Dave Eggers, award-winning author, founder of McSweeney’s, and co-founder of 826 National, recently invited students in grades K-5 to participate in The Young Editors Project. This is a great example of how students can get involved with authentic learning. Teachers can e-mail the person noted in Eggers’ article to be paired up with a real manuscript that is in progress and matched to their age group. Students can then give comments and suggestions for improvement. Once the manuscripts go to final print, the children who gave feedback will have their names mentioned in the book. This is an opportunity for students to learn about revision, the value of soliciting different perspectives about your work, and what a book looks like before it gets placed on the shelves. Making the editing process relevant and real-world will have a huge impact on your students. Click on the above link to learn more about this unique project!
The Creativity Project is a book edited by Colby Sharp, a 5th grade teacher in Michigan who is one of the co-founders of “The Nerdy Book Club Blog.” For this book, Sharp reached out to forty-four authors and illustrators of children’s books to ask them to send him two creative prompts. After receiving these, he mixed them up and mailed two of the prompts to each contributor, who could then select one to which they would respond. The chosen prompts and results are collected in this book, along with the forty-four unused prompts.
As you read the book, you will be astounded by the imaginative collection of short stories, comics, poems, and illustrations that the creators chose for inspiration, as well as the responses they whimsically crafted. You may feel like you are immersed in an exposition of improvisation that appears on the pages instead of the screen.
I wanted to list some of the authors and illustrators who participated, but then I felt like I would be granting those names more importance than the ones omitted. For the full list, you can look at this page on Sharp’s website.
If you know someone who struggles with choosing writing topics, this book is a great gift to give or share!
The Moth is a program that promotes storytelling. You can listen to stories that have been curated from The Moth’s live shows on “The Moth Radio Hour”, and there are also a few books of story compilations that have been published.
Like many entities during this time of widespread distance learning, The Moth has decided to offer some activities that can be done at home. The stories and activities, offered bi-weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays, have been chosen specifically for school-age children, and include videos of the original storytellers.
The first “Storytelling School” assignment is “The Bad Haircut” by Alfonso Lacayo. This tale is probably quite relevant right now as many of us are questioning the best course of action for maintaining hair styles with most salons being closed.
In the second installment from “Storytelling School,” Aleeza Kazmi narrates her experience creating a self-portrait in first grade, and her eventual realizations about herself and others that came from that event.
“The Care Package” is the third assignment, and a welcome, feel-good story that demonstrates that distance can never truly separate those who love each other.
The most recent “Storytelling School” assignment is “Mushroom Turned Bear,” and it’s one that anyone can relate to if they have tried to follow a YouTube tutorial and it spectacularly failed. There are other accessible themes in the story that make it universally appealing as well.
So far, there are only the four assignments (the latest one was from today, 4/10/2020), but you can keep up with news of more by going to this link. Also, if you are a teacher, be sure to check out the education link on the top menu for other ways that you can bring The Moth into your classroom. For anyone who needs a laugh right now, which I suspect may be many of us, here is a link to their recent “Laugh Break” playlist. (Note: I haven’t listened to this yet, so definitely screen these before you share them with students.)
I have posted before about The New York Times Learning Network, which offers wonderful free educational materials for students over the age of 13. For the first time this year, the NYT is sponsoring a STEM Writing Contest for this age group. Students are asked to submit a 500 word piece of informational writing about a STEM topic which interests them. Submissions are due on March 3, 2020 with the prize of contest winners being published in the New York Times. To access the supporting materials, learn more about the contest, and get a link to their year-long writing curriculum, click here.
There are many tools out there for students who struggle with reading. There were several I gathered at TCEA 2019 this year, and I have been meaning to share a curated list. Here is a quick rundown (a big thanks to Leslie Fisher, who demonstrated these in her multiple sessions):
- Immersive Reader – Microsoft offers this free suite of reading aids through OneNote or directly through it’s Microsoft Edge browser. If you install the extension on your browser, you can change the background, break words into syllables, search for certain parts of speech, focus on a line, access a picture dictionary, translate, and read text out loud. Thanks to Leslie Fisher for demonstrating all of these features!
- Rewordify – You can change complex text to simpler language by pasting it into the box on this page. Even better, there are several free learning activities that you can customize and print that offer matching, quizzes, etc…
- SMMRY – Get a summary of the text you paste into the box.
- Google Docs Voice Typing – Just go to the Tools in Google Docs to access this feature and make sure you give access to the microphone.
- Closed Captioning in Google Slides – Did you know that you can offer closed captioning as you present a Slides presentation? Click here to get the instructions.
- Microsoft Translator – Download this app to your phone or just use it in your browser to start a conversation with anyone anywhere. Among its other features, you can use multiple microphones for a conversation, which can be translated into multiple languages at the same time! You can also use the app to take pictures of text (typed, not handwritten) and translate it.
I hope at least one or two of these tools is new and helpful to you!
One of the funniest writing professional developments I ever attended included a live demonstration of the teacher following written instructions for making a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich. By following only the instructions on the paper, the teacher ended up making a huge mess. The point was to show that we often forget some important specifics when writing a “How To” paper. YouTube’s Josh Darnit has a video you can show your students to get the point across without having to stick your own hand in a jar of Jiffy. He assigns his children the task of creating “exact instructions” for making a PB&J sandwich, and chaos ensues.
I showed the video to my students in Robot Camp, and they immediately understood the connection – that programmers can’t assume the robot or computer knows what they are thinking, and if something goes wrong you need to go back and fix your mistake instead of blaming it on the device.
You should note that this particular video is labeled, “Classroom Friendly,” and I can attest that it is appropriate. I can’t vouch for any other Josh Darnit videos or “Exact Instructions” on YouTube.
Dave Eggers, award-winning author of books such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, explains in his 2008 TED Talk, “Once Upon a School,” how he conceived the idea of a tutoring and creative writing center that would be part of the community, a place that would offer one-on-one help to the students in the area with writers who would volunteer their time.
The center, with its pirate storefront and ever-increasing list of dedicated tutors, was a success. It grew into more centers around the United States, providing “under-resourced communities access to high-quality, engaging, and free writing, tutoring, and publishing programs.” As quickly as it has grown, however, 826 National has an even more ambitious goal – to provide its inspirational creative-writing resources to teachers everywhere. To that end, the company launched “826 Digital” in November of 2017, a website that offers innovative “sparks” and lessons ready to be used in classrooms to galvanize generations of writers of all ages. Aligned with the Common Core, the unique activities include field-tested resources from Dave Eggers, educators, and volunteers at 826 National sites.
826 Digital is a “pay-as-you-wish” site, which means that teachers can become members for free or whatever they choose to donate. With lesson titles like, “MIRACLE ELIXIR: INVENTING POTIONS TO CURE BALDNESS AND OTHER THINGS THE WORLD NEEDS RIGHT NOW,” students cannot help but be intrigued and motivated to write. Sparks like, “CHEESY POP SONG POETRY,” and “MONSTER SCATTERGORIES” will contribute to a classroom environment of humor and creativity.
Your students may not be able to go to the original 826 Valencia pirate store, or the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, but you can make your own classroom into a writer’s room that encourages imagination by accessing the great resources available at 826 Digital.