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My Literacy Event

Written by Steven King
June 15, 2021

          After initially completing my project, I was so overwhelmed with joy that I had to get all my emotions out! I went to Facebook right after and wrote most of this blog in one sitting. I loved my post so much and received so much praise that I’m mainly using that same post for my blog today. My old high school drama teacher (my absolute favorite teacher) saw my post and posted a comment that meant so much to me. I’m going to quote her here. “Steven, YOU are an inspiration to this old, worn-out teacher. You have always been supremely talented, and incredibly generous with your gifts. Thank you for being a teacher.” Needless to say, I was balling after that. In this blog, I’m going to include resources that I used and pictures and samples. I may add to it a bit. For the most part, this post is simply me, reflecting immediately after all of the work. I want to say I really appreciate the opportunity to spend the last year with you all and for the Panda Cares Fellowship. This year with you all made me a better teacher.

          Today was my absolute favorite day this school year!
For the last year, I’ve been working on a Fellowship with the National Writing Project. I had the opportunity to learn and collaborate with other teachers from all over the country. We spent our time learning and preparing to host Literacy Events for our classes/schools. This year has been so challenging, and I’ve been so tired. I didn’t think I’d make it to the end of my fellowship or even host my event. I considered dropping the whole thing several times. Ha! I literally had the “I’m going to quit” conversation with myself before every meeting. Despite everything, I kept moving forward.

          So, our goal was to create a writing project and host a writing night with our families. Our school normally does culminating events, where, as a class, we make a project and present it to parents. The goal of this event was for students and families to create something new together. This was a whole new event for me!

          The parts for everything came together, a piece at a time. My school’s Gems teacher and my advisor for the Fellowship Kathey Harvey, suggested we read the book The Map of Good Memories by Fran Nuno. The main character of the story is moving to a new country. Before she moves, she examines a map of her hometown and takes the time to remember all the places that brought her joy. She suggested I read the book and have families draw a map of a place they enjoy going to together. Then everyone would write about a location on their maps that brought them joy. I bought the book over kindle and accessed it with my browser so I could share it over zoom.

          Before we could take on this project, our class had to get to a place where we would be successful. Not only did we need to feel comfortable writing about our lives and experiences, but also we needed to be in a place where we could write for an extended about of time! We had to build our writing stamina. We spent almost every day since returning to school writing with each other for 10 minutes a day. We practiced giving our peers feedback and praise. Our writing stamina grew. We became confident writers and collaborators. The week leading up to the project, all of our writing prompts had to do with memories. It was challenging for students at first. I often heard, “But Mr. King, I don’t have any memories!” The more we wrote, the less I heard this comment.

           Creating art projects as a teacher isn’t necessarily my strength, but I’m working on it! I love the results when I dive in and try. I wasn’t sure how to pull off the map part of our project until I talked with Katie Wells, another teacher at my school. She suggested I look to Youtube for directed draws on creating community maps! I found one that I loved, and our class spent a day drawing maps. I had the next piece of the puzzle. I used my funds provided by the Fellowship to buy art kits for my students. Creating community maps was the first time I let my students use them and it created a lot of excitement for our upcoming event. I didn’t tell them what exactly they would be doing during the event, but they knew they would have to draw a map. They felt ready!

My students absolutely loved drawing maps! They were pumped up! I had the next piece of the puzzle.

           The last part was sharing our work. I suspected I would have too many people to have everyone read their writing. I wasn’t sure how I would give every family a chance to share a part of what they created over zoom. I really didn’t want them to post it somewhere digitally, as this would make it less likely that everyone would share. During my latest fellowship meeting, we played a writing game where we wrote for a topic for a set amount of time. Then we shared specific parts of our work, like our titles, word count on our longest sentence, or our favorite lines! I saw over 60 people successfully share their writing this way over zoom! I knew I had my last piece. Just in case you are wondering about the timeline, the last two parts literally came together for me days before the event. My conversation with my teammate and the fellowship meeting happened two days before! I was relieved and excited that I had the answers to my biggest challenges. Participation was also a worry. I knew from holding parent-teacher conferences earlier in the year that I had families with a variety of needs. Normally when we do culminating events at my school, we pick a time and anyone that can come does. Because of the year my kids had, this didn’t feel good enough for me. I wanted every student to have a chance to participate. I had to work around camping trips, sporting events, and work schedules. I was up for the challenge. In order to provide an opportunity for all my families to participate, I held three events and gave families the choice of a time to participate. Every family from my class came! I’ve never pulled that off before.

           I spent today watching families create art together. I spent today watching families write stories about their shared experiences together. I saw kids huddled conspiratorily between caregivers, laughing, smiling, and collaborating! I saw so much love and community. I have a few samples to share with you here!

          This year has been so hard. I’ve had so many dropped zoom calls, extended email conversations, faulty mics, computers, and bad internet connections. All this on top of my taking my own classes for my credential program that I have to take and do well in to continue to teach. I’ve been struggling this year to keep moving forward. Today, none of it mattered. All of it was worth it. I got to see my students show off skills that they have been practicing all year. I got to see them collaborate with their families. They did amazing. Despite this year and everything stacked against them, they are amazing.

          Today my heart is so full. I’m going to make it to the end of the year!