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Connected Learning Through Community - Nanowrimo

Connected Learning Through Community - Nanowrimo

Written by Tommy Buteau
May 23, 2014

What does it mean to be connected? An interesting question for educators to think about. Another one might be, “How can we show students the power behind community and connected learning?” One way might be to allow students to create a book together that celebrates the connections between people, one that displays beauty, subtlety, and thematic continuity through these connections. If being connected means to be interrelated and independent, would authors become connected by creating a collection of interrelated stories that each have an independent voice? Perhaps, but what if the process could be created in a way that the connections between the students allowed for the creation of the final product? Could classroom convesations led by students’ ideas really allow a diverse group to achieve something that would be impossible for a single independent writer to imagine? Yes, but how?

When I found out I that I would have a year-long creative writing class, I was excited, and also a bit terrified. I had successfully taught a semester course, but how would I ever come up with enough ideas to fill a whole year? Then I had a brilliant idea; why not open it up to students? In the spirit of inquiry and connected learning, I asked my classes what they wanted to work on.

There were many different ideas bandied about, all of them excellent and profound, but one intrigued me. The student asked, “I’m going to try doing Nanowrimo next month. Why don’t we all try to do it?”

Now, I had heard of Nanowrimo, and knew the basic premise, but I needed to find out more. When I went to their webpage and searched around, I found myself thinking, “Ah, this is nothing more than a basic self-motivating contest in which people enter and track how many words they write over a month. The goal is to reach fifty thousand words–not an easy goal for your average non-committed senior trying to obtain the required fourth credit via a creative writing class. But there is no requirement for consistency, nor quality; it is just a straight record of how many words you write.”

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The format was appealing to me because it requires discipline while also giving the participant the ability to suck, and my “no-fault philosophy” allows me to enjoy a project with those kinds of expectation.

I knew it would have to be adapted for my purposes though. Many of my students consider a 2,500 word final assignment to be a pretty lofty goal for a month. But what if we did it as a class? If each student wrote 2,500 words, we could easily surpass the fifty thousand requirement. I also liked the idea of entering as a class because it is kind of breaking the rules, so I could pitch that to appeal to the adolescent predilection for risky operations.

Now I just needed to figure out how to get the students to create a story that flowed together, was connected, and provided space for everyone to bring their own voice into the project. 

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