They brought pens, pencils, laptops, and smartphones all for one purpose- a day of writing with the Blue Ridge Writing Project.
Coincidentally, it was also the day of the Remembrance Run which provided an inspirational backdrop for some fruitful writing. We asked participants to bring an artifact, something that represented them as teachers, writers or both. One of the ladies at my table shared her Teacher’s Calendar book. It contained interesting facts and important events that happen on each day of the year. The coolest thing about this book though, was what the teacher did with it. She collects birthdays of her students at the beginning of the school year, and then wait for it…on their birthday, she brings them a passage from a famous author who shares their birthday. Such an awesome idea to bring some writing into the classroom and make it personal and relatable. Hearing the stories of the artifacts was such a heartwarming way to start the day! I use this activity at the beginning of the school year with my own students. I ask them to bring an artifact to school that says something about them and we write and share around. I have found it is a great way to get to know the students and everybody enjoys hearing the stories other students tell.
From the artifacts, we moved into a traditional National Writing Project activity- a Writing Marathon. I have blogged about the usefulness of writing marathons before, but it was a whole new level to share it with other teachers as people ran around us in the Remembrance Run. It was sunny and the smell of fresh cut grass was all around us. This one we ran in groups of 6-7 all camped out in one area of Hillcrest Honors Dorm. We used prompts more geared towards adults and an escalating amount of time to write with each prompt. Most centered on the concept of loss and forgiveness and the pens were flying. I love writing marathons because they are a forum where you write, share and there is no feedback. The absence of commentary creates a safe space for writing about personal issues. We concluded the writing marathon with a breakdown of how these can be used in any age classroom- from writing about seasons, to writing about novels, to writing to expose prior knowledge. These are perennially some of my students’ favorite activities.
After lunch, we convened for some poetry and prose writing. Aileen Murphy, BRWP Director, led us in a poetic form writing using what participants had written on the marathon. The activity originated in one of our Summer Institutes as a final presentation by a BRWP fellow. I have used the attached handout a variety of ways including a meditation creative writing exercise, as well as an introduction to various poetic forms.
We also did a few writing stations where participants wrote from prompts, composed qualities poems based on Ruth Gendler’s book, created flash fiction from different parts of speech, and did some fiction writing. After about an hour of moving from station-to-station, we shared some of the pieces we were proud of with the larger group. The creativity was palpable!
The day ended with a short gallery of digital compositions with an explanation of how to take what was written during the day to a multimedia presentation. We viewed video versions of multigenre personal narratives, “Where I am From” poems, and an illuminated text of Hemingway’s “Cat In the Rain”.
It was inspirational to see all the writing and passion for writing produced throughout the day. Participating in days like this renews my love of the written word and the recognition of its power to transform, heal and unite. Below is how we said farewell- an interactive board celebrating why we write!