Sunday, October 18, 2009


As I was enjoying my grandson’s company at a playground yesterday, I also enjoyed the look of the autumn leaves scattered on the floor of the nearby forest, and before long they led me to think about the teaching of writing. The leaves were beautiful as they lay in a sodden and confused clutter among the trees. There was obviously no order to their arrangement, no formula to their placement among the trees, and yet they made a perfectly beautiful picture. They were an untidy but lovely jumble. Recently I’ve been wondering, and I got to thinking about it again yesterday, if there might be room for a similar “lovely jumble” in the essays I ask my students to write. I teach them to write well-planned and highly structured papers, but could there be room among the methodical paragraphs for the kind of strewn and speckled beauty I saw in the woods? If the students occasionally “scattered” words through a sentence the way they generously spread their laughter among friends, would a reader perhaps sense something special in the writing? I’ve read some beautiful formal essays this year, but none more beautiful than the informal disarray of leaves I saw in the autumn woods yesterday.

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