Dare to Care

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29/Nov/2012
by Denise Krebs
Comments Off on Blurring the Lines Between Author and Audience

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?

24/Mar/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

01/Feb/2012
by Denise Krebs
5 Comments

Goal #2 – Magical Moments in Teaching

In The 30 Goals Challenge 2012, Goal #2 is Highlight Your Magical Teaching Moment.

It’s hard for me to think of one defining magical moment. Instead, there are magical moments daily, cumulatively making me know that I have the best job in the entire world. I am lucky and blessed to be able to spend my day learning and growing with junior highers. Anyway, here is just one magical moment of the year.

Miss A began a novel during genius hour, and she continued in November during National Novel Writing Month. She has been a writer for a while, but she is now writing more than ever. She regularly blogs about her life and experiences. Last month she wrote a short story for submission to a writing contest in our area. She won first place and went on to state competition.

Here is what she wrote in a blog post about the contest:

In geography Mrs. Krebs came in and said I won first place in a writing competition. Another classmate got second. I am happy that I won…My story was about growing up. It had to be 750 words at the most. It was hard not to go over the limit but I did it. I am excited. I can’t wait until I’m a published Author. The story was about a girl who lost her best friend because of cancer. She tried to kill herself then realized that she could help others instead of being miserable and sulky.

Miss A is developing her skills, finding her voice, and sharing it with the world. That is what it’s all about!

Miss A. was working on a song this morning.

15/Oct/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!

15/Oct/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.

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