Saturday, April 21, 2012



This would be a great title for a book on writing with middle school kids -- something I have just finished.  For three Friday afternoons in April, I joined Writing Project teachers, college students, classroom teachers and 140 sixth, seventh and eighth graders in a project called WriteOn! at a local school.

It was the third year of WriteOn! and as is often the case now, the funds were cut for the grant.  But at this school, the PTA decided a writing enrichment series for all the middle schoolers was important and it provided the money for the writers and materials.  Good for them!

Our group had eight students covering all the grades.  Some are avid writers and used the prompts to create pages and pages of new stories.  Some hate writing. Some are very shy about sharing their work.  Different teachers wrote with us each week -- and when teachers + students write together, the energy shifts.  The power of words and ideas supplants the power of teacher over student, and we become one writing community.

One girl discovered Viking runes and made a series of coded sentences to decipher.  One reluctant writer used a photograph from WRITE WHAT YOU SEE (Hank Kellner, Cottonwood Press).  He wrote two pieces, one about his grandmother's dog named Baxter and one about dogs and babies and why people are drawn to them.

The Native American ledger drawings from the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College inspired seventh and eighth grade girls to write serious, detailed stories about a life on the plains and first encounters with white settlers.  Some moved to poetry and personal essays on loneliness and belonging.

Two friends write war-adventure-espionage stories.  This is where the zombies come into the writing.  They support each other's work and listen intently when the other reads new parts.

In our "quick writes", the teachers also wrote about dogs and babies, loneliness and "lost love", bullies and heroes.  I love how writing can be a great equalizer, a common ground for adults and young people to share.

Yesterday, we all were a bit sad to finish the WriteOn! series.  We knew something good had happened.  We had laughed together, shared thoughts through our writing and talking, and learned something new about each person, adults and young people.  We had taken risks and explored new things.

This is why I love teaching and writing...
Why I believe in the future...
 and in the young people who are its promise
and its heirs.

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