Every year the school I teach at participates in a statewide writing contest called Laws of Life (LoL). Typically, every grade level and every student participates even though only a few students from each grade are officially submitted for the contest. There are grade-level winners, school winners and state winners all with cash prizes. The result of this is usually some excitement with the freshmen, a little remaining excitement from the sophomores, heavy sighs but participation from the juniors, and the “I’ve written this three years in a row. Do I really have to do it again?” backlash that comes from the seniors. The tragedy in this attitude is that the contest does ask students to reflect on something very important to all of us–their personal life game changer.
You see, the contest revolves around students choosing a maxim, a saying or universal truth, that resonates with a personal life experience. Essentially, what is a law of life they’ve experienced and what did it teach them. This is an important reflection, but it is hard for a ninth grader to understand what a maxim is sometimes, and as you can you devise from what I’ve mentioned just above, seniors have lost interest in the endeavor having written, in many cases, the same story three times already. There is clearly a dilemma with this contest; although, it does mean well.
This is where we need to teach the value and art of revision. Specifically, that revision is in fact a new vision of what has already been crafted. If and when I teach seniors who might grumble about having to write “the same essay for the fourth time,” I will simply ask them why they would ever do that? There is no need to write the same essay again. Write a new essay! Even if the topic is the same, re-envision your creation and give it new life. Do to your essay what you were unable to do as a freshman. Craft new words and sentences that tell the story you wish you had the first time. Tell the story you know can win the contest. The art of revision changes everything.
The heart of the contest is pure and endearing; however, the approach to the contest at times takes away from the experience it is meant to inspire. If the outlook on a contest like LoL isn’t going to change, then perhaps those instructing those writing these essays can change and learn to revise their own principles in teaching such craftsmanship.
All this really leads me to a question for you. What is your law of life or maxim? What have you experienced that was your personal life game changer?
Let me know how the revision goes.