Author’s Night at Salmon Bay

The cafeteria teemed with sixth-graders, teachers, and parents. Cameras flashed and the waves of sound spilled nervous anticipation over the crowd. The atmosphere of the inaugural Writers Celebration at Salmon Bay School reflected celebration of the annual writing achievements of the sixth-grade students.

My attention was captured by the string of tissue-paper flags that zig-zagged from wall to wall above our heads. Each colorful flag presented a hand-written expression of a student’s discovery about writing and revealed that most of the students had also discovered something about themselves in the process.

Three ambitious teachers had introduced a new writing curriculum to their classrooms this year. As students of the Teacher’s College Reading & Writing Project of Columbia University, they had adapted the curriculum from the Teacher’s College Workshop Model to suit the needs of their sixth-graders. The culmination of the year’s work in this model was the Author’s Night Writers Celebration.

I was not only impressed by the use of a harmonica as a transition cue, but also by the leadership roles that these 11- and 12-year olds instantly assumed from the start of the first 15-minute session. Picking one of the reading stations, I eagerly sat down to listen to students read their own written words.

Two lead students stood at the podium and introduced the session and each reader in turn. As might be expected from anyone not accustomed to presenting to large groups of strangers – never mind presenting something from one’s inner-most world of thought and feeling – some of the student readers were nervous and fidgety. Others amazed me with their dramatic physical flourish and verbal emotional punctuation. I couldn’t help but admire every one of them. Their courage, pride, and desire to share were inspiring.

As I got up from the reading session, I noticed all the walls of the room were decorated with posters made of lined butcher paper displaying students’ poems and illustrations. These would have to wait. I was on the move to a table displaying students’ “published” essays, narratives, and poetry.

Each written piece on the table was accompanied by a picture of the writer and an explanation from the writer of what writing strategy the reader might observe within the piece. Pens and paper were provided to readers for the collection of comments about the written pieces. This opportunity to comment encouraged parent readers to fully interact and get involved with the pieces.

At the next sounding of the harmonica, I moved to another table where students sat next to notebooks closed and bound by rubber bands. I approached a student whose essay I had just read at the “published” table and asked if he would give me a tour of his notebooks. With a beaming smile and just a touch of shyness in his eyes, he removed the rubber bands and obliged me.

From the beginning to the end of the tour, I was moved by this student’s expressions of excitement and enthusiasm for writing and the work that he had done in this class. The tour of the notebooks revealed daily work in the practice of various writing and editing strategies. Captured within the pages was the evolution of this child’s learning – from notes about a poem idea, through iterations of the poem, to the final poetic form. And that is just one example.

I asked about his experience as a writer, what he likes to write and why? He told me he has always enjoyed writing, but this class had given him substantial strategies to write from – places to start and tools to apply to the improvement of his craft. He sees himself as a “real” published author some day. The joy of ambition and possibility that flashed in his eyes was palpable and contagious, sparking my own inspiration.

Our connection was broken by the sound of the harmonica once again. I took the final moments to take in what I could from the walls of the room. I found a poem written by the student who had taken me on the notebook tour. He had told me it was one of his best, and so he had chosen it to be on the wall.

This reminder of the adventure of learning, trying, and creating is priceless. I took home a new writing strategy of my own that night – to interact with young writers for the rejuvenation of my own writing passions.

First published by Inkwell Newswatch (IN)
Under the nom de plume Penelope Jensen

© Julie Pierce and Julie’s Writing Portfolio, 2005-2011.

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