Roads Not Taken

One Way SignMy brother’s dri­ving direc­tions are full of “roads not taken.”

He’ll say some­thing like, “Go about a mile and you’ll see Hamil­ton. Don’t turn there! You want the next street.” But with­out fail, I see Hamil­ton, remem­ber that it was part of his direc­tions, and turn before I’m sup­posed to.

My father and I are equal­ly direc­tion­al­ly incom­pat­i­ble. He’ll recite a mys­ti­fy­ing suc­ces­sion of com­pass points to me. To give him cred­it, I’m sure his direc­tions are com­plete­ly clear and sen­si­ble to some­body who can actu­al­ly tell east from west.

Here’s the only kind of direc­tions that seem to work for me: “Turn left at the third Dairy Queen.” I guar­an­tee I won’t miss a sin­gle turn if you use “ice cream directions.”

It’s a sim­ple truth:  differ­ent approach­es work for differ­ent brains. What launch­es one student’s writ­ing road trip might amount to a “road not tak­en” approach for anoth­er. There is no “one way” that works to inspire every stu­dent. But for every stu­dent, there is prob­a­bly “one way” that will ulti­mate­ly inspire them.

When I first start­ed  teach­ing stu­dents to write, I found it frus­trat­ing when kids would ask if they could draw their sto­ries instead of write them. I saw my job as rein­forc­ing writ­ing skills, and I was afraid that the writ­ing would get upstaged.

But grad­u­al­ly I real­ized that for cer­tain stu­dents, draw­ing was the per­fect “gate­way” activ­i­ty to writ­ing. So while I still encour­age all stu­dents to work with words, I also make room for draw­ing as part of our brain­storm­ing and pre-writ­ing activities.

Words are my artis­tic medi­um; draw­ing remains my per­son­al road not tak­en. But it turns out that you can fol­low two com­plete­ly differ­ent sets of direc­tions, offered by two peo­ple who think com­plete­ly differ­ent­ly — and some­how still end up at the same place!

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