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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

When kids write.

You know what's awesome?

When kids write.

The advent of on-line writing platforms changes everything.

Well, most things anyway.

It used to be that kids wrote in isolation.

Feedback came at intervals at the end of the writing process, or as an interruption.

Not anymore.

Now, feedback is constant.

This can be exhausting, but it is also pretty amazing.

Especially, I find, with fiction.

A couple of weeks ago, I assigned students a semi-structured short story.

They were to follow the Hero's Journey archetype.

I provided a list (that I stole from the internet) of four components.

The last four digits of their phone numbers made the choices for them.

It was kind of perfect.

Just enough guidance to provide some support.

Not enough structure to inhibit creativity.
And my students got into it.

Then I did a mean thing: I cut them off before they could finish.

I did this for two reasons.

First, I wanted them to be angry that they couldn't write more.

I want them hungry, yearning to compose, churning with ideas.

That attitude will be a huge benefit heading into NaNoWriMo next month.

Second, I want them to hurry.

I need them to force their own creativity into hyper drive.

We need to speed to write a novel in a month.

Most students were able to find some inspiration and dive in right away.

A few never got off the ground.

And one or two needed a bit of a push.

Yesterday, I finally finished reading all the stories.

I left every kid at least one comment in an I noticed/Next time format.

Last night a really cool thing happened.

I read a story that was largely incomplete.

There were two brief paragraphs, each introducing very different characters.

One character was a robot described in dark and forbidding terms.

The other was a young girl picking flowers for her sister.

I inserted a comment.

In it, I indicated the ideas were creative and I appreciated the dual perspectives being developed.

Not ten minutes later, I got an email saying the student in question had responded to my comment.

His reply was simple:

"Ms. Hirsch, I'm stuck! I can't get past this line!"

I responded by asking him what would happen when his characters met.

Almost immediately, he shot back that he had it all planned in his head, complete with a one sentence plot summary.

"So," I wrote, "you need a sentence starter."

I then gave him a couple of ideas and watched the magic.

It was mesmerizing.

He wrote a page and a half over the next 45 minutes to an hour.

Every few minutes, I tabbed over and just watched him work.

This is not a kid from whom I would have expected voluntary length.

He isn't a bad student.

He also isn't a highly motivated student.

This morning, when he came to class I said something to him about how much he'd written.

His response was totally priceless.

Without eye contact, he said, twice, "I was bored, I was just really really bored last night."

That may be true.


We were in earshot of his classmates.

He is self-conscious about his academic ability.

And he had a fully charged Chromebook with active internet access.

That last one is the kicker.

He could have been doing ANYTHING: watching TV, playing games, social media, anything.

Instead, even though he didn't have to, he wrote.

He wrote creatively, steadily, and voluntarily.

No one can convince me that isn't awesome!

Anytime a kid writes voluntarily, it is definitely a good thing.

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What do you think? Does this good thing remind you of a story of your own? Have a question or comment? Please leave a comment!