I can still remember the excitement I felt as a young girl learning to read and write. Both reading and writing turned into lifelong loves and key skills I use every day in my job: I’ve been editing children’s books for 21 years and writing them since 1997.
As an author, I’ve written a little bit of everything, including picture books, early readers, graphic novels, middle grade fiction, and nonfiction for older kids. It’s hard to play favorites, but I am particularly fond of writing historical fiction. And I really enjoy writing children’s nonfiction— especially when I can share interesting or unexpected facts about whatever topic I’m covering. That’s one reason I’m excited about the two U.S. Regions books I recently wrote for Rourke Publishing.
Sometimes I’m asked what inspires me to write, and to that I have to say, “Writing.” The more I write, the more I want to write! It also inspires me to know that kids who love books as much as I do might just read my work. There’s nothing better than knowing that your words have landed in such good hands.
I came across an interesting article the other day and thought it was worth sharing. Mia Hood, an assistant professor and doctoral student, was observing a classroom to reconnect with students when she had an epiphany of sorts. She realized that the students in the middle school she was observing were doing what was required of Common Core or evidenced based learning but are missing all the feelings that reading evokes from the reader. At Rourke we support reading: reading for pleasure or reading for information or reading to obtain evidence for your claims. Balance is essential to create college and career ready students and lifelong readers.
As a writer I am familiar with the many things that can sabotage my efforts to start on a new piece of writing. Just when I think I am ready to begin, I think about the closet that needs cleaning, the compost pile that needs turning, or hair that needs coloring. Once I sweep those thoughts from my mind and self-talk my way back to the page, negative thoughts regarding my ability as a writer begin their assault. Will the audience like this piece? Who exactly is my audience? Should I really express my true opinion or should I dance around the issue? Even the most experienced writer finds a reason to procrastinate before beginning a new piece, but eventually we get through the stall and onto the page by using a strategy we’ve collected over time.
But what about the young, inexperienced writers in our classrooms? What strategies do they have to help them get started? Students don’t have compost piles to distract them from their writing, but they do have a bathroom down the hall urgently beckoning them, invisible wounds that suddenly require ice packs, and pencils that mysteriously break. Once I came to the realization that the blank page is as intimidating to my students as it is to me, I came up with some ways to help them jump start their writing.
One practice I use to help my students begin with less hesitation is walking. Julia Cameron, an author of several books for adult writers, writes about the power of walking and how the rhythm of walking can help us collect our thoughts. Once my students have decided on what they are writing about, I pair them up and we go outside to walk around the playground track. As they walk, they tell their partner how they are going to compose their piece and how they think they might begin. When students get back to the classroom, they are eager to put their pencils to the page.
Another approach in helping student writers begin a new piece is providing them with butcher paper and markers. Something about writing large and free helps some students be more creative and less fearful. For those students who like a tamer approach, I provide sticky notes for them to write on. I don’t know if the sticky notes are such a big hit because the space to write on is limited, and therefore less threatening, or if it’s the novelty of writing on a sticky note itself. What I do know is that sticky notes offer slow starters a fast break, and that’s what really matters.
If you don’t already practice some form of writing, I invite you to start your own writer’s notebook. Until you share the experience of an empty sheet of paper staring back at you, you will not fully understand the reasons your students have for stalling. Once you have your own stare down with the notebook page, you will begin to realize that the resistance you see during writing workshop usually has nothing at all to do with your students not wanting to write, but everything to do with conquering the blank page.
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has made this year’s slogan “A Call for Teachers!” Worldwide there is a need for highly qualified educators to develop globally-minded students. Rourke supports teachers! Share stories about your favorite teacher. Send your favorite teacher a card. Learn more about this special day and how others are celebrating it here.
Another Banned Books Week has passed us by. The message to take away from BannedBooks Week is that words are powerful and cannot be censored. People are going to seek out the things they are told to stay away from; especially kids and teens. So what did you do in your library or classroom to support the freedom of reading? Did any of the books or graphic novels surprise you or your students? Here are some great ideas you may want to incorporate in next year’s celebration:
– Create trading cards for the banned books. You can have student artists create the book covers or make it a community event and invite all members of the community to submit designs.
– Create an amazing display for your library or classroom by roping off sections or having students, teachers, other community members paint windows.
– ALA suggests numerous activities for Banned Books Week. Have students or community members write letters, attend a school board meeting and present why all books should be allowed in the school library, or host or participate in an online celebration.
– TeachHub.com has many classroom ideas such as discussing how the First Amendment connects to Banned Books Week, celebrating favorite characters from banned books, or creating a Venn Diagram on the pros and cons of limiting what is available to read.
Be prepared for next year’s Banned Books Week with some fresh ideas that can involve the entire school or community.