National Day on Writing A Success for Maine Students

Friday, October 19th marked the NCTE National Day on Writing. Technically, Senate resolution 565 commemorates October 20th, but for many of us, every day is writing day and that is our wish for the rest of the world as long as they don’t try to publish and create more competition for me.

Yesterday I caught up with a wonderful librarian friend of mine, Heather Perkinson, who was all aglow with the results of her Day on Writing events. “[The event] showed students that writing is not just something that you do alone. You can do it together and it’s fun. They liked being able to play,” Heather said. Her enthusiasm was contagious and so I am excited to pass on her success for both educators and writers. Perhaps through her wonderful activities, your students can find fun in writing. If you are a writer, maybe it will remind you to take time to play.

Heather’s excitement came from her creation of the GHS Inkspot, a series of live (as opposed to web-based) stations in her HS library where, over the course of the day, many of her school’s ELA classes found fun in writing. The Inkspot link (above) gives plenty of resources to go with the stations, but the stations themselves need some introduction too.

List making: Heather cut notebook paper in half vertically and let the students make lists. The could follow these list prompts or makes their own.

(I’ll add here this site of found grocery lists that certainly contain story starters for a variety of characters. *Not always appropriate for children.*)

Journaling: With 12×12 scrapbook paper, Heather made two front and back covers for journals and gave them out to students who sat right down and started to fill them with writing. See example pictured on GHS Inkspot.

Neologisms: If you’ve ever coined a word, you know what a neologism is. Students taking part in Inkspot created new definitions for some of Lizzie Skurnick’s words and coined some words of their own.

Poster stickies: Oversized stickies on the library wall became the gallery of favorite student quotes, words (wasabi is my personal favorite), authors, and song lyrics.

Flash Fiction: Character, setting, conflict, human experience. Nuff said. (See Heather’s links at GHS Inkspot.

Exquisite Corpse: What Day on Writing would be complete without an Exquisite Corpse station. This parlor game allows collaborators to add to a drawing or story, or reinterpret a series of sentences. Sometimes the writer knows what comes before and sometimes they don’t. At the library, Heather used a chartpad with a cloth covering that moved down the board as others participated.

In addition to these activity stations, the school literary and art magazine staffed a table where they answered questions about submission guidelines, had examples of past issues, and brought their submission box. If a student didn’t have submission ready to go, they could fill out a submission pledge!

As a new hire at this school, many of the English teachers didn’t know what to expect from Heather’s Day on Writing.  “I should have let people know farther ahead. It’s so hard for the teachers to change their schedule,” she said. Still, GHS Inkspot showed that her events are worth planning around. She is looking forward to serving more of the students with future events.

Five on Friday

1. Deadlines approacheth. I’m working on a difficult revision of a picture book with civil rights information. Questions such as how to be developmentally appropriate, not be preachy, and show not tell are swirling around my computer today. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been writing for children these always seem to be the crucial questions.  Also working on my picture book presentation for the VCFA July residency.

2. My second triathlon is on Sunday morning. The experience of the first has taken away some of my pre-race jitters so I’m mostly excited. I’ve decided that triathlons are sort of like child birth. You forget the pain after you enjoy the emotional high of the finish line.

3. Good news on the job front! I’ll be teaching an integrated 5/6th grade Language Arts and Social Studies class at The Friends School of Portland coming September. The four morning a week schedule should be perfect for completing my VCFA critical thesis. (You can remind me I said this when I’m pulling out my hair in November.) LL Bean has also hired me to a retail sales job at their camping department. Stop by if you’re in Maine this summer and I’ll show you some tents!

4. My son was part of a Civil War reenactment this week. I have to say, it was a little uncomfortable watching our children in this romanticized version of war especially when we are in a war right now. We need to ask our children to contemplate the effectiveness and cost of battle to reach political ends. By teaching war do we beget more war or preclude it? What is worth fighting for?

5. Again, with the Civil War… I always felt that my understanding of this atrocious loss of life was always distilled to the lowest common denominator. "The good north was fighting to free the slaves from the bad south." As I’ve gotten older and done some study of my own, I find that the facts are much more nuanced than that. Why do we persist in teaching this distilled version?

PS: if you see me on facebook this weekend, tell me to get back to work.

Monday Thoughts

Sometimes when I think I have nothing to say, I actually have so much to say that I don’t know where to start. 

My sons have had very little writing in their new school. Everything seems very test driven and rote. They seem to scratch the surface of topics without diving in long enough to really swim in the information or let it soak in their hair. You need this soaking so that the new knowledge can leak out of you drip by drip by drip into assignments certainly, but into your everyday life. The new knowledge needs to be secured to other pieces of information that you already have at your retrieval to stick for good (or at least a good long time).

Writing about what you know requires us to look the information square on and realize what we do NOT know. Where the questions and holes in our information lie. Then, an assignment needs to provide time to fill in those holes. My eldest is dealing with a good writing assignment that has come with little support writing support and even less time spent on research skills. Had I given this assignment, it would take a good month to complete in a classroom and it would include numerous exemplars, group writing time, peer and adult conferences. Maybe I should go back to teaching.

Conference registration goes live online on January 24th. Will we be ready. I sure hope so. The site was in testing phase last week and all the Regional Advisors weighed in with their comments. There is much to work on. I’m a little nervous but know everything will work out fine.

The family is headed to Maine this weekend. I won’t be able to see everyone but hope to see a few people. The kids want to see friends. We are gathering all our bundling clothes and snow pants and the kids are so excited to make snow angels. Me too!
My parents are off to sunshine and warmth in their annual pilgrimage to Puerto Rico. "Glub-glub Mom!" That’s "Have fun, Mom!" in scuba. (That’s Mom on the left.)

Cows. I’ve been thinking in cow for the last couple of months and now I’m busy drawing them. I wake up thinking of cows. Now it is time to leave the computer and go draw.