Sunday, November 6, 2011

Teachers, Kids, Writing, and Home

That about sums up this weekend!

I started the weekend Friday morning, telling stories and working on descriptive writing with 6 classes of 8th graders (grouped into 3 sessions). These students submitted stories to the local library's writing contest that I coordinate and I offered to come tell stories to them as a payback for their work. Since most of them submitted ghost/horror stories I told ghost stories, of course! It was a great time and they were even receptive to the ballads I sang, which was surprising because ballads sound quite different from the music they're used to hearing. One boy said, "I never heard of ballads before." His enjoyment was apparent in his enthusiastic applause. Maybe a convert?

I worked with the classes on writing with more "show" and less "tell." I offered them a scenario--a girl who has to walk past a creepy old house on her way to school. It's not very exciting to say, "Once a girl had to walk by a creepy old house on her way to school," is it? So we worked on how to make this interesting enough to capture a reader's attention by working on the details and the wording to bring action, emotion and the senses into the story. We started with the girl: how old was she? What did she look like? What year and season was it? Then we moved to the house: what made it creepy? The students offered suggestions and we revised the story accordingly.

One version we developed went something like this: "Sarah tossed her long blond hair over her shoulder and adjusted the books she hugged to her chest. She stepped carefully along the icy path. "I hope the teacher has the stove going," she thought, picturing the glowing potbelly in the middle of the school.

Ahead loomed the Conner house. Sarah's stepped slowed. The sagging porch leered like an evil grin and the burned out windows looked like empty eye sockets. Small scuffling sounds could be heard inside."

The students came up with many interesting variations on this story: in some, it was 1964 or 1974, it was fall or spring, the house had been the scene of a murder, etc. Demonstrating the use of descriptive language to replace dry factual descriptions is not easy to do in such a short time, but I hope some of them got something from the exercise.

I returned home to pack for the West Virginia Education Association's Professional Development Conference in Charleston, where I was to present two sessions on storytelling in the classroom. I had been invited to attend the evening banquet and to hear the Governor's welcome address and the featured keynote speaker, Jones Loflin, who wrote a book entitled "Juggling Elephants." The Governor's description of his one day as a second grade teacher's substitute was funny, and his remarks were right on point. Jones Loflin was lively an engaging and I looked forward to his presentation the next morning.

Morning brought more food--a piled-high breakfast buffet. I was a good girl for both meals, though, limiting my plate! It's so easy to overeat at conferences, isn't it? I enjoyed conversations with several teachers at breakfast; their challenges these days are certainly sobering. Then I sat in on Jones Loflin's session which focused on how to identify the elephant in the room--the thing you should be doing but aren't, and why. It was enlightening and I came away with some new ideas. Since retirement I've found it hard to structure my time to include writing time. That's my elephant. So what do I need to change to make writing a priority? I have a plan to put in place starting tomorrow. We'll see how I do.

Then it was time for my sessions. The teachers were a great audience and I felt that the sessions went very well. I sold quite a few of my ghost stories CDs, and was really surprised at their interest in West Virginia's ghost stories. Storytellers have all heard that ghost stories are not welcome in schools. And yet these teachers were full of questions and interest. The stories I tell are seated in our state's history and folklore and as such may be seen as having a place in the curriculum. I had several requests for more information for school presentations so I believe the programs hit home.

I left Charleston after lunch with the teachers and more speakers and came home to pick up Larry and return to Ripley for the awards reception for the library's annual writing contest. I work closely with the library on this, coordinating judging of the entries, acting as MC and even gathering some of the prizes. This program is part of the Stories at the River's Edge grant series. About 50 people came to listen to the winning entries and cheer on the winners. I was gratified and touched by the enthusiasm of the winners and see that there is certainly a need in this area for local writers to have an outlet for their work. Beginning on November 18th I will be hosting an open mic session at the library for just that reason: writers and musicians can come and share their work monthly in a friendly, open environment. It should be a lot of fun.

We stopped by Derek's for a bit since we hadn't seen him all week and his girls were home. We also got to see Tillie Mae, the little puppy who has been staying with us off an on while Derek is traveling. She missed us! She buried her little head in my lap and just quivered, wanting to be petted and petted. She likes being with Derek and the girls too so this little dog really has two homes where she is most welcome.



That was our weekend. How was yours?

2 comments:

A Vintage Green said...

Thank you for such a lovely word picture. Very busy, not so very retiring.
- Joy

Mary said...

You do have a gift for writing! Thanks for sharing . . . wishing you success in finding more time to do it!

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