“Why do you have to take notes on everything, and write everything down?”
“I like to write. Then I can remember it, mull it over, and re-think it if I want to.”
“That is so weird.”
Sue shrugged. “I write. It’s what I like to do. I write down words as they come to me.”
“No, no, not you that’s weird,” said Jordan. “It’s weird that I was just reading in my history book about Benjamin Franklin, and that’s what he did.”
“Yah. In his autobiography, he tells how he would take an article he liked, read it until he understood it thoroughly, then try to re-write it just like the author, and then compare his to the original. He said sometimes, after awhile, he actually got better than the author.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to copy other people’s writings.”
“No, of course not. But, for learning, think what would happen if we could study some of the great writers, and copy and write until we got as good as or better than they were. Our English teacher would be surprised and impressed, I’m sure.”
“She would go into shock,” said Sue. “She knows I like to write, but is never happy with what I do. There is always something wrong – something I miss. She’s a perfectionist.”
“From me,” said Jordan, “she would be happy to have a completed assignment. I get distracted and never seem to be able to follow through on an assignment, and turn it in incomplete. It’s better than an F. What do you say we go home, pick a newspaper article or essay or something, and meet at the library after school tomorrow?”
The next afternoon Sue and Jordan met at the back of the library under the big north facing window. “Did you look for a newspaper article?” Sue asked.
“I found two possibilities last night. I picked a letter to the editor about some new law being put into effect. It seemed well written, with complete points.”
“Cool. Mine is a short essay on child abuse from our literature book. I liked the way the author made his points and thought it would be good to study that one.”
“OK. So what do we do first, oh great teacher?” Jordan said, smiling.
“I’m not your teacher – Benjamin Franklin is,” Sue said. “This was your idea, anyway.”
“OK Ben, what’s first?”
“I looked up the autobiography and made a list of his steps. Number one is to make a list of the thoughts and sentiments or main points of each sentence.”
“That sounds too much like school,” complained Jordan. “What are sentiments, anyway?”
“I know, an old word, but I was trying to use Franklin’s term. I think it means feelings or attitudes or the way the points are expressed. You’ll like the next step,” said Sue. “It’s to wait a few days.”
“Now you’re talking!”
On Saturday the two met at the park with their notebooks. They sat at a shady table under a huge, spreading oak tree. Jordan wistfully watched a baseball game going on across the field. “Don’t know why I let you talk me into this.”
“Because you wanted to surprise your teacher, remember? You are the one who suggested this project.”
“Right now, baseball sounds like fun.”
“How about we give this twenty minutes, then go see if we can join the game.”
“You got it! What are we doing today?”
“Re-writing the main points in our own words.” They pulled out the lists they’d made of the main ideas and thoughts and began to write their own versions. Neither of them finished in the twenty minutes, but they made enough progress to feel they’d earned the baseball game. On the way to the field, Jordan asked Sue about the next step.
“Next step, comparing what we wrote to the original. I thought we could compare each other’s too.”
“I get to be the teacher with the red pen – awesome!”
The kids on the ball field called out to them.
“We’re coming,” shouted Jordan, and ran ahead of Sue.
The next time Sue and Jordan met, they had each compared their writing to the original, and were surprised at how differently they had written. There was much room for improvement. They took home each other’s papers to have time to read the original and their friend’s copy. Sue even re-wrote Jordan’s piece in her own words. They suggested changes to each other, and found that their discussions at school took on new meaning as they challenged and evaluated each other’s ideas. Discovering they actually enjoyed discussing ideas and concepts was a surprise to them.
A week later, they got together at the park and re-wrote their papers again. This time the work went much faster and it seemed much easier. The topics were making much more sense, and the ideas were flowing onto the paper. Both noticed a big improvement in their writing capabilities. Jordan even liked the way she made one point better than the original.
Sue told Jordan that another method Franklin used was to jumble the thoughts into confusion, then put them back together into a logical and orderly arrangement. They took their lists of ideas, tore the paper into strips, tossed them into Jordan’s hat, and attempted to sort them all out. They laughed at the disordered thoughts. “This is like those three part books we used to have as toys. The top part was heads, then the middles, then the legs. We’d flip the pages and laugh at the big football dude in a tutu, or the lady in a chef’s hat with a cowboy belt and ice skates. Remember those?”
With a little shuffling, they put the ideas in order. Jordan commented that the topics made more and more sense each time they worked with them. “Like thinking about them makes it sink in and stick inside my head.”
A few weeks later, their English teacher asked Sue and Jordan to stay after class. The girls looked at each other, reflecting the other’s worried expression. Miss Satory asked them, “Girls, what happened to both of you? Your papers were excellent.” Jordan gave a nervous giggle and Sue let out a sigh of relief.
“We’ve been studying with a – a tutor,” said Sue.
“She must be very good. Who is she?” asked their teacher.
“Actually, it’s a ‘he’, and he died,” said Jordan, trying unsuccessfully not to giggle.
Miss Satory sat back and folded her arms as they both dissolved into giggles. “Girls, explain.”
Sue explained how Jordan found The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and thought it would be fun to apply his method of improving his own writing. They’d been practicing and working on their own for several weeks, using his methods. Miss Satory began to laugh with them once she understood their serious little joke.
“Very impressive, girls. How would you like to teach the whole class what you have learned?”
“Oh, no, Miss Satory. They’ll think we’re really weird and geeky.”
“I don’t think so,” their teacher replied. “Wouldn’t most of the students be willing to raise their grade a letter? You could almost guarantee it with your method.”
“Ben’s method,” corrected Jordan, lapsing into a nervous laugh again.
“Yes, Ben will be the teacher. You will just be sharing his style. I will help you set up the power point and the assignments, and your assignment will be to grade the other students’ work. How would that be?”
“Never thought I would want to be a teacher – no offense Miss Satory – but this could be fun.”
Sue and Jordan looked at each other to see if they were in agreement. “Never thought my little idea would grow this big,” said Jordan. “Ben Franklin, help us all!”