming of intellects.

Yet, even the most fecund of gardens suffers if it is not weeded. My roses and herbs can’t preen when Japanese knotweed moves in. I must spend some time weeding, lest the weeds obscure my blooms. Similarly, when mechanical errors clutter up the page, we need to teach our students how to weed. “This! This here is the dread knotweed of tangled syntax! Yank it out! And watch out for effect/affect. You get them confused and you look like an amateur.” Though weeding isn’t gardening, it is part of the process; alas it is the part that most commands the attention of our students.


Think about a new gardener friend. When you tour your garden with her and wax eloquently on the proper mulch for peonies, is she listening? No. She is pointing at the pelargoniums and asking, “Is that a weed?” “No, you are thinking of buttercup,” you absent-mindedly reply as you redirect her attention to the peonies. Your friend keeps distracting you with weed questions. She finds comfort in getting a handle on what not to grow. It is learnable, approachable, memorizable. She wants to learn rules, while you are trying to teach beauty. You want to say, “Grow something! Anything! We’ll tidy it up later!” She is thinking, “I just don’t want any weeds.”


Somewhere in the process of being gardening mentors, we’ll need to address her keen interest in weeds. We can’t ignore it. We can, though, show her weeding’s proper place in a gardener’s timeline: dream, plant, fertilize, water, observe, transplant, prune, fertilize some more, plant some more. Weeding is done along the way, something to keep busy between these other tasks, and maybe one grand push before opening the garden for viewing. A gardener yanks the obvious weeds as she prunes, pulls out the knotweed as she fertilizes. Occasionally she will consult her Sunset Western Garden book to refine her weed identification skills, or merely ask a fellow gardener.

No one ever compliments a garden because it is weed-free. Yet our students often expect that a weed-free essay is their, and our, aim. When we can help our students see that good writing is about having fruitful ideas that play with light and shadow and color in an intriguing or charming way, that good writing is lush and redolent with suggestive aromas and implications, and that good writing results from rich and thoughtful fertilizer and a generous amount of time to allow for growth, then we will have done our job.



copyright 2008 Suzanne Chandler, M. Ed.

~SuzanneTo print this page, visit the little printer icon in the footer line. Don't see it? Click on either the post title above or the permalink icon below to get to the individual page for this post. Voila! The -- recently tweaked and operating nicely -- printer options awaits you.




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11 much appreciated comments:

cloudscome said...

This is fabulous. Beautiful blooms and no weeds to be seen! Good girl.

cousin Julie said...

Wow, I love your writing and you!

Kate said...

Amen. I love teaching writing! Although, my students now need to be a bit more concerned with their "weeds". I'm not worried. Their third grade teacher is, sadly, primarily concerned with weeds. Sigh. All my beautiful little wildflowers are about to be sacrificed

Kim K said...

How funny that we would both submit gardening/writing analogies to the Carnival in the same week...yet each post brings such unique thoughts to the table. I love your perspective! Thank you!

Karen said...

I love the analogy of writing is like gardening.

Blessing to you!

Sincerely,
Karen

MomtoCherubs said...

Thanks for contributing to the CM Blog Carnival.

MomToCherubs

la said...

Very thoughtful, encouraging, beautiful ideas beautifully written.
Your analogy of gardening: writing can pertain to so many areas of daily life - can't it? I needed that insight- thanks!

Jamie said...

I love writing AND gardening, so I enjoyed this post. Looking forward to including it in next week's CM blog carnival.

Suzanne said...

Rebecca, you've no idea how much you have encouraged me by sharing your "conversion".

Anonymous said...

love the print option - cool

Jayson Patrick said...

Gardening for wildlife is one way to think about it.

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Here I chatter about books, parenting, election 2008, recipes, teaching college writing, and the adventures of getting settled in with our two freshly (Fall 06) adopted school-age children from Russia. This blog is chapter two; chapter one is posted at Jamie & Suzanne go to Russia. I live in the City of Subdued Excitement, Cascadia, Land of the Free.

I am the wife of a man I call My Gift from a Generous God. I am mama to two lovely children, Dandy and Chickadee that became ours in September 2006 in a court-room in Siberia. I am the daughter of two people whom I love and admire. One of them, my dad, is a new (Dec 06) paraplegic.

In my previous life (B.C. - before children), I was a college English teacher, specializing in composition and ESL composition.

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