Friday, April 18, 2014

Getting Feedback on a Story

Getting feedback on a story. I usually write with a partner.  We argue with each other, get inspirations to solve problems that the other has created, and support each other when the story seems bogged down.

But when I’m writing alone, there is no built-in feedback.  Friends and family will only put up with so much.  They’re not going to read rewrites. And they can’t be counted on for truly critical  feedback.

A whole profession of feedback artists exists.  They read and comment for pay. I sometimes think they are the only ones in the writing business who regularly make money.  I have a screenplay I’ve been working on for several years. It has been to workshops, online classes, and four  private readers. One reader gave it a Recommend rating.  Another advanced it in a contest she judges. The first 10 pages will be read at a festival this June.  But it still didn’t feel RIGHT. 

I decided to try one more reader.  (This is starting to feel like a drug habit.)  And this time, I hit the jackpot.  The reader said, “You have the wrong protagonist.”

Yes. Now that he said it, Yes, I can see that.  The other readers missed that. My writing partner missed that. Friends and family missed that.  After years of crafting scenes, increasing tension, developing characters, I need to revamp the plot.

But I know these characters so well now that the redesign will only take about 2 months.  Then I’ll need to rewrite the whole story, but Ican keep many of the existing scenes, and much of the existing dialogue.  About 80% of the existing structure can be reshaped to fit the change in protagonists.  The new protag was the stakes character.  

This is as if Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia traded places, but instead of flying a fighter plane, Leia had to invade the death star from the inside and distract everybody while Luke attacked. Perhaps she would lower a force field, or use her skills to take over the internal machinery.  Same story – victory for the good guys – but now different roles become powerful and the same actions have different impacts.

It is both a relief and a burden to have found the problem with the story.  Now that I know, I hope I can do the story justice.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Taking a Class on Thinking

I’m taking Think101X at EdX, on the Science of Everyday Thinking.

The part that has fascinated me the most wasn’t in the classes, but rather in the More Reading section at the end.

I found a section on John Hattie’s research about what helps students learn.

First, he found that class size, amount of teacher training, economic and cultural background of the students are NOT key factors.

The most important thing is for the teachers to find out what the students are learning, and spend more time and energy on what they still need to learn.  Students can teach each other.

As a teacher, I know that when I plan a lesson, I learn the material better than I knew it before I decided to teach it.  Students will have the same experience.

Second, teachers need to be able to control disruptions.

If students can be distracted from the lesson, they won’t learn the material.

I quit teaching in public schools because I don’t know how to stop disruptions. I need students who already want to learn what I’m teaching.  

I know the world can’t depend on motivated students.  All students can learn.  And as a society, we’ll all benefit if they do.

Third, and this seems to be major, teachers need to believe in the students.  This belief comes from success experiences with teaching, so that the teachers know that students of all backgrounds can learn.

Fourth, students need to learn how to learn.  They can learn anything, any time, if they know how to learn.  This skill is more important than the specific details of any lesson.

Here’s a summary of Hattie’s work:

If you want more, he’s got a whole book called Visual Learning.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Royals Take a Selfie - Zoomer

The Royals Take a Selfie - Zoomer

How Families Spend Money and Time

Having a wealthy exchange student reminded me of a battle I had with my own teenagers.

My exchange student wore high-end clothing. She insisted that she must have a new prom dress from a department store for hundreds of dollars, even though she could get a new-with-tags prom dress at a consignment shop for about $40. She tried to get us to take taxis instead of the bus. She was angry that I made lunch rather than give her money to eat at the cafeteria. She was clearly used to having servants. But, she said she expects to get a full four-year scholarship to an Ivy League College.  She does not expect her wealthy parents to pay for this.

When my girls were teenagers, they were upset that I would not buy them cars, not even used cars. (If they wanted cars, they could get jobs, save their money and buy them and the insurance for them by themselves.) I gave them a clothing allowance so that they could choose between having several generic outfits or one brand name item of clothing.  I gave them a weekly allowance so they could choose if they wanted to go to the snack shop after school, or buy something else. (They usually chose something else.) I made their lunches. But I did pay for their college tuition.

All through high school, they ranted, “you’re so cheap,” which is sort of a compliment from my point-of-view.  It was only during their senior high school years, when their classmates who had the cars and the fancy clothes, and cafeteria meals, and who frequently went to the snack shop after school, were told, “No, we can’t afford to send you to college,” that they understood our strategy.

Also, watching our exchange student, I saw that we didn’t just budget money.  We also budgeted time.  Our daughters learned to start their papers and their studying-for-exams as soon as they were assigned. Our exchange student was always cramming at the last minute for an exam or scrambling to write a paper the night before it was due.  She seemed just as busy as our teens, but she was running weeks behind.  I had the sense that nobody had taught her how to study. But when I tried, she complained, “You’re stressing me out.”  She was also angry when I suggested ways she could save money.

It isn’t often I get to reconsider choices I made years ago, and see that I still totally agree with the choices I made.

I wonder how the families that bought cars and prom dresses and cafeteria lunches instead of college tuition feel about their choices.

Friday, March 28, 2014

She's Gone!

My exchange student has gone to a new home.  After a month of sending almost daily pleading emails to the American Councils, a new host family appeared at my door and took her and her luggage away.

I hope her new family can handle her better than I could.  

Perhaps she’ll show up for meals at their home.

Perhaps she’ll accompany their family to cultural events instead of claiming she can’t go because she has to study. The new family has two teenagers who attend the same school, one of whom is in some of her classes.

Perhaps they’ll be able to get her out of her room where she watches Turkish YouTube shows. (The exchange program requires that exchange students get private bedrooms. It also requires that the exchange students spend time in family areas of the house.)

Perhaps they’ll be able to get her to help with making salads, clearing the table, and even walking the dog.  I could barely get her to wash her own clothes.  Not her sheets.  Not replace the toilet paper, or clean her hair out of the sink.

We were her 2nd American family.  She is now on her third.

My life is returning to peace.

I can lie in bed past 6 AM, because I don’t need to make the hot breakfast that she won’t show up to eat. I can serve dinner without calling her several times. She never responded to my calls, but sometimes she deigned to join us about 15 minutes later. If I want to serve dessert, there will be some in my freezer. She wasn’t here to take them all for lunch and midnight snacks, to feed that sweet tooth she was so proud of.  I can go to the museum when I want. I don’t have to clear my plans with her in case they might interfere with hers.

I feel like a freed kidnap victim. Or a freed prisoner. I was her servant and I had to pay her expenses.  

It jars my sensibilities to get stuck with food, transportation, entertainment, water and utility bills for someone who won’t even try to be a guest, let alone a part of the family.

I’d like to forget I ever met her.  But she mail-ordered stuff and she didn’t give us her forwarding address. She also didn’t bother to tell the post office.  So I have to run her packages over to her school when they arrive.  But she was only here 6 weeks.  This will come to an end.

I’ve ordered some gadgets that are supposed to get her hair out of my now clogged drains. I put a screen over the shower drain and explained why it was there. But she kept kicking it aside.  I asked her to limit her showers to 10 minutes.  But my monster water bill says she ignored this request, too. Eventually everything she broke will be fixed or replaced or we’ll be fine without it.

She’s gone!

While I’m relieved, I’m also sad.  I had such good fantasies about exploring my city with a teenager from another country who was eager to see and do everything.  I was going to discuss world events with somebody who had a unique point of view. She was from Kazakhstan. She was here during Putin’s capture of Crimea. All she said was “Crimea has always been part of Russia.” It was as if she had memorized this one untrue line, and had no other thoughts on the subject.  I was going to cook new dishes with someone from another country.  Watch movies with someone from another culture.  

Her goal was to study hard and get into a US College because that would give her prestige back home.  She said that US Education is inferior to Kazakhstan education and her favorite teacher told her not to believe anything that is taught in US Schools. So she was just memorizing to pass the tests. 

At least she’s gone!