WARNING: May contain naughty language.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

When I Got Schooled By 6th Graders

My sister-in-law is a teacher. Correction. My sister-in-law is a GREAT teacher. She has been an instructor at a school in Atlanta for the past several years and during that time has done the standard stuff – reading, writing, math, science and so on.

But this year she gets to do something totally different. She is teaching 6th graders how to write for the entire year. Focused on just one topic for the entire school year, each and every day.

God, I wish I was back in 6th grade again.

She was kind enough to ask if I’d be interested in speaking to her class about my own process of writing – the mechanics, the mental preparation, how to spin a tale and make it work.

I was honored and delighted. I prepared by reviewing some of the most current YA fiction out there. I spoke with my son who is also a 6th grader to get some context. I made lists in anticipation of their questions. When the day arrived, I was 100% ready for the interrogation.

Or so I thought.

We started the Skype session and I was informed that my head was being projected upon a giant wall-to-wall “smartboard” and the kids thought that was “high-larious” so I made the most of it by instructing them to ignore the bald man behind the curtain.

I think maybe 3 or 4 of the students got it.

Two charming students acted as moderators for the entire experience. After the first question, I knew I was in for a severe grilling.

I guess I expected the typical “how often do you write?” and “who are your favorite authors?” and queries like that.

Right out of the gate they hit me with the following;

“When constructing your narrative arcs, how do you make sure that character, setting, voice and tone support the overall plot structure of your stories?”

Oh. Crap.

These were some of the most intelligent, polite and mature kids I’ve ever spoken with. Now I’m not a complete stranger to the experience of working with kids. I was a Cub Scout leader for 5 years and participated in a number of similar activities. But this was a whole different ball of wax.

We ended up discussing the finer points of revising and editing. Questions about limited 3rd person POV vs. the more intimate aspects of 1st person. They asked about brainstorming techniques and mind mapping. When I told them I used EverNote to capture my thoughts throughout the day, they all laughed and told me that they also used EverNote to do their assignments and get homework from a centrally located digital distribution hub set up in the labyrinth of the school’s network!

Oh, yeah. They each have a school-issued iPad for doing homework.

We had a blast and I really enjoyed the time.

When it was finished and I said my good-byes, perhaps 10 minutes passed before I got the pleasant chime indicating that I had new email. It was from my sister-in-law. She was very pleased with the outcome and decided to share with me some of her student’s observations and reflections about the experience.

I opened the file and started to read their comments.

I can only hope that one day I end up working for one of them in a professional business environment. The feedback was precise, concise and right on target. I printed out their notes and will get them framed shortly.

Whenever I hit the wall all I will need to do is take a look at some of those nuggets, written by 6th graders, to remind myself gently of why we all write.

“Writing is fun for Mr. Bauer because he loves to tell stories.”

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