When I taught high school English, I became familiar with the dramatic moans and groans from some students after I said, We get to write today! Some students, clearly uncomfortable with this task, resisted by saying, I’m not a writer or I don’t write or I’m not good at writing.
In my early years of teaching, I used to buy into that kind of fixed mindset. To help them, I provided structure (e.g., 5-paragraph essay worksheets) and strategies (e.g., daily journal prompts). Even though some of them improved on academic writing, they never said I’m a writer, and that really bothered me. I wanted my students to leave my classroom believing that they were writers in some way.
In my latter years, I responded to students’ comments by saying, Everyone is a writer. We just have to figure out what you want to write about and how you want to write it.
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Today’s presenter was Audrey Smith, a local teacher and writer. She went to the University of Iowa where she studied creative writing, but since then she has come to love and pursue a career in creative nonfiction writing. This genre allows her to sample different styles of writing like poetry, spoken word, comics, and podcasts. When asked why she wanted to be a writer, she said that it came from her love of storytelling, and that came from her father, a Methodist minister. From a young age she began making little books and crafting her own stories. She now has a couple of her written works published in literary magazines and is hoping to continue her education towards an MFA in creative nonfiction writing. After sharing about her path through writing, she led the campers in an exercise. In this exercise she asked the campers to write three things they wanted their readers to feel after hearing or reading their writing. She then asked for a few to share. At the end, she noted that in order to ensure the reader does feel these things, the campers should think about what they emphasize as they read their excerpts on Friday.
Once the presentation concluded, the campers divided up and went to their classrooms. Once there, they set to work finishing their writing, editing and putting finishing touches on their online publication. As their deadline approaches quickly, tomorrow, many campers felt the stress of finishing, but instructors, writing coaches and volunteers were there to make sure they could get as close to reaching their goal.
The afternoon sessions, feeling similar stress, worked hard to finish editing their writing and put together their presentation for tomorrow. The fiction class wrapped up their small group peer editing and spent the rest of the day allowing the feedback to guide their revisions. The podcasting group worked to record and edit all their sound bites into their final podcast. The spoken word group practiced their poems they have memorized, getting the rhythm right and making sure to annunciate all their words.
As the campers left for the day, many were feeling ready to present to their classmates and parents tomorrow.
This morning we were visited by Dana Trent, a religion and critical thinking college professor, as well as a four time published author. She also was a UNCG Young Writers’ Camp alum from 20 or so years ago. Because of this connection she was the perfect speaker for our campers. She talked about her fear of showing her work and how she never gave up on writing. She also led the campers in an activity in which they used their fingers to make 1 in x 1 in boxes and zero in on an item in the room. After doing this they were asked to describe the object as best they could. Once they finished, they had to edit down their description into a succinct yet descriptive sentence. This exercise helped the campers think about the editing process and how removing the “fluff” could make their writing even stronger. At the end of the presentation the floor was opened for questions to allow for the campers to have any of their more pressing concerns to be answered.
Today was the highly anticipated Kona Ice day. The campers brought money with them, and some smart campers bought refillable cups from last week and used those to get their snow cones. This event is always very successful as it provides a sweet treat to help cool campers down in the heat. If the campers did not bring money for Kona Ice, snacks were still provided, so no one was left out at snack time. The campers filled up the courtyard as they enjoyed their snow cones and snack, as well as interacting with campers of varying ages.
It took a little while to get back into the groove of things after such an exciting event. The campers got back to work on editing and finalizing their stories for it to be published. Today also marks the middle of the last week of camp, which to some campers, puts the pressure on to finish their writing. With one more full day and a half to go, campers worked hard to finish their presentation on Friday.
The afternoon session continued with finalizing rough drafts and working toward the final product. The podcasting group worked on recording voices for their podcast, and editing in sounds. The fiction group split into small groups to got peer feedback on their process and their writing. Spoken word rehearsed some pieces that they wrote and performed it in front of their instructor to get feedback.
Today started with a visit from Joanne O’Sullivan, a journalist from Asheville, North Carolina and a recently published historical fiction writer. She spoke, at first, about what made her want to become a writer. She talked about growing up, always in the library and making her own paper books. She became a journalist in order to be able to make a living off of writing and spent her free time researching and writing her novel. The novel is about a fictional girl who lived in rural Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit. The novel follows the girl and shows how the damage affects not only her city but her entire life.
After talking about her own writing, O’Sullivan lead the campers in a writing activity about using your senses while writing. She read three “Where am I from poems?” that rely heavily of such senses. The campers then listed things about their own settings that they could see, touch, taste, smell, and hear. This activity helped them think about what their characters might see, touch, taste, smell, and hear which in turn can help to make them more realistic.
Once the morning presentation was finished the campers set out to their classrooms and labs to continue work on their pieces. Many groups are onto the editing process. Campers are taking advantage of having many peers to help read and provide them with feedback, as well as their instructors and graduate student writing coaches. After going through the editing stage, campers are able to choose an online publishing tool that will help them have a final copy at the end of camp of their work.
Additionally, the youngest group, K-2, are busy creating visuals to accompany their writings.
Today was also picture day. Each group had their picture taken with their classmates, instructors, and writing coaches.
The afternoon sessions began revisions today as well. The fiction class talked about important things to keep in mind while giving feedback. Afterwards, they were able to read the selected portion of their peer’s writing pieces and using the skills they had just covered.
At the end of the day, campers were tired yet excited about being able to help some of their friends improve their writing and getting their own suggestions.
The first day back at camp was a little smoother compared to the first day of camp. Some of the quinces of the first week were worked out for this week.
The Author Talk today got interesting: there were some technical difficulties with the scheduled author. Because the author was trying to Skype in, there was an issue and they were unable to talk with the campers. Instead, the camp director, Amy Vetter, stepped in and whipped up a lightning fast lesson for the campers. She talked about using tools like music to influence a story and how to write certain details about the characters and the setting.
With the first week of camp behind them, the campers work on finishing their rough drafts and begin the editing and revising stage. Some have even progressed to publishing their story and have started on a new one. As the campers work hard on finishing their stories, they can begin to look forward to sharing them.
As the day winds down, campers think about how they are going to publish their stories. Some campers will use websites and online tools, while others will read theirs out loud. The campers that also participate in the afternoon sessions will use their knowledge from their class to help present their stories. The Podcasting group can use sound effects and voice recordings, the Ficiton group can use elements of storytelling, and Spoken Word can use performance and poetry to share their stories. As well as Robotics Camp, which use their knowledge of technology to create robots to help tell their story.