Last month, I shared the preparation my seniors and I were doing to get ready for National Novel Writing Month. My goal was to help them creating writing routines to increase the volume of writing that they do. Now, we almost halfway through the month of November, but I’m just not seeing much of an increase in volume yet.
We Should Have Planned More
I thought we were ready for NaNoWriMo, but in actuality we were just ready for those first few lines. How am I discovering this? Through my own writing for NaNoWriMo. When I began writing, I thought I had a great idea, but after a page or two, I got stuck. The little basic planning page we did wasn’t enough to guide my thinking. I needed more of a structure for my story, so that meant my students probably did too. It was time to make some changes.
I started by noting what has been helpful to me during the writing process. We teachers really won’t know what our students are going through unless we are writing ourselves. The yellow “Reminders” box to the left was on every student’s draft page, but the blue “Characters” box wasn’t. I realized that I needed a place to write my characters so I could remember who is who. Sure enough, when I showed it to my students, a lot of them did the same thing. I also found that in order to get “unstuck,” I had to plan out my ideas more so each scene had a purpose, and I needed my students to see this too.
Enter YA novelist J. Elle, whose first book, Wings of Ebony, comes out in 2021. She loves sharing writing tips with up-and-coming writers, and she was kind enough to make a video with some writing tips for my students. Yes, I could have shared some of these tips, but it means so much more when a published author shares them. Even before J. Elle suggested it to my students, they were taking notes! Her ideas made so much sense to them, so many reluctant writers had their creative juices flowing again after this video. This worked out so well that I am already looking to bring in another local author.
Other Road Blocks
Besides planning, some students just didn’t see themselves as creative writers. One senior’s comment summed up many of their feelings quite well when she said, “Mrs. K, can you just give us another essay to write?” That was proof that they needed the NaNoWriMo experience more than ever. They were so used to those five-paragraph-test-prep essays that they didn’t know how to write anything else. They were scared, and as I shared with them, so was I. This was my first time writing a story of this length too, so I knew my students needed see all my struggles to know they were not alone. I shared when I got stuck, and when I saw a need to rearrange scenes. I shared a picture I added to help me imagine my setting, and a scene I hated so much that I deleted it. I showed my real struggles, hoping my students would see me as a writer just like them.
As we ventured into NaNoWriMo, I also discovered that some students didn’t write outside of class. After conferring with them, I found out that many students just didn’t have a computer or device to write at home. We discussed how this writing time could happen during school hours (besides just in class). We began creating our own writing action plans that worked for us. For me, all of my writing was at home, since I spent in-class time conferring. My students found writing time during their Homerooms, after school, and in study halls. I even encouraged them to write during their mentor time with freshmen, since the 9th graders would benefit from seeing their mentors as writers. For those students that still struggled to find time with a device, I encouraged them to hand write.
Next Step: Keeping Up with Communication
For the rest of the month, I will only see students four more times. I know it’s only November 13th, but that’s because I have two workshops, one being NCTE and ALAN. We also have parent teacher conferences. Yes, I’m not going to be in the classroom much, so I need a way to show my students that they can still communicate with me. We use the Remind app, so I send daily writing reminders to them. I also encourage them to use the “private comment” function in Google Classroom, since their stories are all there. Students will also have “accountability writing partners” (thanks to Debbie Myers for the idea). They will have someone who will try to push them to write, and thus hold them accountable for reaching their goals. My hope is that, with these communication tools in place, more writing will occur.
Sarah Krajewski teaches 9th and 12th grade English and Journalism at Cleveland Hill High School near Buffalo, New York. She is currently in her 18th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. At school, she is known for dedicating her time to helping students become lifelong readers, and for being a devoted reader herself who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three readers. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.