Have FUN and WRITE!
Have FUN and WRITE
A community and school event created with the goal of bringing students and families together during a pandemic through writing.
The National Writing Project. A project that brings teachers together across the country. A project that bring communities together through writing. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of a project that works collaboratively to bring a connection between families and schools through writing. Writing is hard, there is not one person who will tell you different. There are many ways to write, many ways to teach but one thing, writing is everywhere.
One thing I have learned as a new teacher, now a fifth year, is that writing has different challenges with every student, every year, in every grade level. It also has many uplifting moments. Writing tells a story, we know that, but writing can bring people together, and that is what this project was all about.
I joined this project knowing I would have the privilege to create a family event for writing within my school. What I didn’t know, was the overwhelming joy I would feel at the completion of the event. When I first started that event I wasn’t really sure how I would involve my school peers, my colleagues, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get families interested. This school year was unlike any other. We were stripped from our classrooms, we were teaching from home with technology that would hopefully work, with students and families who would hopefully stay “connected.” Teachers were new at my school and I never met them. I worked with teachers who I only knew from a distance, how I was going to get people involved. Well, as far I knew this was my project, so I left it at that. I came to the project meetings and I was inspired at each meeting to create different projects, and finally I had a plan.
With that plan I shared it with a mentor in my local project and the conversation made me even more inspired. I knew that I wanted to involve my families more than ever through a writing event that invited families languages. The goal: showing parents and care givers that it is not about speaking or writing in English to help our children become writers, or to just help with writing, but to just write in a way that makes us comfortable, to just write so our children can see good writing or any writing at all in the real world. Kids need to see real application, they need to see a purpose to work hard at something, they always ask, “why.” This event I would plan would show my families why writing would be important to do at home and in turn, provide purpose for their children and thus inspire them to write more and become more engaged in writing in class.
As I started this in a pandemic, which meant nothing was normal, that included my initial plan and first invitation to the event. That began just days before my school and district began blowing up family connections with surveys and information about sending their children back to school in-person. For that, I had to make a change. For this project you receive a stipend and grant. The grant is the important component. It is the money you use to fund the project and bring your community together. I wanted to invite families, order based on number of participants. I didn’t want to order and have a cap on how many could join, unfortunately, because of the deadlines and district changes to schools, that was exactly how this project went.
I made a change from my event that would have lasted a couple of months. Do it yourself family writing time, quick meets for sharing and doing more projects centered around writing to 3 event dates, one hour long each, but still lots of community building, writing, and a book creation at completion. WHAT? With all the changes I knew I would need help, I couldn’t do this alone. My principal offered a name of a teacher who had shown great love and passion for writing, I reached out. Mrs. R was excited to help out, but as she stated at the conclusion of the event during our debrief, “I was not sure how this event was really going to work out? I was not even sure that it would be good.” She was nothing but smiles. She pumped her students and other third grade students up, she talked all about the creation of the book, the first ever at our school. She did everything someone would do that was excited about something, and excited about writing she was. We were both excited and nervous, contradictory to her initial thoughts about the event, it was as success and we are both already thinking about next year.
So, I told you about how excited we are about this event, I even told you about the purpose of the vent, but what exactly did I plan?
Well, with all the changes I planned for 10 families to join but hoped with all my heart and soul that we could get 25 families. I started by making a flyer, the flyer invited families and students to a Google Classroom where we could share, say hello and of course, get the link to our Google meeting for each event. It gave dates, times, a supply list that was being provided and ways to contact me. I used this flyer to invite the virtual students in second and third grade and as a way to reach parents on DOJO. In honor of the majority of our families who speak Spanish, Mrs. R, my co-teacher on this event, translated all the work in Spanish. Next, we created a video to invite our families. We posted that video on DOJO for our families and reminded them that they also received a paper copy of the flyer for those who are in person and a digital copy for those who are virtual. On the first day we had students asking to join before they even went home. I had students in my classroom making sure they got a form or telling me they would be there before they even talked to their families about it.
By the end of the third reach-out we had 20 families join, then 25 and finally I had to tell a couple students who wanted to join that they could but I didn’t have a supply bag, they did not care, they just wanted to join. The first day of event was a huge success. We had families sharing in their home languages and we learned about our students and families on a new level. We learned about plants that meant family, we learned about chair that was passed down through the family and reminded that family of their grandparents daily. We learned that some students had a huge connection with their video games but they were able to reflect that it meant they might be too attached as well. I loved hearing about our families, their family connections and history, something we didn’t really get a chance to do this crazy, virtual year. During the first day of the event we continued to get to know each other and we wrote “I am” poems. The students wrote and the parents or grandparents wrote. We shared our poems. Some shared they were grandparents of 7 grandchildren, however one poem in general really ended pretty amazingly…”I am me!” I was amazed at the level of writing these students were able to create. The challenge came next, those at the event would leave the meeting and work with their families to create a “We are” poem. A poem that told who they were as a family in 5 or more lines.
At the start of the second meeting of the event we shared our “We are” poems, but not before the students hounded the Google Classroom to open up the meeting and let them in, they were excited to come and share and hang out. When we opened up, before we even started we asked for everyone to share in the chat ways they use writing at home. Some said they use it to write their feelings, to help them not get angry. Others stated they used writing to write to families and friends in other countries. I loved that writing is used in many ways, some even reminded us that they use writing in school to take notes while they read…connections! Now we shared our poems and it was wonderful. “We are golfers” “We are Italian” We are from Spain” one even wrote ” We are a family of 18!” We heard these in multiple languages and that was key, we can write and we can share the language should not stop us. Finally we came towards the end of day 2. We talked about how we had one meeting left, some were sad, they said NO! However, we told them to start by thinking about a time when they couldn’t stop laughing with their family, a time when they remember having the best time. We had to start to think about that time and draw a picture. After we told them this was the main event. Write WITH your family, share the pen, share the story. We wanted them to talk with the family over the next week to write about that moment that made them laugh…write your families silly stories. That we would use that as our final meeting to have an Author’s Share BUT we would also be handing out codes for Panda Express so while we shard our stories we could enjoy diner together.
Now, it was time for the last event. Before the event the students around the school would stop and keep checking in on the last meeting. Told me they had great stories, they waved as they left for school each day or if I walked past their lines. They always were smiling and excited to ask about the writing event. Now it was time, time for our last event. Kids were talking, they were laughing together, they were making friends with students they have never met, I couldn’t stop smiling. Now it was time, we started sharing. One student wrote about the time his mom farted and the neighbor yelled out if there was a thunderstorm coming. While another wrote about a time he placed a fake bug on his grandmothers pillow and she screamed and freaked out because she thought it was real. The comment after that gave him more ideas, about ways to prank his family again…it was hilarious. It was a a great night. At the end we talked about bringing me their writing, sending it to me as a picture for those who were virtual and I would take all their writing and create our first ever School book created by our community!
A week went by and several students stopped and asked, “Ms. Locke, when will you have the book done” they are so proud of their writing, of their families and creating stories for a book they continue to remember and ask, even after the event is done. Now, I have the book ready to go virtually, students who have created the front cover and it rests in the front office for current and future families to gaze upon. It sits in the library for students current and new to read. A book that tells a short story about our community, who we are, where we come from and some silly stories to go along.
First Ever Community Writing Book
Next year is already in the making. I have met with my principal and asked about creating a team of people to help create and bring together a school wide writing event in the new school year, when in fact, we will (fingers crossed) be in-person and sitting together!