We've just completed five sizzling days of celebrating writing at our school. We heard from over one hundred student, faculty, and professional writers who shared, inspired, instructed, and made us laugh and cry. "Laugh and cry" may be a cliche, but it's also true.
Now what? Loung Ung, author of First They Killed My Father, challenged us with that question during her presentation: "I'm grateful to be in this world, in this room with you, but now what?"
It's a very good question for those of us who just spent a year planning, fund-raising, and enjoying a highly collegial experience for the benefit of our students (and ourselves). Does our Writers Week program make a difference? If so, now what?
Does it make a difference? For the sixteenth time, we saw hundreds of students, teachers, and parents at a time paying rapt attention as writers--ages 14 through 60--used nothing but written and spoken words (and in some case a little music) to convey ideas, images, and messages, create powerful effects, and have fun.
I saw with my own two eyes a group of sophomore teachers huddled with Loung Ung in our hospitality room, discussing First They Killed My Father , the background of some of its scenes, how she shaped the book, and what she left out of it. I want to be a kid in their classes next time my colleagues teach that book! Her auditorium presentations were nothing short of transcendent. I saw a student come up to her afterwards with tears in eyes saying, "I can't believe I'm talking to you." That was my choked-up experience of the week.
I saw a girl high-five poet Sierra DeMulder on her way out of the auditorium and say, "You inspire me."
I saw with my own two eyes eleven teachers stay after school for an hour to attend a poetry writing and performance workshop with Marc Smith, creator of slam poetry. I want to be a kid in their classes next time the poetry unit rolls around!
I listened to a brilliant student who recently immigrated from India talk to poet Roger Bonair-Agard, native of Trinidad, about the nature of American collective memory.
I heard with my own ears two girls walking down the hall praising student writing they heard in the auditorium. They could have been talking about anything; they were discussing their peers' writing.
Two colleagues excitedly told me about a spontaneous poetry reading busting out at a lunch table in the cafeteria last Thursday led by one of our struggling students who suddenly has an idea of what he can do with his words.
I saw 600 students cheering their teachers and singing "Don't Stop Proofreadin'" (to the tune of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'") in the FANBOYS session. It's hard to explain FANBOYS. It's our faculty rock band named after coordinating conjuntions. They have real musical talent, and they perform parodies of songs that give writing advice and comment on various aspects of our school, including our cafeteria's fabulous chocolate chip cookies. They're a phenomenon that you have to see and hear to believe.
None of this happens without Writers Week. The scope and design of Writers Week has a powerful effect on the literacy skills of our students, and I'm so proud to work at a school where the teachers are willing to voluntarily do the incredible amount of work necessary to make something like Writers Week a reality for our students.
We were also gratified that teachers from five schools in three states scheduled a winter trek to Fremd to see firsthand how it works. Hazelwood West High School in Missouri begins their second Writers Week tomorrow! Good luck and enjoy! (Ideally, if we could ever get our calendars coordinated, we might be able to share some Writers Week expenses with other schools.)
But now what? At the closing session, I encouraged students to write something down soon. About 80% of the writing at our school tends to be literary analysis. During the entire forty periods of Writers Week, guess how many of the hundreds of pieces of writing presented by students, faculty, and professional writers were of the literary analysis ilk? Zero. I told students to write a poem, a story, an essay, a video game where they were the hero, a letter, a script, anything. I told them to use as many paragraphs as they wanted to use, and if it was all one paragraph maybe that was OK too. Just write something down.
Tomorrow we go back to our regular classroom reality. I can't wait to hear stories from students who are writing things they don't have to write and they're not quite sure why they're doing it. My response will be, "Now you're thinking like a writer."
If you would like a little flavor of Writers Week XVI, feel free to visit Writers Week @ William Fremd High School to see pictures, comments, etc. A lot of the best lines from Writers Week are also on Twitter. Just search #writersweek.
Thanks for reading. Planning for Writers Week XVII is now officially underway.