Friday, November 27, 2015

NCTE/ALAN 2015: Failing to Find the Words

Every year I come back from the NCTE Annual Convention with an inability to properly articulate what a transformative experience it is. This year was no different. So rather than try to find the words, I decided to create a video. To all of my NCTE/ALAN friends, this is for you as much as it is for me. I picked the song very intentionally. There's a line in the song that says, "I try to picture me without you but I can't" and just know that I mean that with my whole heart. I hold firm in my conviction that I wouldn't still be a teacher today if it weren't for my NCTE family.

If you want more from NCTE and ALAN, check out my Storify archives:

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

This is 36

Birthdays no longer feel like a big deal to me. I used to love it when people fawned all over me on my birthday but now I just want it go by without much notice or fanfare. A nice dinner and a stroll through my favorite bookstore in Ann Arbor was all I needed tonight to feel content and relaxed. It was a much-needed respite from the stress I've been feeling from school, work, and the upcoming NCTE convention next week. All of these things are good sources of stress, but sometimes even good sources of stress can overwhelm you when they show up all at once. So tonight I put everything aside, enjoyed my dinner, enjoyed the quality time with my husband, and I especially enjoyed walking into my favorite bookstore where the owner knows me by name and I can strike up conversations with random strangers about the books on display. Celebrations don't always have to shout. Sometimes instead they speak in low, languid tones. I've decided that's how I like my birthdays.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Celebrate Student Writers and Generous Authors

This has been a difficult past few days for me. With deadlines looming and NCTE convention fast approaching, I'm starting to feel like I can't get it all done. My to-do list feels like a fast moving Twitter feed that I can't keep up with. Truth be told, I really shouldn't be writing this blog post. I should be tackling my miles-long to-do list instead.

Students writing -- on their lunch period!
But there has been a shining beacon in my overwhelmed state of being right now and I feel like I need to celebrate that: my students. The entire 8th grade is participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Their fear and trepidation was palpable when I told them in October about the writing project we would be immersing ourselves in for the month of November. I mean, a WHOLE NOVEL? In 30 days? How is that even possible?

But now as I help guide them through the process and show them that writing a novel doesn't have to be as intimidating as it first appears, they are embracing their new identities as writers. Nothing was further proof of that than watching students voluntarily coming and giving of their lunch periods to write their novels. On Thursday I had 16 students come work on their novels. On Friday I had 25. I only have 27 computers. If this keeps up I'm going to have to start turning students away. That is a good dilemma to have.

In addition to motivated students, I also have wonderfully generous authors who have given and will be giving of their time to help my students with the writing process during NaNoWriMo. My friend Marquin Parks, author of the Wrinkles Wallace series (Knights of Night School and Fighters of Foreclosure), sent along some words of wisdom for my students via video message:

Not only did I have an author send a video message, but Gae Polisner, author of The Pull of Gravity and The Summer of Letting Go, Skyped with all three of my classes yesterday and offered her writerly words of wisdom along with a quick writing exercise.

Skyping with Gae Polisner
One of the best things about the day was that even though I didn't tell my students they had to take notes on Gae's advice, most of them were totally taking notes. And when Gae asked my first hour class if anyone had any questions, one of my more vocal students said, "Can we write our novels now?" I couldn't help but grin.

My favorite nuggets of wisdom Gae gave my students yesterday were as follows:
  • Don't care about sucking. First drafts aren't supposed to be good. Writers call first drafts vomit drafts because they just need to get it out.
  • Sucking at writing is hard to do because you're probably so used to writing for a grade that it's hard to write freely, so it's great that you have this opportunity to write and not worry about if it's organized, outlined, well-worded, or even makes any sense. That's what revision is for. 
  • She shared her writing process with my students and told them that even though it was contrary to what they probably learn in school and somewhat contrary to the advice Marquin gave my students, she doesn't like to outline. It stifles her creativity and so she showed them a productive way that she gets out all the things she wants to put in her book without outlining.It actually excites me when writers share contrary bits of advice to students because it proves to them that there is no one writing process. Everyone's process is unique to them.
  • The thing that drives your story even more than plot is being able to answer these two questions: 1) What does my character want? 2) What's getting in their way?

And with that, dear students, go forth and write!

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres