“You have a story to tell.”
~ Donald Graves ~
I returned from NCTE last November energized by all the informative and inspiring sessions I attended. The Two Writing Teacher’s presentation, “Tools to Build a Culture of Writing Through Story,” was chock full of achievable ideas to promote writing. In her portion of the session, Dana Murphy shared her experience hosting a Family Writing Night. I knew this was an event I wanted to hold at my school. (You can access Dana’s presentation slides here.)
My building administrators thought having a Family Writing Night was a great idea and gave me their support. The PTO provided funds for journals, pens, door prizes and refreshments.
Dana emphasized that in order for Family Writing Night to be a success, you had to spread the word. In addition to having announcements on Twitter and in the school and PTO e-newsletters, old-fashioned hard copies went home in backpacks. Canva was a great tool to create posters, flyers, even door prize tickets! Classroom teachers were extremely supportive and reminded students daily about the event.
To get an idea of how many people to expect, I created a Google Form and asked people to let me know if they were coming. But I made it clear that whether they responded or not, everyone was welcome. I heard from about twenty people. So you can imagine my surprise when over sixty people turned out in near-zero temperatures!
Everyone chose a notebook and pen, then filled out a door prize ticket. When people were settled, I took Dana’s advice to “fill the room with beautiful words” and began the evening with a read aloud. John Rocco’s Blizzard (Disney-Hyperion, 2014) is my favorite new book, so I started the evening by reading Rocco’s boyhood memory of the Blizzard of 1978. (I also thought this might spark some weather-related stories; we’ve had a little snow lately!)
Then I talked very briefly about the the benefits of writing daily and the recursive nature of the writing process. I stressed that the goal of Family Writing Night, indeed any family writing time, was to have fun sharing memories and ideas. I reminded parents how important it is that they encourage kids to write without inhibitions, and not censor themselves because they may not know the exact spelling of a word or the best way to phrase a sentence. Editing is the final step. The most important thing is to get their thoughts down and keep writing daily. Just like athletes, writers develop fluency and build their writing muscles by writing.
I also encouraged parents to let kids to write about events and topics that are important and meaningful to them. To demonstrate that this could be anything, I shared Ralph Fletcher’s “Squished Squirrel Poem.” I had suggested that people bring photos of family vacations or other memorable events to get their writing started. As Ralph Fletcher says, “Memories are like a fountain no writer can live without.”
Then, everyone wrote. It was so gratifying to see more than sixty moms, dads, brothers, and sisters all writing! They wrote about tropical vacations, afternoons at the ball park, their pets, and more.
After about fifteen minutes, I encouraged everyone to share their writing with their families. Dana had shared some commenting prompts, such as asking a question or “tell how the writing made you feel,” which I had available as a handout. These got the writers going for another ten minutes or so.
Time really does fly when you’re having fun! I was amazed at how quickly the hour went by. Soon it was time to draw the winners of the door prizes.
Parents were effusive with their thanks and appreciation for the opportunity to come out and write with their children. Many wanted to know when the next Family Writing Night would be, and one mom asked if we could do this monthly! But the best feedback came from a third grader who told me, “I can’t wait to get home to finish my story!”
Thank you, Dana, for inspiring this wonderful evening. Thank you also to Stacey, Tara, Betsy, Anna, and Beth for sharing your terrific ideas at NCTE. As always, thank you for this space to share our stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.