Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Like it Matters

I don't want to ruin it for everyone.

That line is following me around at school.  It waits for me in the morning. Flicking on the light to me classroom, the sound of it is long gone, but its impact left an echo that lingers.

I don't want to ruin it for everyone.

About two weeks ago I introduced a new project to my classes. We are writing a collaborative MG novel where each student is responsible for a 250 word segment.

We outlined a plot and broke it into 100 segments because, at the time, I had 100 students. Students chose their scene. One writer per scene.

Having secured funding, we will soon be sending our 50,000 word manuscript off to CreateSpace. We will be paying for three rounds of editorial services along with some of the other self-publishing services offered. Students will soon be receiving professional feedback. The editor's notes will soon ignite some great class discussion.

But before we cross that bridge, I wanted to share something.

When I asked my classes if they were excited to work together to publish a book, many raised their hands with enthusiasm. One boy exclaimed, "Think about it. How often in math do you actually get to go outside and measure a cylinder for some job site. I like that we actually get to apply things. We can write for real."

Some were not as excited initially. When I pressed on and asked what was going through the minds of those who did not raise their hands, one boy spoke.

He said, I don't want to ruin it for everyone.

I asked him to elaborate. And he did. But something else happened. Others spoke up too--both in agreement and support. The initial feelings were that no one wants to be person who writes the scene that ruins the, we will talk about it. A lot. And read and help each other.

And talk about our writing, talk about our writing, talk about our writing. If nothing else were to come out of this at the very least I can say my kids talk and talk and talk about their writing like it matters.

Because it does.

As we selected scenes and then created drafts through the eyes and voices of six separate characters, I kept checking in with my students as they wrote. More often then note, they flagged me over to talk.

When we talked, we talked about characters, conflicts, dialogue, action, setting, and word choice. They asked me to read their work again and again. They passed around their notebooks and Chromebooks to each other on their own--wanting peers to read their work. Remember, it is only 250 words per student--a completely manageable number of words. It leaves a lot of room for conferring, revision, and experimentation with writing.

I don't have to press or lean on them. They bring the energy and a really interesting positive anxiety because in this moment their writing matters. It feels like a room full of athletes or performers about to step into the spotlight to do their thing--and the anxiety that courses through the veins of someone ready to simultaneously test and share themselves is very real among my kids.

After a few days I told my classes that I don't know if I could ever create this rush of importance, anxiety, pressure, and excitement with any other piece of writing. Usually, students try to write to me, their peers, our community. But now, the implication is that we are truly writing for real readers ...out there...readers who will have real opinions. We are paying to put an ISBN on our book. People will be able to buy our self-published effort internationally as well.

So, for the first time, ever, in twenty years in my classroom, all of my kids are feeling the same wonderful thing all at once:

it matters.

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