November 13, 2010

Helping the Conventionally Impaired become Mechanically Inclined!

Why don't we set up a  Convention about Conventions!  We'll guarantee improvement on standardized tests!  We'll unlock the purse strings of those school boards obsessed with spelling, grammar and punctuation. I can imagine the shell shocked teachers arriving by the bus load weighed down by the burden of AYP.

Then we hit 'em with the concepts of Conventions - Editing, Not Correcting  and give everyone a copy of Jeff Anderson's Mechanically Inclined.  8-)

I was always a poor speller.  So much so that by the ninth grade I was convinced I was a hopeless dolt.

A great English teacher named Mr. Dennis Huckaby turned me around.

I remember Mr. Huckaby's first rule:  Misspell my last name and you fail!.  His second rule was three misspelled words in your paper and you fail!

I still recall typing papers for Mr. H's class due Monday...on Sundays.  I remained a terrible speller but I became much better with the white-out and the dictionary. Even though he was tough on conventions Mr. Huckaby inspired me to write and helped me overcome a terror of public speaking. I left high school wanting to be a writer thanks to Mr. Huckaby.

As an adult my atrocious spelling drove me to overcome a terrible fear of computers and get into word processing. I remember a magazine editor of an Alaska wildlife magazine telling me with a sneer in his voice that I'd misspelled something on page 14 of my manuscript and of course they weren't interested in publishing my work.

Word processing saved me. No more corrector-selectric for me.   I bought an Apple // and WordStar!  Soon I was teaching word processing to my 5th graders and selling magazine articles on the side.

Over the years my spelling improved because spell check targeted just the words I have trouble with. Now, unless I'm tired or my hands hurt too much, I'm half-way decent when it comes to getting the letters in the right order. Of course I still can't reliably spell the word receive and when fatigued I'll use their when I know it should be there.  (Note:  I needed my spell check to correct the words reliably, receive, and fatigued.)

I'd use stories like this in my middle school classes.  I'd confess to my poor spelling, slow reading speed, and general struggles with language and tell my kids that being a weak speller didn't mean they were dumb. Many were slow to believe. Until they found there were 5 other traits where the conventionally impaired might flourish. I only wish I'd been taught about the writing process and the six traits when I was in school.  

These days I find myself wishing I'd been a kid in the classes of the teachers I work with online.  Ah the years of pain I would have dodged!

Dennis (who relies heavily on his spell check and is still embarrassed when an error slips through).

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