Dare to Care

Creating, Contributing, Communicating, Connecting, Collaborating & Curating

November 29, 2012
by Denise Krebs
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Blurring the Lines Between Author and Audience

When I first started teaching, I typed my students’ stories on an Apple IIE computer and printed them on a dot-matrix printer. I used the book-binding machine in the office to make books for our classroom library. We wrote letters to authors and delighted in their return replies. We had young authors’ days, where parents came in and read to us, and we to them (from our very own writings.) I talked to my students about my favorite authors and poets, and some of my students made my short lists. My goal was always to tell my students, in as many ways as possible, that they were writers.

These were a few ways I tried to blur the lines between authors and student writers, professionally-published books and pieces my students and I wrote. I wanted my students to not just learn English, but to know they were writers.

Fast forward (and it was fast) twenty-five years, and there are myriad ways to accomplish the goal of having my students know they are writers. I still do some of the things above. Except, now we write more blog posts and less hard-copy books in our classroom library. Instead of sending letters on chart paper to authors, we tweet them and share links to blog posts we write about them.

In the 21st century, however, there are clearly brand new ways to blur the line between teachers and students, authors and readers, producers and consumers, professionals and amateurs. As a result of social learning and the Internet, here are some of the new things we’re trying and the sweet results.

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo for young writers was a delightful find. (More about it here.) Eighth grade students in November come to English class and know just what to do. They write novels. Right now, they are furiously trying to reach their word-count goals by November 30.

Usually all I hear in the classroom that period of the day is light clicking on the keyboard and a tiny bit of music coming from the earbuds of some students. (Writing fiction is the perfect time to listen to music!)

However, a couple Fridays ago, the students seemed restless and talkative. Usually they are fully engaged in writing — anxious to reach their goal. However, this time they were chatting away, but strangely novel-related. I stopped for a bit to listen to the following charming conversation.

“My character has been kidnapped, and I don’t know how to get her saved,” someone said.

“I have a kidnapped character too.”

“Hey, me too.”

“What’s going on? Do we all have kidnappings in our novels?”

I was ecstatic. There were more conversations going on, as well — pockets of authors talking about their craft, not about the coming weekend. They were talking about plots and characters and other novelly-type delights. — It reminded me of the write-ins I go to with a group of adult NaNoWriMo writers. We are all writers.

21st Century Readers

I teach English, which includes both reading and writing for the junior highers. We are not reading group novels, but each student is making reading choices ala Donalyn Miller (the Book Whisperer) and Nancie Atwell. We are keeping track of our readings, but we’re not keeping long reading logs with summaries and responses like we used to. We no longer take A.R. tests.

Now we share books with friends just like real life. We encourage each other to find books we love, so we can make progress toward the 40-book challenge. Some students keep track on GoodReads, and some prefer to write a list in their English handbook. Some listen to audio books. Some read on Nooks and Kindles. Every opportunity to shape learners into life-long readers does not go unexplored.

Connected Authors

The most interesting way that the line has been blurred is through online connections and interactions with “real” authors. These connections have certainly made me feel more like an author. When we connect with them online, somehow authors seem more like us.

Kenneth C. Davis
From a summertime tweet by Don’t Know Much About series author, Kenneth C. Davis, I set up a Skype session for my history class, and my class and Mr. Davis followed each other on Twitter. It reminded me of the Cisco “Welcome to the Human Network” commercial: ”…where the team [author] you follow, now follows you.”

R.J. Palacio
Author of Wonder, the wonderful and wildly popular book, which is on the fast track to becoming an anti-bullying classic. R.J. took part in a Good Reads book club. Funny, the concept is still so new to me that when I left the following comment, I really didn’t expect her to answer back. (Welcome to the Human Network! Remember, Denise?)

Kate Messner
The #TeachersWrite Summer Writing Camp, hosted by Kate, was an amazing experience.  We were a group that included professionally-published authors, wannabe authors, and teachers just wanting to be better ‘writing’ teachers. The lines were blurred and we were all members of the same club.

Joanne Levy
Joanne was a member of the #TeachersWrite Summer Writing Camp. She donated a copy of her book Small Medium at Large for a door prize. I just happened to be the winner. I was so excited to receive the autographed copy with a large set of book marks.

Later when I saw Kate’s and Joanne’s books sitting side-by-side on the shelf in our public library, I couldn’t help but think I was looking at books written by my friends.

Sharon Creech
All authors don’t respond back personally. However, even when they don’t, connected authors like Sharon Creech share a new side of themselves and add to their body of work on blogs and through tweeting. Authors’ work is no longer limited to the hard- and paperback books found in the library and book stores.

Those are just four authors that I’ve met on Twitter. Thank you to Joy Kirr for this whole list of other authors on Twitter you can connect with.

What a joy to be a teacher, learner and writer in the 21st century!

What are more ways you see the line blurred between professional and student writers?

March 24, 2012
by Denise Krebs
10 Comments

Noveling, the Common Core, and More


NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program is a growing part of my eighth grade curriculum. We wrote rough drafts in November.  In February, we started on what I thought would be a one-month journey of revision and editing, but it is turning into more like two months. That’s three months in all, and the jury is still out on whether this has been a good use of our time, so I needed to do a little reflection.

Previously with Novel-Writing 8th Graders

Three years ago, NaNoWriMo was a voluntary assignment, with about 2/3 of the class participating. The rest of the class did other writing assignments. A bit more than half of the novelers chose to continue with the work of editing, most of it on their own. Proof copies were ordered in the summer.

Two years ago, 100% wrote first drafts in November (it became an assignment for everyone that year), and 85% edited (much in a short exploratory course and then some on their own). We ordered proof copies by the skin of our teeth, and celebrated our accomplishment the last week of school.

Now, this year, with three months on the line, is the experience worthwhile enough to take English time to get the process done for everyone?

Noveling and the Common Core

I compared the noveling, revising and editing curriculum to the Common Core standards in Language and Writing,  and the students have really grown in the standards I looked at. The following five images are the complete standards for eighth grade in Language and Writing. I made notes in red regarding student work on this project:

Language Common Core


Writing Common Core



More than the Common Core

Clearly, with this project they are doing the work of writing and developing written language skills. In addition to these important skills in the Common Core, the 8th graders are also learning to…

  • follow their dreams
  • believe in themselves
  • recognize their creativity
  • know they are a genius, and the world expects their contribution*
  • make decisions about what to do in school
  • develop passion for their own assignments, not mine (On an aside, one of my greatest sadnesses as a teacher is when a student says, “Is this what you want?” I can honestly say, in three years, no one has ever asked me that question regarding their novel. It is strangely theirs from start to finish, even though I have many benchmarks, requirements, and, come editing time, I comment all over their Google Doc like an overachieving street tagger! I am constantly having conferences and mini-lessons with individuals. [Note to self: Next year bring in backups--parents and retired teachers who can help.] BUT, they do the work and want to. They know they are getting a proof copy and want it to be good. No student has ever said, “That’s OK, I’ll just keep this plotless wonder with all its mistakes.” I back off when I realize I’m asking too much. When one has 339 errors of the same kind, it can be a bit daunting, so I help as much as possible and we’re becoming pros at using the find and replace feature.)
  • and so much more

Maybe the jury is closer to a decision than I thought! I’ll let you know after we get all the books ordered!

Additional Resources

For more on my experience with NaNoWriMo, here is an index to additional blog posts about it.
Download Common Core Standards.
* Angela Maiers

October 15, 2011
by Denise Krebs
7 Comments

NaNoWriMo YWP Blog Series Index

I have been a crazy blogging maniac the last week. A friend made a suggestion, and I took it seriously. In fact, I wrote 8 posts about NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program, sometimes known as the YWP. I guess I am getting warmed up for NaNoWriMo because I have written exactly 5,168 words since October 7. That is the equivalent of 3.1 days of writing on my novel starting in November, but–oops!–it’s been 9 days since I started.

That’s OK! I can ramp it up. I know I can do this!

Anyway, now this series is over. (Unless, of course, someone mentions another potential topic…)

No…no…I must tell myself.  It is now time to try to find a plot, meet my characters, and freeze some casseroles.

Here is an index of the NaNoWriMo blog posts I made, which I hope will be of some help to teachers who are new to National Novel Writing Month with their students. You still have plenty of time to learn about it, sign up, and get started! (I know, because my first year, students actually started noveling on November 1 before many of them had had a chance to sign up.)

Later Posts

Blurring the Lines Between Author and Audience

Noveling, the Common Core and More

Magical Moments in Teaching

Congratulations, Winner

We Wrote Novels

Off on Another Year of NaNoWriMo

Best of luck and happy noveling to all the Young Writers and their teachers!

October 15, 2011
by Denise Krebs
1 Comment

NaNoWriMo YWP – Student Accountability and Benchmarks

Being a winner is better than any grade!

I hate grading! I wish that I could just learn in partnership with my students. I wish that we could connect and contribute in the global world of authentic learning, and that I would never again have to put a grade in the grade book. That’s my hope for an ideal world, and maybe a transformed educational system.

However, today, I still need to record grades. On some level, I must “grade” students’ participation in the Young Writer’s Program of National Novel Writing Month. Here is what I do for grading.

First of all, if I have a student who is having a hard time getting started or becoming engaged, I have numerous individual conferences with him. Once he gets going, then we are both happy.

Next, I have benchmarks that students meet. Each of these are graded, about one a week.

  1. Their profile on the Virtual Classroom is graded for completeness and engagement. They should have an avatar and answer the questions. What I mean by engagement: Are they making their profile interesting to those who have to read it? Do they go in and revise it after the first day?
  2. An interesting novel excerpt is proofread and posted on their profile novel information. This may be the best-written passage of their novel and is usually 300 words or less.
  3. By about the second or third week, I expect a good, proofread synopsis of their novel. Even if they don’t know the ending, they can still write a good book talk about it, something they might use to add to the back cover someday.

Finally, this year, because each student made a goal that I approved, I will also record a small grade based on whether they reach their goal. Remember, this has to be done lightly and not a major grade because really, you aren’t going to be able to know right away if they copied and re-pasted a couple thousand words into the center at the last minute. I would much rather they have an authentic noveling experience than just fake it to get a grade on an inflated assignment.

That’s about it. I record only four grades in the grade book for the month of November, and almost everyone gets a good grade.

Revising and editing is another topic, which proves a little harder. But that’s not for November.

Image by Sean and Lauren, shared with a CC By 2.0 Attribution License.

October 15, 2011
by Denise Krebs
3 Comments

NaNoWriMo YWP – Keeping Motivated

As NaNoWriMo founder and author Chris Baty says,

“We can all do amazing, impossible things when

given a deadline,

a supportive community,

and unlimited access to chocolate and caffeine.”

Here are a few ways students and I keep motivated during November to do the amazing, impossible task of writing a novel.

Deadline.

So many deadlines in my world are flexible depending on the situation. NaNoWriMo is not one of them. We must log in to NaNoWriMo and upload into the handy-dandy word counter our completed novels by midnight of November 30. That is a constant prickle on my calendar.  We have to stay on target. For a 10,000 word goal, that means 300 words a day, every single day. Or about 500 a day on school days.

For the teacher, it’s 1,667 words a day, every single day. We do not stop writing just because we have parent-teacher conferences, weekend plans, illness, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum. We remember our hard and fast deadline is November 30.

However, we don’t wait until November 30. We log in to NaNoWriMo every single day and update our word count. (Google Docs or any other writing program you will use counts the words for you.) That is motivational, for sure! You can watch your progress chart climbing the mountain of noveling ecstasy!

Community.

Really, my greatest motivation comes from my students. They are fully engaged. November is all of our favorite month in English class. I love that they talk about conflict and resolution, describing with detail (because it can add a hundred words to your word count), and realistic dialogue. These are topics that, all of a sudden, are motivating and imperative. I’ve never taught a lesson on any of those topics that gets a similar response.

Our Virtual Classroom is another way we build community with others outside of our school community. Forums, directory map, and other available community-building devices are great global connectors. In addition, my class follows @NaNoWriMoYWP on Twitter.

As an adult, though, I am involved not only in the YWP NaNoWriMo, but in the NaNoWriMo program too. Motivation galore inhabits that world! On Twitter I also follow @NaNoWriMo, @NaNoWordSprints, and then the hashtag on Twitter: #nanowrimo.  A new blog I follow this year is WriMos FTW!. In these places, you will find unlimited motivation to reach your adult goal of 50,000 words.

Caffeine and Chocolate.

Now, I’m not in the habit of giving my students caffeine, for they are pretty much revved up on a regular basis. I do, however, give them candy. My class meets from 1:10-1:50. Prime time for the yawns in my experience. I also avoid chocolate, as it goes down too fast and gums up the keyboard.

Most often, I randomly pass out candy to everyone, but sometimes they earn it. When they have a day where they write at least 5%, they get to join the 5% Club for that day. Then the next day when they come to class, they get to choose from my candy jar. Usually they will find suckers and hard candy that their mouths can whittle away at while they type ferociously. That’s really all the extrinsic rewards I give.

Other motivators.

Students are allowed to bring headphones or mp3 players to listen to music while we write. I wouldn’t have thought of that because I’m not much of a music listener. NaNoWriMo did, though. One of the questions on each person’s profile is, “What is your favorite music to novel by?” That is a huge motivator. They know when they come to English class in November they can listen to their own music. Some take advantage of it and others don’t. It makes for an extremely peaceful noveling classroom environment. Magical!

Do you have any other ways you keep motivation high during November?

Sucker photo by Vic at vvvracer

October 14, 2011
by Denise Krebs
3 Comments

An Interview With Anna

I asked sophomore Anna to respond to some questions about her 8th grade experience with NaNoWriMo. Here are her responses:

What was the most rewarding part of writing a novel?

Well, I know the most rewarding part was seeing the actual book in my hands. A book that looked like a book from a library, except I wrote it. :)

What was the hardest part about writing your book?

The hardest part was finding the perfect ending and where to stop. You don’t want the book to drag on, but you just have so many ideas. Sometimes the ideas don’t work together so that’s also challenging. The ending is usually my favorite part of the book because that’s when you find out how the story all fits together.

If you had time, would you do NaNoWriMo again? Do you think NaNoWriMo was a valuable use of our English class?

I wouldn’t mind doing it again. I would TOTALLY rather write another book than read A.R!!!!! Usually if I have free time, I have to read, but I’d rather write a book than read a book. That’s boring! haha

So, I guess that answers if it’s valuable English time because I think absolutely! It helps your English a lot. You’re writing a book, so you don’t want any grammar mistakes or bad vocabulary.

What suggestions would you give a young writer getting ready to write his/her first novel?

Always write about something you’d like to read or something that interests you and write something that you would think is the perfect book. It’s way easier than it sounds. Writing about something you love is easy.

Was it worth all the work you put in to revise and edit your book for publishing?

It was 100% worth revising my novel. I love showing it off! I don’t technically want people reading it, but it’s crazy to have a book say my name on the bottom. Out of all the things to do in my life, who would have thought having a printed copy of a book I wrote would be one of them? Not many people can say they have a copy of a book they wrote :)

What could your teacher have done to make it a better experience when you wrote your novel?

I think you were the perfect teacher for it, Mrs. Krebs :) You let people choose if they wanted to do it (I don’t see why they wouldn’t). I loved the sticker chart you had to show us how far we were and see how far others are. I liked how you did it in Google Docs, so we could share our stories with friends and see if they have any corrections or ideas. Anyway, I know that’s a lot but I hope it helps a little!

Yes, Anna, it did! Thank you so much for, yet again, sharing your genius with the world! More of Anna’s genius can be found here and here.

P.S. I no longer let students decide if they will participate in NaNoWriMo. It’s required. What do you think about that? Should they have a choice like they did during Anna’s year?

October 14, 2011
by Denise Krebs
3 Comments

NaNoWriMo YWP – Virtual Classroom Scavenger Hunt

The Virtual Classroom is loads of fun. It was new last year, and I learned how to use it with the help of good tutorials and plenty of NaNoMailing with the always helpful staff of the YWP. The how-to instructions for using the virtual classroom can be found here on the YWP NaNoWriMo site. The step-by-step explanations with screenshots are better than any I would give, so go with those. Questions? Ask me or Chris Angotti and staff.

Anyway, once I successfully set up my virtual classroom, I like to start out with a scavenger hunt late in October to get the students figuring out what’s available in our virtual classroom.

I send them to explore, where I have hidden a few items (in plain sight) using features I want them to practice.

In the Forum:

  1. Begin your first thread something like this…”Welcome to the Forum. We can have discussions here and reply to each other. Reply to this thread and tell something you are good at. Then see Mrs. Krebs for________.” (A sticker, extra credit on an assignment, a free-time pass, a sucker, or whatever suits your fancy.)
  2. Make a two-part post: Ask students to respond to a thread (favorite sport or favorite food or anything), and then, Part 2, reply to a reply of a friend. The goal for this is just to get them experimenting with the features of the Virtual Classroom.
  3. Ask students to upload an avatar to their author info for another prize or points good for something. Or add novel info or set their goal or whatever else in their profile you want them to complete.

In NaNoMail:

  1. Send a NaNoMail with something like this: “Send Mrs. Krebs a NaNoMail telling about one character who might be in your novel. When she reads it she’ll put a coupon for _______ in your mailbox.”
  2. Here’s another one: “When you read this NaNoMail, tell Mrs. Krebs your favorite color and she’ll give you a piece of gum.”

My goal in using this scavenger hunt is to get students familiar with the virtual classroom, to add their author and novel information and practice with NaNoMail and the Forums. When a student comes up and receives a stick of gum from me, others inevitably say, “Hey, how come s/he gets gum?” Then they quickly begin to dig a little deeper.

Links

The virtual classroom also has a section where you can add links for students to help them with their novel. Good ones I put in this section:

Name Generator
Who is Yanko Nedelcho Borisov? A potential character in my novel thanks to the “Behind the Name” Random Name Generator. What a thesaurus does for adjectives, the Random Name Generator does for characters. I told the name generator that I wanted a Bulgarian man’s name–first, middle and last. They gave me Yanko Nedelcho Borisov. His wife is Zaharina, and his two children are Gardza and Marta. If I decide I don’t want Bulgarian characters, I can generate Frisian or French, Japanese or Jewish, Roman or rapper, hillbilly or hippy, and so many more! Great fun, especially when I need a lot of characters and get tired of using all the names of my friends and acquaintances.

Music
I do not like to listen to music while I work or write. That may be a generational preference or that I just don’t regularly listen to music anytime. However, I appreciate that NaNoWriMo encourages us to consider what novel writing music we listen to, so I actually tried it a few times. Depending on what scene I wanted to write, I listened to some triumphant classical pieces or some sad and mellow ballads. I think it added a few hundred to my word count (especially during Beethoven’s 5th) and perhaps some inspiration, as well. I have links for AOL Radio and Pandora in my Virtual Classroom, so students can easily access music (even though Pandora is blocked at our school). They are allowed to bring headphones and mp3 players in November.

So, that’s about all I’ve done to get ready to use my virtual classroom in November. How about you?

Can you share additional items for a virtual classroom scavenger hunt?

Do you have any helpful links for student novelers to share?

Photo credits: What’s in a Name? by Kathy Ponce & Headphones by Dylan Cantwell

October 11, 2011
by Denise Krebs
1 Comment

NaNoWriMo YWP – Students Reminisce

I am writing a series of blog posts about NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, but it made sense to start with more opinions than just mine.  So here, without commentary, are reflections and advice from students who wrote their first novel in November, 2010.


I think that writing a novel was great because it taught me that I can be a writer if I want to be a writer. The most rewarding part was when I was finished and had a published book! I think that the hardest part was probably getting the story going, but once I did, I easily wrote 1,000 words a day! If I had time, I would love to write another novel, but I wouldn’t know what to write about this time. If I had to tell a younger student advice on this it would be to just type. It may not make sense, but that is what the editing process is for at the end. Set your goals high every day, and over-achieve the total word goal you have!! All in all, just have fun, and enjoy the time while you have it! :)

Melissa
Author of Midnight Sky

The best part of writing a novel was to know I wrote a book and have it so I show people what I accomplished. The hardest part was getting all my words and having it make sense. I liked working every day in English class. It helped me get all my words. The Dare Machine really helped too. From this experience, I learned that words add up and you really need to stay on task to finish it. I liked writing my novel because it took up a lot of class and I got to spend every day on the computer, but sometimes it got old writing because I was sick of my story. It was really hard at first but you can always switch your story a little bit so it’s a lot easier to keep going.

Leah
Author of Country Strong

My experiences with NaNoWriMo were good and bad, but thinking back I really enjoyed it. I liked having the choice to write about whatever I wanted, and having total freedom with it. It was great! It was tricky sometimes, like when I couldn’t think of what to say. Then I just wrote something totally random. If I could do it again, I probably would because I know what I did wrong and could fix those things and make a great novel! If I would give any suggestions to the student who is going to be writing a novel, I would say to be very creative, and it’s okay if you want to add some crazy stuff in it. It makes the novel creative and fun! :)

Allison
Author of Betrayed

I thought that it was pretty fun and you got to chose what the story was about.

Lucas
Author of The Revenge to the Death


Writing our novels was a good experience because we got to learn how to think of our own stories and to come up with our own ideas. The hardest part was probably having to come up with an idea to start your story. Once you got your idea, all you had to do was write. There was no right or wrong, you just had to do what you thought sounded good. Getting my book published was worth it. Even though it took awhile to edit and come up with a title and a cover. Now I can say I’ve written a book and gotten it published. Some suggestions I have are make sure you have a good topic and you can write a good, long story about it. If you don’t have a good topic, then you’ll be stuck on what to write the whole time.

Abby
Author of Sophie Ann and Maria


Getting to write about whatever I wanted was the most rewarding part. It didn’t matter what I wrote about; it was my idea and I’m really happy how it turned out. Writer’s block was the hardest part. When I couldn’t think of anything to write, it was hard. Then, after a long period of not knowing what to write about, I got tons of ideas. If I had the class time, I would not mind writing my own series. I seriously would not mind at all. I learned that if you want to write a story, it takes a long time of thought and preparation. Advice I would give other students is “Don’t hold back. Just go at this book with determination and ideas and you will have a good outcome.”

It was worthwhile doing all the revising and editing because if I hadn’t there would be tons of mistakes (spelling, spacing, punctuation). It was hard to revise but it was worth it because now I have a ‘real’ book that I wrote. I would have liked it if my teacher could have let us take our time and think about what we’re writing, not just write it down really fast just to make the deadline. Make sure that you use every day of November even if the first day is on a weekend.

Carter
Author of The Attack of Saffrondo II

NaNoWiMo was a lot of fun. At first, it was difficult to figure out how everything was going to fit together, but after you started typing it kept getting easier and easier. Filling out the packet [Young Writers Workbooks] really helped come up with ideas to include in your story.

Matt
Author of The Long Road Back

All images are from subscription iClipart.

October 8, 2011
by Denise Krebs
3 Comments

NaNoWriMo YWP – Classroom Kit & More

Classroom Kit

Get your Classroom Kit ordered now. It is available free-of-charge from NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. It comes with a poster and stickers so students can keep track of their progress. And noveling buttons for all.

If you are reading this later, don’t think that ordering into November is too late, either. Picture this: Your students progressing on their novels like keyboarding little hellions. They don’t know yet or care about progress-tracking posters. You order your kit late. When it arrives, you hang the poster and start passing out stickers for each accomplished 10% toward their goal. Now they care about progress-tracking posters. Laughter, smiles and fist bumps all around. And you see that it wasn’t too late, after all!

More Resources

Participant Badges
Participant badges are available for your students to add to their blogs or to your class blog or web page. In December, there will be a WINNER badge available as well. Woohoo!

Flyers
The flyers are good to hang up around the school because, for our school, when it was new people had lots of questions. High school students in my building would check out the URL, or previous students would be reminded that we were starting soon. I am always tickled when at least one older student writes again in November.

Pep Talks
You adult authors will write a series of pep talks throughout the month. Students who sign up using their own emails will get great talks from authors, like last year’s from John Green and D.J. Hale. In previous years, pep talkers have included Jerry Spinelli, Margaret Peterson Haddix and Avi. Find archives of all of the pep talks here. Students who have registered with their own email address will get the latest pep talk sent to them, which I find they read more than when I send them a link. NaNoWriMo will send no junk email!

Young Writer Workbooks
One of my favorite resources has been the Young Writer Workbook. It is creative, fun, young, and the kids do not feel like they are doing workbook pages. They are working toward an authentic goal, and the workbook is used solely for realizing that goal. Last year I had copies printed from our area education agency. They each cost $2.30, which was a great price, but we didn’t take advantage of most of the pages. This year I decided to try making mini-workbooks. The planning pages are awesome for use at this time of the year. Later when we go into editing mode, I’ll make a mini-workbook with those pages.

Virtual Classroom
Another favorite aspect of NaNoWriMo is the just-new-last-year Virtual Classroom. This is a great cat-herding place for you and your wild young novelists. Not only that, it is a place you all can connect with other novelist classrooms around the world. Either way is fine–you run your virtual classroom alone, but if you wish, you can also find connect with one or more other classrooms. My next blog post will be about the Virtual Classroom.

Hope you are thinking of joining us on our wild noveling adventure! If so, start here to sign up teachers and students.

October 8, 2011
by Denise Krebs
6 Comments

NaNoWriMo YWP – How Do Students Make Their Goals?

A friend who has joined the Young Writer’s Program of NaNoWriMo asked me a good question: How do students make their goals for writing a novel in November?

I have some history here that will help. The first year I wrote novels with my students. I asked for volunteers. Eleven out of 18 students chose to write novels. I ran two different programs in English class. The other seven wrote an autobiography and a fiction story. For the non-novelers, I used the same writer’s workshop style I usually do.

The novelists, on the other hand, had much more freedom. For the month of November, their primary objective was to draft their first novel. It worked well, and each 8th grade novelist succeeded in writing a 10,000 word or more novel. 100% success rate. The students who wanted to could edit and ready their novels for publication on their own, and I helped six students get them done and ordered.

The second year I added novel-writing to my curriculum. Again, the objective was to write the first draft, reaching their word count goal. Each student wrote a novel, and on some level everyone enjoyed it and remained engaged in their stories for the whole month.

Due to the success my students had the first year, I kept the 10,000 word goal as a minimum. That was a mistake. I had a few kids who just could not do it. Of my 21 students, five did not reach their goal. Thus, they did not “win.” It was sad because it was not for lack of effort. After November starts, it is too late to change the goals that have been set. However, 3 of the 5 who didn’t reach their goal still completed their editing work and received their printed book. Create Space (a subsidiary of Amazon) has been printing a free proof copy for each person who wins NaNoWriMo. (For those who didn’t “win”, we just paid the $8 or so.) To the individuals, I also tried to make it clear that they were winners, and I had made a mistake when I insisted that the whole class should have the same goal.

I am taking the advice of the YWP this year when they suggest to the students: “Remember to set your own challenging, yet reachable, word-count goal!” I am still challenging most of my students for 10,000+ words, but they can make their goal anywhere between 3,000-10,000+. I have one student who made hers 20,000. You will know who you can push over 10,000 and who needs to be 3,000 to 5,000. I chose these numbers based on the word count recommendations from NaNoWriMo. (I’m not sure when I discovered this document–but, unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention to it until this year!)

I found it was possible for many kids to have a 500-word day, and if they write every day in November during class, that will translate to around 10,000 words. Many students will write at home too. I even had one who liked to write in pencil on legal pads. She wrote furiously at home each night and then typed it up during our class period. Students find their own way and enjoy the independence. It is a writing experience most of them have never had.

This will be my third time participating in NaNoWriMo. According to Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, it is “a high-velocity approach to noveling” and “a seat-of-your-pants literacy adventure.” All participants at times have to write random craziness. The goal of 50,000 for adult writers is hard to do for busy teachers. I have a feeling that, for students, 10,000 words feels to them like 50,000 does to me. They experienced the same joyful rewards that I did when we reached our goals. Chris also suggests that it is “monkey barrels of fun” or it should be.

Someone came into class yesterday when we were working on getting ready for NaNo and said, “I was talking to some freshmen, and they said they just wrote random stuff to reach their goal.”

Yes, I told her, sometimes I did, as well. I went on to explain what that meant. That it really is true that the act of fluent writing is our major goal. In Chris Baty’s book, No Plot? No Problem, he suggests we must write quantity over quality for this month and worry about the editing later. Most all WriMos are guilty of shameless word padding at one time or another. On rare occasions during November, I would write a passage so poignant that I wept over it, but most of the time I was as dry as burnt toast, putting myself to sleep and risking dropping my laptop off my lap. I told the student she will learn about writing and about herself by going through the process. Yes, I explained, I will not be able to read all of your novel carefully, so you could get away with a lot of shenanigans. If that is your goal–to get away with cheating on your word count–you can certainly do that. To be sure, some students are rightly more proud of their novels than others.

Each WriMo lives his or her own experience, and as teacher you have to allow them the agency to find their way in the noveling world. That’s why this year, by allowing a variety of goals, I am convinced it will make students more committed to the process of reaching their goal. And, as a result, I believe a greater number will be pleased with the end products of their labor.


Link to the same video above: Nano Published Novels 2010-11

More NaNoWriMo blog posts here and here and here and here.