soul strikers

powerful moments in education

Boy Writers…

Fueled by some great tunes in my background, here I let loose on my topics of discussion from this bright blue October day (Hundred Dresses), ironically met with 80 degree weather, beach and bar.

So, here it goes- Like all little girls, I spent the day on the beach thinking about boys.


Despite my feelings about a day whose namesake is filled with controversial slavery and death, I entered the weekend with a myriad of topics over which I might ponder: school enrichment opportunities (I am the coordinator), what comes next following state testing (over in 2 days), how the !@!%#& do I get my boys to write about something other than this 6 month viral storyline (….yeah….)?  A few weeks ago, I thought I had made serious progress, on the latter. But, like with all fires lit, if fuel is not carefully added, the flame burns. out. soon.

As an elementary teacher, when I have a problem with Writers’ Workshop, I consult my colleagues.  Tell me what you would do.  What works for you? What should I do? And while all of that adds fuel to my thinking bonfire, in the end, I need Ralph.

I might as well call this post “Ode to Ralph Fletcher” because when I am drowning, he saves me- and I hope he can read this post someday, to feel the success of what occurs after throwing a life preserver to a nearby, near-death-experience teacher.

In my classroom, we are on a first name basis- when I am teaching my students and a debate surfaces, at some point I say, “What does Ralph have to say?” And honestly, they now also say the same thing.  So, when I started writing this post, I realized that after a day of reading, talking with a fabulous friend and colleague, reading more, listening to him speak…and thinking thinking thinking, truly, I needed to just ask Ralph. Click here for the awesome 2006 interview with Ralph Fletcher and Tom Newkirk discussing Boy Writers.) So, below is the email I just sent him:

Hi Ralph,We are on a first name basis, though you don’t know me. :)  I teach looping 3rd/4th grade in Hampton Falls, NH at Lincoln Akerman school and live and breathe each day to be a better teacher, listener, learner…In our classroom, even the students are on a first name basis with you- WWRS? What would Ralph say? :) Since I have the kids 2 years, I get such an opportunity to grow with them as learners, as literate kids. Last year, we consulted Grandpa Never Lies a million times, for guidance on a variety of writing traits, as well as enjoyment.  This year, I am reaching out for inspiration by having us all read pieces of A Writer’s Notebook, and on the first day of reading an excerpt together, one of my boys expressed: “I love this book.” And we had barely gotten started. I constantly utilize the gem I possess which is the fact that you write for people to enjoy, for teachers to learn, and for kids to explore their own abilities- This gives me serious currency in the classroom, because they respect you as a writer, and I can tell them, not only do you actually write (imagine!) but you write for me, too! That you have ideas to give teachers guidance. And real ones, at that. Shocking. (for them :) )

Which leads me to why I read Boy Writers for the 3rd time today in 5 years, but today, I needed it.  It was a bright, blue October day, but 80 degrees, therefore I was on the beach trying to solve the world’s most pertinent literacy problems, which are of course my own, by contemplating the VIRAL STORY that has taken over my classroom.

See, I am a firm believer in so many things you write about freedom of the Writer’s Workshop and the gender differences with regard to literacy.  So when a viral story line began last April amongst 5 of the 7 boy writers in my classroom I bit my lip, exhaled, and put on my boy-writer-teacher-glasses.  I worked with them on effectively using dialogue and punctuating it correctly, on using their humorous ideas as a catalyst for storytelling…and then it kept going…and when the end of the year came I was so happy because for SURE the story would die before the kids returned to me in the fall.  Of course, you know it didn’t- Same combination of kids, same environment, same storyline, same response.  And as NECAP testing soon comes to a close and the solidifying of classroom procedures and expectations becomes imminent, so does actually dealing with this storyline.

It goes like this: Jake Makes it to the NFL or Connor makes it to the MLB or Josh Goes to Japan or Chaz Makes it to the NBA.  (I am sure you realize they are using each other’s names for effect) And the stories have no structure, no clear path or ending, no depth. In the story, the main character makes it to a major sport team or travels somewhere and begins on a destructive path of somewhat humorous violence and public humiliation.  Each story contains a chain of 5-10 accidents or public scenes which the kids laugh HYSTERICALLY at…I often pretend to laugh because I know they are enjoying it and I am trying to find the humor…These boys write a line, run across the room to share to get a laugh, repeat.  Ok.  So I spent the day thinking, so what IS there?  After reading and thinking and talking, and more of all of that over and over, I realized a few important truths, or possible messages they are trying to send me:

1.  My boys were craving feedback, laughs, acceptance from the other boys, especially as the daily pecking order is established, reestablished, challenged, and…repeat.
2.  It is my job to redirect them, to be the grit, as you say, to create pearls in the oyster.
3.  I believe these boys are good writers and have more inside of them, and that if I do this incorrectly, they will feel like Writer’s Workshop has fine print…….
4.  I need to end this storyline because in the end, it isn’t original if they are all writing about it over and over and over…
5.  Clearly, they feel like they are lacking writing models if they are copying each other.

My plan is to help them refine one of these pieces, if they so choose, to either be published or shared aloud from start to finish, to create some closure before I cut this off.  I guess my question is this: how do I carefully cut off a viral story and make it come from them?  Or if it comes from me, what are some path options to send them back on an original path to be their own writers?

This all started as a blog post today, and in the end, I realized that I really just wanted to ask you.  I wanted to write about it myself, but I wasn’t sure that my blog would give me the guidance I needed.  Mostly, I write there to process my thoughts, but this particular thought I felt needed some response.

SO.  Thanks. I know you are a busy busy person- reading, writing, parenting, speaking, listening….And I return to my classroom this week prepared to help my boys feel empowered and heard, simultaneously.  Yikes.

Jaclyn Karabinas


One comment on “Boy Writers…

  1. soulstrikers
    October 10, 2011

    I should also mention that I would LOVE feedback from other readers about this topic, whether you are a “Boy Writer” or not :) Please!


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This entry was posted on October 10, 2011 by in education, Literacy Whatnots and tagged , , , , , .

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