Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Writing Wednesdays: Student Collaboration Inspired by Bluewater Billionaires

My seventh graders love to write stories. This year I’ve asked them to always have a writing piece they’re working on. Sometimes this might be directed by me, like writing a book review blog post. In other instances we don’t have a writing piece they are assigned, so they’re welcome to write anything they want. Here is where I find them pairing up and collaborating on a story together. I’m fascinated by it.

When I was in middle school, or even today, if you told me I had to pair up with a friend and create a fiction story for the two of us to work on, my anxiety would have approached the extreme. It is no secret to those who know me that I have a small issue with control. Having a writing partner where we’re working on the same document sounds like a version of hell on earth in my brain. That held true until I read the first book(s) in a new romance series this weekend.
This is not a series for my students, but for me. The Bluewater Billionaires is a series coming out from several of my favorite authors. 

Books one and two are out now. I read them, fascinated. See, there is a female lead for each book. All four are introduced in the first book because they are a core group of friends. So far, one book takes place after the next. As I read, I found myself falling in love with the characters and marveling at how the authors crafted these stories.

After reading for a day, I reached out to one of the authors, Claire Kingsley. How did they create this world together, but write their own stories? Claire explained that the four of them came up with the concept together - what the world looked like, who was in it, etc. They each created their own main characters and the storyline for their own book. They had a spreadsheet that kept track of all of the info on the characters that was shared among the four authors. And early drafts were read by the group for consistency. 

I love the possibilities of student writers trying this out. Right now my students love pairing up and trying to write a story together. That collaboration is fun, but what if this could be more? What if they could create the world and some main characters together, but then each write their own stories that build off the other’s? That could be powerful.

What do you think? Have your writers tried anything like this? What successes have you had with kids writing together? What pitfalls? And, of course, if you’re looking for some great books to read just for you, try the Bluewater Billionaires series out. It is a lot of fun. Then go check out all of the books by these amazing authors. You will be glad you did.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Attending Conferences

This past week I had the privilege of attending my state reading conference, the Illinois Reading Council’s annual conference, in Peoria. IRC is often filled with amazing teachers and wonderful featured presenters. Since it is held in October now, I often cannot go on years I attend the National Council of Teachers of English conference in November. This year, however, due to a small medical procedure that will be occurring either at the end of October or sometime in November, I had to cancel my planned trip to NCTE. IRC, suddenly, was available and I’m beyond grateful I could attend.

Thursday and Friday reinvigorated me as an educator. I began the conference with Donalyn Miller. Donalyn has been a friend for such a long time, but I am constantly in awe with her breadth of knowledge. In her session on Access to Books, she reminded us all to be advocates for our students. Who has access? Who doesn’t? What’s standing in their way? I leave Donalyn’s sessions wanting to champion charge across the country and ensure that every student has a school AND classroom library. I also want every school to have a wonderful librarian to inspire a love of reading.  I want to get rid of book deserts across this land.

I spent several sessions with Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. I’ve read and use the nonfiction and fiction signposts with my students, but hearing them talk about these strategies in person realigns my thinking and gets me ready to dive back in and do the work with my students.

Clare Landrigan talked about classroom libraries. She reminded us that we need to make sure our libraries are accessible to the readers we have. In her work with classrooms, she found many libraries to have over 85% of the books at levels above the students in the classroom. What does that say to those kids? How does that make them feel about reading when they cannot read the books in their classrooms?
Samira Ahmed reminded us of the work we have to do as a country to ensure that everyone felt welcome. She told stories of growing up here, what it was like to live as a Muslim American. As I prepare to explore the idea of the danger of a single story next week with my students, Samira reminds me of why that work is important.
And Cornelius Minor left me ready to take on the world. Through him I was reminded that being not just an ally, but an accomplice. Cornelius pushed my thinking. He said that sometimes we need to sit in the discomfort for a bit. On a personal note, Cornelius reminded me of what is important in the work I’m doing. That I might not always see the successes, but sometimes they bloom later. That alone made the trip worthwhile.

Attending professional development is hard. Sub plans alone are a lot of work. I was in constant contact with several students over the two days. Our classroom was a disaster area after Thursday when I went in at 5am Friday. I cleaned it and left my students a message on Classroom. Hopefully when I go in tomorrow, it won’t be so scary. I had parent emails, I’m behind on grading, and I didn’t see my family much for three days. And yet, what I gained is so much more. 

I had the opportunity to see fellow educators I only connect with online while also having time to collaborate with colleagues from my building. I was inspired by people in our profession that make me want to do more. And I was reinvigorated and pumped to come back and teach as I wrap up the first quarter this week and move into the second. I’m grateful to my district for recognizing the value of professional development and excited to see my students again tomorrow morning.

Thanks, IRC. Till we meet again...