TED Talks, 20Time, Writing Marathons and This I Believe

The cap is finally on this crazy week! Being a Yearbook sponsor, my life often feels like moments of pure chaos punctuated by drops of insanity as I run between rooms and try to juggle teaching my classroom students with the weird responsibilities of producing a yearbook. Shuffling around this week, I realized my students needed to stop and experience something inspiring…take a moment to think about the world they live in and the role they play. We went on a Writing Marathon around the school and spent some time thinking through our writing using difficult topics. The Writing Marathon is inspired by what we do at the Blue Ridge Writing Project each year as a cap to our Young Writer’s Workshop and ISI. At BRWP we run around VA Tech campus, write and share; for my purposes we ran around our high school, wrote and shared. The backbone of the writing marathon is you are given a prompt, you write for a few minutes and you share what you wrote if you feel comfortable, hut nobody provides any feedback. Then you move on to the next spot and repeat. Knowing we were moving into “This I Believe” essays, I created some prompts to get students thinking about decisions they had made and values they hold dear. They were slightly unnerved at first- not knowing exactly what we were getting into as we left the classroom with just notebooks and pens, but after my sharing at the first stop, they embraced the marathon. Not all of the students shared the writing with the group but I could tell the ones that did affected the group. One student commented later about the insight she gained from hearing another student’s writing. I use the marathon as a vehicle to inspire writing larger pieces or as a precursor to Harkness Discussions. When we got back to the classroom, we viewed the Holstee Manifesto– an awesome look at one company’s values and wrote our own manifestos using the marathon writings and Holstee as our inspiration. It was the perfect start to our  “This I Believe”  essays.

After reading journals last week and workshopping with the students on their 20Time blogs, I realized there was a TED talk they needed to see. Many of the students mentioned bullying or peer pressure in their journals and blogs. “To the Bullied and the Beautiful” is a spoken-word poem that went viral on Youtube a few years ago and TED invited the writer to present it at one of their conferences. The talk  is inspiring and so relevant to students. Shane gets at the crux of what it is to be a high school student and the pressures and pitfalls students face. The room was silent as he was speaking and when it finished, snaps ala a live poetry reading filled the space. We immediately wrote about what we saw. The pens were furiously moving across the page as students explored their own experiences relating to Shane’s talk. I asked for volunteer shares at the end but the room was quiet. I went ahead and shared mine and a couple of hands went up to also read. It made me feel like we are going to get there with that safe space community of writers. After all of the build-up, the students dove right into their essays. One girl wrote about Centerfield in softball, another wrote about looking people in the eye, yet another wrote about what their dog has taught them and on and on…Just great stuff! I look forward to some “Pimp my Write” and deep revision next week!

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