Writing is heavily emphasized…anxiety about it purely optional.
Writing, when properly managed…is but a different name for conversation.
-Laurence Sterne, 1760
Writing is of considerable importance at The Branch School. It is anticipated that entering students have already developed some degree of writing skills, mindful of the previous exposure and experience they have had. However, we are more interested in their continued desire to write, and to write well. The lead for this activity rests with the English/Language Arts courses, which concentrate on writing assistance—from a basic and practical writing refresher (lexical, syntactic, grammatical, and orthographic exercises) to an advanced writing course encompassing prose and poetry. However, writing is also a critical component of some of the other courses.
Quality writing about people, events, theories, and processes requires the art of detailed investigation, intelligent comprehension, and exceptional articulation, in both fiction and nonfiction. We teach students the various styles employable in this effort. They discern when to add panache and when to construct tersely…and the spectrum in between.
We actively work with students in all of their writing. This starts with instructional preparation for fictional writing at the beginning of the first quarter. We have found this to be the relaxed, warm-up period that elucidates problems early on, as well as a time where they break their own ice. We believe that all students have creativity seeking a voice. We defuse the angst many students feel when starting a writing exercise or assignment.
Given nourishment and nurturing, we bring voice and image together. The desired effect takes diligence and heart . Although initially claiming writing their Achilles’ heel, students are surprised that their writing had developed into a formidable asset. It had been deep with them all along, buried, asleep, or otherwise suppressed. This is their…lemons into lemonade moment. All they had to do was squeeze.
Recognizing that they know what they want to write, but pre-determine that they cannot, suggests that they simply may not know how to start. The hue and cry around The Branch in terms of any writing is reduced to two principal questions: What do you want to say? How do you want to say it? Whole major papers have been successfully completed based upon this first step.
Fictional writing is perfect for responding to these self-inquiries. Writing fictively is often triggered by image(s) associated with some stimulus, whether verbal, visual, audible, or even olfactory. We capitalize on this principle and take it to the maximum. We have developed a method for connecting image and thought to articulation through a series of semiotic and synesthetic applications.
This method has proven highly successful for young struggling writers and budding Pulitzer authors alike. Forced writing is never a viable approach, so the stage must be set first. Anxiety is too valuable to waste on young people…
The power of the visible is the invisible.
-Marianne Moore, 1941
Articulation is another talent that God creates in all of us. Our job at The Branch is to bring that talent, the invisible, out and into the light of believability, the visible. Past results, in more cases than not, have been stunning. The best route to this has been in the promotion and development of creative writing.
We bridge the disconnection between the stimulus causing response imagery and the scripted version of that imagery. Hence, Sterne simplified the ordeal of writing for many (segment citing, top, previous page). In essence, writing is conversation…on paper. People often have fun when they are talking. There is no reason to squash this when they write.
It ain’t War and Peace, Junior…it’s only a major research paper.
Significant attention is given to research papers integral to most of the courses at The Branch School. All grade level students will have essay-length research papers throughout the year. The ninth through senior grade levels are additionally assigned a major research paper due at the end of the last quarter. Announced midway through the first quarter, this research paper will be a work in progress. Student levels appertaining may select the course from which the paper is constructed. This year-long assignment will be scored by and credited to courses taken, e.g., English, and the course from which the paper originated. Both papers will be assessed and scored on separate criteria.
While the lesser research papers are individual assignments, there are some that will be more complex and detailed, warranting the encouraged formation of two to three member groups for completion. In so doing, students learn about delineation of responsibility, workload coordination, research prioritization, narrative construction, editing, presentation, and so forth.
As with individual students, teachers will work with the assignment groups toward completion. Albeit, these research papers are the responsibility of the students, we are always available to assist in any manner we can. Students will be provided with a recommended activity schedule as a flexible guideline for developmental stages of the work. Project progress will be routinely checked during class periods or other more practical times.
Bring the paper, problem, pen, pad, and parent…
Periodically, we hold evening writing workshops for the benefit of students and parents, targeting the more difficult obstacles encountered in writing. We request parent(s) also attend these workshops. Very often, parents learn how to better assist their son, observing some techniques employable to remedy the difficulties. The workshop atmosphere is enjoyably relaxed. Coffee, pastries, and other refreshments are served. This is also a good time to catch up on things for both parents and teachers. The sessions are open for two to three hours and are free.
…and speaking of writing: notation, notation, notation!
The real world takes notes. Human situations are never without twists, turns, critical miniutiae, or massive confusion based upon our self-same complexities. This is a realm, encountered daily, wherein which rote memorization and prosaic mentality fail because this is the anfractuous grey place. Amid the high speed social and occupational lunacy, we tend to unacceptably forget things. Notations are the sponges that absorb the sights, sounds, and scintilla to be sorted out as soon as possible, or next month. Life and learning necessitate written reference to not only remind us of things, but to determine what is important.
Very few people would feel confident if their lawyer, prosecutor, architect, or responding police officer did not take critical notations in our interactions with them. Open heart surgery is daunting enough, but more so if the specialist performing it was just going to wing it without notations specific to one’s condition. Let the osteopathic surgeon connect the hip-bone to the jaw-bone, and it would be obvious that there were no Ezekiel notes made…and the voice of the Lord would not be the only voice he will hear from. Structural engineers make notes, period.
The Branch Christian School students take notes in each course session. Whether material presented demands cursory jottings or copious details, notations are effected to assure knowledge that leads to success. Students will need session notations as the foundation for expanded substance to be included that night, or in preparation for discussion at the table the next day and beyond. They will need their notations for tests, essays, and presentations. The study groups formed to adequately manage a paper or project will require the sharing of notations to assist other group members and to manage information pertinent to their assignment.
As part of our approach, we teach and illustrate how to take notes, in terms of construction, importance weighting, and systematic graphics. Notes are taken for content between students with the same importance as between teachers and students. This is integral to everything happening at the table during the academic session. Much of the course testing will be assessing critical thinking. Very often, essay tests are designed for this purpose. In some situations, students will have two to three days to complete essay tests.
…not just another passing fancy in a midsummer night’s dream
How did they do that?
A component of the Language Arts courses is the reading of Classical to Modern literature. As The Branch School presents its courses in the Harkness style, the meaning and substance of such reading becomes the center of discussion, debate, and writing in a roundtable atmosphere. This kind of study is not only conducted to expose students to the literary masterworks, it is considerably instrumental in assisting their writing—developing, continuing, and advanced.
Herein, students absorb the great authors, assessing content and style, unity and coherence, as well as the language employed to convey meaning. Specific coursework will guide them in interpreting the manner in which some have created imagery, used nuance, portrayed allegory, maintained audience, and so forth. This proves to be a significant support to their writing.
Post Script—There is no rehab for a writing addiction.
It is always exciting to watch the metamorphosis of young people overcoming false uncertainty, acquired lassitude, or conditioned fear about writing, then to go forth and become masterful writers, while they are yet students. Observed is a complete passion for writing in many, the positive addiction. Coupled with broad knowledge and keen interest, these students possess an edge for a successful future in whatever they do. Assessing the present state of cultural affairs leads to the conclusion that those who articulate well will own tomorrow. We are honored to be part of that process.