Finding Connections through Chaos

students-talking

Discoveries come from chaos

Novelist Chuck Palahniuk, who famously took us underground into the bizarre, shocking world of Fight Club, said, “Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish.”

Chaos? Hmm. Sounds a bit like what’s going on inside those brains that enter our classrooms every day. You know the characters well. The reading fanatic who’d rather crawl into a corner and bury his nose in a 500-page tome than listen to the teacher drone on. The mercurial genius and introvert who will rule the world someday but for now feels misunderstood by almost everyone. Miss Personality with the gleaming smile who is loved by all and has not a negative word to say about anyone. The tough guy jock who puts up a brave front to mask his inability to articulate himself. And the list goes on.

Where formats come to die

When the time arrives for us to insist that these wildly diverse students put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboards, what kind of writing assignments do we hand them? Essays? Reports? Research papers? Memoirs? We do this because we understand the value of being able to effectively communicate a message in a coherent, well-structured format using strong supporting evidence and detail while applying the rules of grammar and proper syntax. Sounds very teacherly, yes? Also more than a trifle dull if you’re a child trying to sort through all that internal chaos. These necessary academic adventures often follow a pat, one-size-fits-all formula that may satisfy the curriculum standards and advance a student’s language skills – but at the expense of stifling the child’s true voice.

Why? Simple. They are writing for an audience of one – and for a grade. Most students who care are strategically compliant, check off the assignment, and move on. But what if we gave them an additional outlet? What if we gave them the opportunity to tap into the wrong, the stupid, and the foolish? To make sense of their chaos? And to write for a truly authentic, meaningful audience – peers who might share that voice, those interests, that madness. This is where blogs enter the picture. A blog is where formats come to die; where sincerity and imagination break out of their chains; where all that bundled energy, excitement, fear, and anger find an outlet.

They’re not alone anymore

The authentic audience that students find in Kidblog allows the book nerd or the Star Wars fanatic to gush in glowing terms about the minutiae that might draw weird looks in class (cough … Jar Jar Binks) but starts a meaningful dialogue online. They’re not alone anymore. Nor is the budding scientific genius who discovers that, yes, someone else in sixth grade actually cares about the study of dark matter and string theory (who knew?). No longer holding back is the tough guy jock whose world seems to revolve around football. He discovers, much to his amazement, that when he writes about the glory of competition and why Tom Brady’s game is more refined than Andrew Luck’s, the words flow like a waterfall. Others will also write about sports, and they will respond to his blog, as he does with theirs. He has found digital teammates, so to speak. He has found an audience that cares.

This is not an easy process, breaking students out of the safe, predictable mode of reports and essays. However, it’s a necessary one. Allow them the opportunity to find their chaos. Out of that, their enjoyment of writing will skyrocket and ultimately pay dividends when they must come back around to the land of the dreaded expository essay. They might even groan a little less.

About the Author
Frank is a former journalist whose now in his 14th year of teaching ELA, presently to eighth-graders at Harris Road Middle School in Concord, N.C. He’s a writer, gardener, binge-watcher, and dog-lover, and he’s excited that Rogue One has found a worthy place in the pantheon of the Star Wars universe.

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