This month, I am joining a middle school language arts class as “Guest Author” to present a creative writing unit.
I had no idea how much fun this was going to be.
These are middle schoolers, after all. I was prepared for blank stares, whispering-behind-hands, head-down-on-the-desk-boredom. I thought, they are not going to be interested in writing, and they are certainly not going to be interested in what some parent has to say about writing.
I was so wrong.
OK, they haven’t mastered the art of active listening. There IS a lot of fidgeting and head-down-on-the-desk, but to my surprise, that doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention. They are an incredibly engaged group of young people, for all that they can appear not to be. And when you ask for ideas, they bounce and crackle like popcorn in a popper. Like Rice Krispies in a bowl. Like firecrackers in the street on the Fourth of July.
On the first day, I began with the concept of what to write about: where do we get ideas from and how do we generate creativity? We did a writing exercise together, where we took three random images and wrote about them for three minutes. Each kid wrote in their own notebook, while I wrote on a sheet of paper that was projected onto a screen at the front of the classroom so they could watch me write along with them.
It was funny to hear the teacher say: “This is so great because we get to see how a professional writer works.” I almost looked around. Oh yeah, that’s me.
Since these students are just starting out as writers and they are only supposed to write a short story of about three pages in length, I decided to really focus on only two things: developing plot and character. We spent a day on each one, and I got better each time at asking for participation from the kids. Their teacher (naturally) is really sensitive to when they need to ask a question or when their interest might be waning, so she will interject at those times. I feel like she and I are developing a great partnership.
Each time I return, I enter the class with some trepidation, wondering if this is that day they roll their eyes and moan when they see me, but so far, they have been unfailingly enthusiastic and upbeat. There are kids who actively seek me out right away — “So here’s what I’m thinking…” — and there are kids who find their way to me at some point, notebook clutched tight against their chest — “Yeah, um, I’m still not sure about this…” — and there are kids who wait for me to come to them. But overall, the students have a pretty high level of interest and excitement about the project and they seem glad to have me there working with them. And I am so glad to have them asking questions that give me insights into what they are thinking and how better to explain what I’m trying to say.
And let’s face it, trying to explain how to write is going to make me a better writer myself. It’s so much more simple when you break it down into its component parts. Isn’t it?
I’m not going back in until next Wednesday when they start revising, and I miss it. I’m trying to get the school to set up an “Ask The Author” blog so that I can communicate with the kids while I’m not there. It’s a little ridiculous how much I’m enjoying this.
One of my writer friends thinks that I should turn this “seminar” into a book for teachers. “As if you need another book to write,” she joked.