Tag Archives: Writers Resources

How did kids from a low-scoring school end up published authors reading their stories to an audience of 600 people?

8 Jul

ImageCheck out this great article about what happens when teachers and communities expect great things from every kid:

http://savannahnow.com/accent/2013-07-04/looking-pearls-mysteries-deep#.Udq_PiinbD1

LOOKING FOR PEARLS: MYSTERIES OF THE DEEP

BY BEN GOGGINS

School’s out for the summer, but rising seventh-grader Imani Blackshear is not on a break from reading or writing. Not her or a lot of the other DEEP Kids from East Broad Street Elementary.

She was at the school last week when I visited language arts teacher Salacthia Coast. She won the Education Partner of the Year award at the “DEEP Speaks” show June 3 at the Savannah Theater.

That night, 42 middle school students from across the county took the stage and read their original works of fact, fiction, poetry and prose — hot off the presses and hot out of their notebooks from spring semester — but cool under the spotlight.

Coast took the stage, too, with a lot of help. In pain with a serious knee injury, the principal and another teacher helped her climb the steps to the stage and then safely return to the audience. I wanted to meet this trooper who toughed it out that night and who embraced the program so enthusiastically.

Coast said this past year was the first for East Broad to participate in DEEP. It is a voluntary, after-school creative writing program with limited spaces. She said her students didn’t want to miss any sessions. Word of how much fun it was spread after the fall semester.

“It’s like the art of writing, that has been lost, is now being found,” Coast said.

Blackshear was happy to tell me how the sessions went. Two DEEP volunteers/writing fellows would lead a discussion about a topic or theme. The kids would then hand-write a poem or story or essay. They would read them to the group and get feedback and suggestions about their ideas. Then they might re-write or revise.

“We got help from each other on how to express our ideas and help on writing better. You learned to really think it through,” Blackshear said.

And write they did.

At the DEEP Speaks event, the imagination and sincerity of the students made me proud, and I’m not a parent to any of them.

DEEP published five books, grouped by schools, with the best works of the 150 young authors who participated in the spring program. The artwork and photographs of the kids are excellent.

The students themselves chose what to read the evening of DEEP Speaks, but the books have lots of their other work.

Coast sang the praises of the East Broad girls in the program.

I remember how confidently Blackshear read her work on self-esteem, “She is Everything.” And how tenderly soft-voiced and well-mannered D’erea Johnson told the story of her grandmother. Another of her stories in the book, “The Moldy Wig,” shows great sensitivity.

I can tell that Zahra Pleasant Murphy is an avid reader. And her quiet and thought-provoking “Awake” resonated with the night owls in the audience. And bubbly Sha’keriah Wilson made you do mental double-takes with her lighthearted “I Am a Squirrel.”

Petrice Crawford sounds like another precocious reader. Her story of the eccentric lady who steals the queen’s identity with some sour punch cracked me up. Lakeasha Quarterman sounded like she blossomed with her writing, and her “I Like to Be a Lion” would make any lioness proud.

Blackshear said writing fellows Sarah Wagner, Kolby Harrell, Austin Christmon and Dustin Michael helped them find their voices better every week.

She’s keeping a journal with ideas she’s thinking about for next fall’s DEEP. A story of self-discovery called “Lost and Then Found” sounds like it will really sing.

Since I live on Tybee, a story she’s thinking about called “Lonnie, the Lonely Lawn Chair” caught my attention. It’s about an old folding chaise lounge with tattered webbing that gets uncovered by a storm on the beach.

The wind exposes a little more of it every day. How did it get buried? Who sat in it before? Blackshear says there will be a surprise at what they find under it.

Coming from a long line of beachcombers, all I can say is, “I can’t wait.”

 

4 Questions That Get Kids to Read Like Writers

20 Mar

At Deep, we are all about the craft of writing. This means that, while most reading teachers ask their kids to read like guests of a book (asking questions like, “How are you, Book? What are you about?”), we writing teachers want them to read like thieves holding the book at gunpoint (asking questions like, “What have you got, Book? What can I steal from you?”)

This approach has a ton of advantages. It gets kids excited about reading, it gives them a clear and fun purpose as readers, and it improves their writing skills. In my workshops, I run the exact same discussion every time we read a new text. It goes like this:

  1. What is the writing skill that we just learned? (Usually, I’ll have just taught a mini-lesson on  figurative language, telling details, or something similar.)
  2. Where does that skill show up in this text? Get your kids to circle it wherever it appears! Have them offer a few examples to make sure they’re identifying the right things.
  3. What effect does it have? Usually, I offer a non-example and ask them about how this author’s work has a different effect. (For example: “This author describes his friend as ‘so tall that he constantly stooped forward as if afraid of the ceiling.’ How is that different from if he had just said, ‘my friend was tall’?”)
  4. What are you going to steal from this author in your next piece of writing?

It’s a simple, fun discussion structure, and it leads to great results every time! I would love to hear your ideas, too–how do you get your kids to read like writers?

Why You Should Teach Your Kids to Steal

29 May
Two of Beerbohm's self-portraits. "The Th...

Two of Beerbohm’s self-portraits. “The Theft” depicts him stealing a book from the library in 1894. “The Restitution” shows him returning that book in 1920. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago, I taught my students how to steal. It was the best lesson I’ve done in ages.

No, I’m not talking about petty shoplifting or muggings. I’m talking about a blatant, shameless, grand larceny of ideas. I’m talking about stealing words.

Typically, we teachers frown on copying, but I argue that copying other writers–stealing their syntax and flow right from under their noses (or proses?)–is one of the best ways that students can learn to write. In our focus on originality and personal expression, we can often forget that human beings learn best through mimicry. The same way that we learn how to cook by watching Mom and copying her recipes, we can learn how to write by stealing from better writers’ stories.

Recently, a fellow teacher and I showed students how to write the first chapter of a novel by having them copy the first chapter of the Hunger Games sentence by sentence–mimicking the exact structure and purpose of each Hunger Games sentence (description of setting, action, dialogue, etc.) but changing the individual words themselves to suit their own stories.

My students have never written so well in their lives. The scenes were full and detailed, the sentences were varied and interesting, and the dialogue was punchy. And my students noticed the difference, too–they began to get the feel for pacing and structure in a way that they never had before. Far from being bored or annoyed, they were inspired by having such a clear road map (and I imagine they enjoyed as the sneaky fun of intellectual theft as well).

Do you ever ask your students to steal from other writers? If so, when and how do you do it?

Want Your Students to Write More? Tell Them to Write Less.

13 Apr
girl, writing Deutsch: Maedchen, beim Schreiben

girl, writing Deutsch: Maedchen, beim Schreiben (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A blank page isn’t just a piece of paper. To some, a blank page represents possibility and creativity. To most people, though, (especially students) it just looks like a failure in progress.

I have watched hundreds of students admit defeat the moment they pulled out a fresh sheet of paper. They tell me, “I don’t know what to write,” or “I can’t write,” or even, “I don’t feel like writing.” But I have one simple trick that gets them over the hurdle, and it has never failed me:

I write the first sentence for them.

It looks like this:

“Jaquan, what have you got so far?” (Jaquan shrugs passively and looks down at his blank page.) “You mind if I help you get started?” (Jaquan shrugs passively again and I pick up his pencil.) “We’re writing similes for ourselves. So let’s start with weather. If you were a kind of weather, what kind of weather would you be?”

He thinks. “A storm.”

“I like that. What makes you say a storm?”

“‘Cause I get mad.”

“When do you get mad?”

He ponders this for a moment. “When my brother takes my stuff.”

“Great. I’ll write down, ‘When my brother takes my things, I am like an angry storm.’ Is that okay?” I write it down, and Jaquan reads it over, pleased. “Awesome. That’s really good. How about we take turns writing? You do one, and then I’ll come back and write the next one for you. Why don’t you write about an animal. Tell me what kind of animal you would be and why.”

Jaquan picks up his pencil and starts to write.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Sometimes I take turns with the student for a few minutes before I say something like, “Oops, looks like Terrell needs my help, too. Why don’t you keep writing and let me know if you need help. You’re doing great.”

So why does it work? I have two theories:

1. It shows your student that you care. By taking the time to write down their words yourself, you are validating their thoughts and showing the student that you care about what they have to say. This alone is enough to inspire most stuck students.

2. It gets rid of the scary blank page. Facing down a blank page can be daunting. By writing down the first few sentences yourself, you help the student overcome their fear of getting started.

Of course, I understand that in a hectic classroom you may not always have time to do it yourself. If you can’t personally write down what your student says, here are some other options:

  • Have students work in teams and write down what the other says. If you have recording devices, this is a great time to use them.
  • Try using dictation software, if you’ve got it.

Do you ever write for your students? How does it work for you?

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