“If we’re going to write then we need our desks, paper and pencils. Don’t you dare move! If you are wearing red please go to your desk and get out pencil and paper,” Joe said as he headed to the front of the room where he wrote Becky’s story starter on the board: “This weekend I…”
As the children in red made their way back to their seats he added, “People wearing belts go back to your seats.” Joe continued in this manner until four students remained and then said, “People in Mrs. Feldt’s second grade class go to your seats. That’s you, kids. Go!”
“Okay! On your paper in the top left you need to write your name. Don’t forget your last name, I am new here and you are second graders, not kindergartners.”
Katherine Miller started saying, “Mrs. Feldt-” then stopped, covered her mouth for a second and then threw her hand in the air.
“Katherine Miller with her hand in the air!? Fantabulous! ‘Sup?”
“Mrs. Feldt has us put our name on the right side.”
“The right side?! Why, I’ve never heard of such a thing. Crisscross applesauce and now the right side and not the left? How will I survive? Name on the right side please. And just for me add today’s date just like this,” he said, writing 11/03/86 on the board.
“On your papers each of you should have your name and today’s date in the top right corner. On the first line of your paper please write the words, ‘This weekend I’” he said, underlining the words as he spoke. “You do not have to underline the words.”
‘“So, this weekend I…’ What a marvelously open ended start. We are doing this as a group so this will be fiction; a story we make up, not something that is true. This weekend I; if you would like to go first please raise your hand.”
Craig’s hand shot in the air and Joe shook his head in mock astonishment before saying, “Lightning McFast Sultenfuss, what have you got for us?”
“This weekend I visited my Pop-pop and I don’t like his new place and I wish he could go back to his old house and we could have fun again.”
Joe stopped, looked at Craig for a few seconds and nodded. “That is a very good story starter but I think we need to make it a little less specific so the rest of the class can participate too, okay? How about if I write, ‘This weekend I visited my Pop-pop.’ Is that alright with you, Craig?”
Craig nodded in return but didn’t say anything and Joe walked down the aisle to where the boy sat. “Okay we have a beginning. In thirty seconds I need someone else to help add to the story,” he said as he held his hand out for Craig to slap. “Good start, Craig,” Joe whispered as Craig slapped his hand five.
Half a dozen children raised their hands including a tall, very dark skinned boy. Joe checked the seating chart and said, “Rubin?”
“Built a fort,” Rubin said very quietly.
“’This weekend we visited my Pop-pop built a fort.’ I like where you’re going with this but we need some connecting words. How about if we write, ‘This weekend I visited my Pop-pop and I- or do we want to say we? -built a fort.’”
Rubin nodded in his seat but did not answer. “Rubin? It’s your call,” Joe said. “Did you build the fort alone or did you have help?”
“So then we write we, not I. Perfect! Everyone needs to have on his paper the words ‘This weekend I went to my Pop-pop’s and we built a fort.’” He said as he wrote the words in block letters.
Melody raised her hand and Joe asked, “Did you want to add something, Miss pretty green dress?”
“Why do you say ‘his’?” she asked. “Shouldn’t the girls do it too?”
“Why do I say his?” Joe whispered to himself. “Why do I say his?” he asked aloud. “Oh! Why do I say he instead of they! And why do I say him instead of him and her!? It’s just English. When we talk to a group we usually say he or him or his. It is a very old rule and it is not my favorite but that’s what we’re stuck with. When we talk to a group of boys and girls he means everyone, okay?”
“Why don’t you say they?”
“I do, when it makes sense, but they is plural as in two or more and he is singular; one. Everyone should write their names, the date and the story on their papers would work, but usually when speaking I use singular. I promise I’m talking to the girls, too. Even for girls we say he when it could be either one. We should make a new rule that isn’t so confusing but they is taken for two or more.
“This does seem like a boy story so far, doesn’t it? Melody, how can we make it a girl story too?”
Melody looked down at her desk and remained silent for a quarter minute. Boys and girls raised their hands and started waving them frantically in the air. “Melody? Rubin said we. We can make the we all girls or all boys or both. What would you like to do?”
“Both,” she answered.
“Fantastic,” Joe replied. “Now, how should we do it?”
Melody blinked at him for a few more seconds and then raised her hand. “Go, girl! What you got?” he asked.
“This weekend I went to my Pop-pop’s and we built a fort. It was a fairy tale castle and all the children helped and it was beautiful.”
“Well I think that works exceptionally well just as you said it. No editing required. You are both inclusive and eloquent and I bow to thee, oh fairy tale castle creator,” Joe said as he wrote the sentence on the board.
“Fairy tale castle!” Rubin exclaimed. “Man!”
Joe smiled at Rubin but pointed to him, “No blurting, Mr. Carter. That’s the thing with group effort, you never know where you’ll end up.”
The story progressed in fits and starts and some children added sentences while others had fragments that needed editing. In the end the group created a simple story. “This weekend I visited my Pop-pop’s and we built a fort. It was a fairy tale castle and all the children helped and it was beautiful. There were dragons and monsters. The fort kept us safe. Everyone was happy in the fort. We all played together. At the end of the day we went home and ate dinner.”
“That is a fine story,” Joe exclaimed. “And now that our creative juices are all warmed up it is time to go to art. Freeze! Everyone pass your papers forward, put your pencils away and get your art supplies out of your desk. Do not get up!”