Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Writing Wednesdays - Fiction Writing in the Classroom

Today is my twenty-sixth day of summer. Seems unreal that we've already been out of school for that long. For half of the time I've been out of school, my family has been traveling around Colorado. My oldest is still there training for Cross Country at an altitude that you can't come by in Illinois. My youngest has just headed with my mom to visit my sister and her family. Chris and I are home with the pups now. It is quiet. 

This morning as I ran one dog, then the other, my brain turned automatically to the next school year. Not that I want to rush it, please understand. There are forty-eight glorious days of summer ahead of me until my first inservice day and I plan on soaking up every last one of them. But it is during the summers that I plan and think of what I'd like to change for the following year. It's the only time I actually have the time to do that work, to mull it over without having to implement something right away. I can let ideas marinate before trying them out in the frantic pace, at times, of the school year. 

One thing I've been thinking about this summer is from the end-of-the-year reflections my students filled out just a few weeks ago. In regard to writing, their fiction pieces constantly rank as some of their favorite writing. When asked what they'd like different in our class, time and time again it came down to "more time to write fiction" and/or "longer to write my fiction stories." 

Sitting down today in a coffee shop to work on my own fiction story, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite. This one began on January 21st and I'm only halfway done. Some days I type furiously, words stacking upon each other and bringing me a total that makes me smile. Other days I surf Pinterest, looking for what I know in my heart the main character's house looks like, but I need a visual. Still other days I spend creating a timeline for the story. 

This is often not the way my students get to write fiction. 

We are tied to timelines, units, and quarters. At the end of the year I wondered how I could make it more authentic.

Since I'm in this new writing adventure, I now belong to Romance Writers of America, or RWA. RWA sends out a monthly journal called Romance Writers Report with articles from other romance writers and I was reading the June edition the other day. In it an author named Amanda Renee has an article called Story Bibles and Style Sheets. As I read the article, I was amazed. What Amanda terms her "story bible" is what I had created in Google Sheets to keep track of my books. As I read what Amanda uses her story bible and style sheet for, and I reflected on my own Google Sheet, I wondered why I hadn't shown this to my students. 

Real quick, in case you want to try a "story bible", mine looks like this. I have a Google Sheet document for my series with the following tabs:

  • Characters: The first tab is for the main characters of each book. Going across the columns I have their name, nicknames, age (birthday), pets, family, occupation, hair, eyes, height/weight, vehicles, styles, hobbies, slang, etc. 
  • Timeline: Second tab is the timeline for the story. For me, since it's a series, I have the timeline for the series and how it overlaps. I use an actual calendar for my books, so it says, "Chapter 1, Book 2 - April 15th" then a quick few lines about what the chapter is about. 
  • Setting: I have a tab with setting notes. Any locations in the book are detailed with description here.
  • Food notes: I mentioned a lot of food in my book. If/when I publish it, I'd either link to the recipes I mentioned on my website or share the recipes. I keep track of the meals here.
  • Media mentioned: I talk about a lot of songs, books, etc. I have a tab where I keep track of that. 
  • Threads to resolve: Things I need to tie up I list here. 
  • Ideas: I'm often flooded with ideas for future books or for later in my story. I make a note of it on this tab so I won't forget it, but can come back to it later. 
So, what am I thinking this means for my students in the future? I need some more walks/runs to solidify my idea, but right now I'm toying with the idea of an open-ended fiction assignment. I'm thinking at the start of the year I could show them how to create a story bible in Google Sheets. That maybe we have monthly "goals" like August, get an idea and set up your story bible. And have an expectation that they're writing every month, but nothing needs to be "finished" in a matter of weeks. Right now I can't decide if I'd want them to give me a finished piece during the school year, or just be able to show me their writing progress each quarter as a fiction writing grade. Meaning, I could sit with them towards the end of the quarter and we could have a conference where they share what worked for them that month in writing fiction, what didn't. 

That's where I'm beginning. I'm thinking of opening my room at lunch and maybe before school a few days a week for extra writing time. I'm thinking of quick lessons I could share that have helped me. But mostly, I'm trying to dream up ways to get time for kids to write stories they love for themselves. If you've done anything like this with your students, or if you have any suggestions, please share! I can't wait to think more about this in the coming weeks. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Writing Wednesday - Writing through Reflection

Today's post is about writing to reflect. Today on my fifth day of summer, I'm thinking back to my last days with my seventh graders this school year. My friend Colby isn't out yet for summer. I just saw a post from him somewhere on social media yesterday that his class looked the same during the school year as it did at the end of the school year. That really resonated with me.

My students in seventh grade know how school works. They wisely asked during the days leading up to the end of the school year when our grades were due. I was honest and said they were due Wednesday by noon. Our last day would be Friday. Someone smiled in first hour and asked if we'd be watching movies that entire last week then. I looked at them and smiled while the rest of the class laughed, including the kid that asked. Nope. We had days left together and I would be filling them up right until the end.

Last week wrapped up my 23rd year in education. In teaching kids from preschool through seventh grade I've figured a few things out. The more I stray from our typical schedule, the more poor behavior choices increase. The more I close down the classroom, the more the kids close down as well. As a result, I tend to teach right up until the end. Not with time fillers, but with lots of reflection. With the stuff we've done all year - time to read, time to write, time to share. 

We also have time to reflect. I asked each student to fill out a reflection of our class and our year. I break down the components of our workshop and ask them to tell me what they liked and disliked about all of it. I ask how they grew as readers, as writers. I ask what I could have done to make the year better for them? I ask how they felt about coming to our room each day.

Sometimes their reflection is hard to take. However, when that's the case, I feel good that I have set up a situation where they feel like they can be honest with me. These forms aren't anonymous, but the kids are still truthful. Sometimes their reflection guts me. Like the note on the bottom of one from a kid who was far from easy, who I wondered if I connected with, and who wrote me a note so honest and heartfelt that I sat in my classroom and cried. I'm so grateful that I had the chance to teach him, to teach them all.

And that was what our last four days were filled with - Padlets to share our reading lives with each other, with you, and with my students next year. Reflection on the class, on ourselves. And all too soon, our last day was there. As I set the time for the last time of independent reading a kid shouted out that I was making him sad, I should say it was our last time. When we sat down to watch the amazing short documentary on Jason Reynolds (check it out HERE), kids laughed that I had two "Jasons" in my life - Jason Momoa and Reynolds, that maybe Chris would be jealous. Grinning, I told them that it was time to write. In each class heads bent over notebooks, over Chromebooks, and fingers flew. I sat in front of my empty notebook and filled the page, grateful for this job I get to have and certain that I wouldn't want to waste any bit of it at the end of the year.

In case you're interested, I've shared our Padlets for the last week below. The first one is the kids' Top Ten books of the year. The second is their Padlet about how much they read and what their favorite book was. Enjoy!
Made with Padlet
Made with Padlet