Engaging Boy Writers LAUREN VASQUEZ SPRING 2012 What does it mean to be part of a GROUP? “A group exists when two or more people define themselves as members of it and when its existence is recognized by at least one other.” (Brown, 1988) Recall a time when you were part of a group. What was your role? How did you support each other? What made it positive/negative? SHARE Talk about your group experience. How could you apply what you learned in that group experience to your teaching practice? To your teaching of writing? Origins of My Inquiry I noticed… Boys in my fifth grade class were less excited about writing than girls. Writing volume goals were not being met by the boys. Boys often told me, “ I can’t think of anything to write about!” Questions Developed How can I more deeply engage boys in the writing process? Why are so many boys resistant to writing? What topics would engage them? How can they motivate each other? What do the experts say? In his book, Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, Ralph Fletcher shares many insights about boy writers. Boys are scoring behind girls in tests We need to learn to understand the world of boys and encourage them to write what they are passionate about Gives boys a CHOICE Genres that especially appeal to boys are graphic novels, cartoons, sports, and humorous writing A Focused Inquiry is Developed HOW CAN I MORE DEEPLY ENGAGE BOYS IN THE WRITING PROCESS? An Overview of the School Located in the South Bronx 588 students in the school (Pre-K to 5th) 28% black, 69% Hispanic, 1% white, 1% Native American, 1% Asian 26% of the students are English Language Learners 20% are special education students My Classroom 5th grade, general education class 18 students 7 boys, 11 girls Curriculum: Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Writer’s notebooks Students go through the writing process Partners share ideas and provide feedback Student write nightly in their notebooks on topics of their own choosing Who are the boys in my classroom? I decided to focus on a group of 5 boys. They are particularly struggling with engagement in the writing process. 2 African-American 3 Hispanic 1 has an IEP and receives SETSS 2 are members of the basketball team 1 is a chess player Getting Started I observed that the boys and girls in my classroom are very different. According to Boys and Girls Learn Differently by Michael Gurian : The part of the brain known as Wernicke’s area (language and thought) is usually more active in girls I began to think about how I could work on developing language and thought with the boys in my classroom. I decided to see what ideas the boys had about writing. Surveying the Boys I created a survey to find out the boys’ interests. I posed the following questions: What kinds of things do you like to write about? How often do you write at home? Where do you write at home? Which of these activities do you do? How many minutes per day do you spend on each? (Instant messaging, email, blogging) Who is one of your favorite authors? Why do you like him/her? What words come to mind when you think of your writer’s notebook? (Questions adapted from Ralph Fletcher’s book, Boy Writers) SURVEY RESULTS: What comes to mind when you think of your writer’s notebook? “It’s full of soul and adventure.” “Homework.” “A pencil and paper and someone writing.” “I want to do math.” SURVEY RESULTS: What kinds of things do you like to write about? Comics Stories Raps Poems SURVEY RESULTS: Who is one of your favorite authors? Why do you like him/her? The boys overwhelming all responded with the same answer… “Diary of a Boy Writer” Takes Shape We created a Boys Writing Club in the class The boys talked about how much they love the humor, real-life scenarios, and drawings from “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” We imagined ways to use “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” as a mentor text for our own writing I created new writing notebooks for the club to use Club Basics The club met a few times each week. They set goals and decided on different genres they wanted to try out. They would check in with each other during the week and offer encouragement and motivation. “Friendships between boys usually develop out of shared interest in a game or an activity. Girls’ friendships are face-t0-face, two or three girls talking with one another. Boys’ friendships are shoulder-to-shoulder, a group of boys looking out at some common interest.” (Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax) What writing emerged as the boys motivated each other? A LIST created by the Boys Writing Club The boys brainstormed genres they enjoyed writing and created a GO TO list Incorporating ART in the notebook This student loved the way Jeff Kinney used drawings next to his words. He began to express himself with words and pictures. Author as Mentor: Trying out Graphic Fiction This student began to tell his stories in boxes and use drawings as well. He began to write with a better sequence using these boxes. Letter Writing This student took his love for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and created a postage stamp. This is his letter to the Postmaster General explaining why it should be chosen as a new stamp. He writes, “People that start reading the book will not want to stop reading it because it’s very good and it is for all ages.” An unexpected favorite genre: FAIRY TALE “Once upon a time there was a little boy that had super powers. His super powers are super special. His super powers are super speedy flying and climbing on walls. ” This writing came from a student that is particularly disruptive in class and prides himself on being a tough guy. He found a way to incorporate his personality into this genre. According to Judy Hayn, professor of education at Loyola University Chicago, “Boys want stories with male protagonists that are exciting. They see life as a battle.” The boys began to engage with writing and each other in new and different ways. *A SAMPLE CONFERENCE BETWEEN TWO OF THE BOYS. THEY ARE DISCUSSING A TOPIC OF HIGH INTEREST AND THEY ARE WRITING OUT LOUD TO EACH OTHER. *A TRANSCRIPT OF THE BOYS TALKING ABOUT THEIR WRITING. NOTICE THE WAY THEY CONTINUE TO BRING THE CONVERSATION BACK TO THEIR REAL LIFE EXPERIENCES. Peer Conference about Writing Topics Transcript of a Discussion The boys met and talked about using Jeff Kinney as a mentor author in their own writing. Samuel: What I like about Diary of a Wimpy Kid book is that they’re interesting and it could actually happen to you and they’re funny and all that. Craig: I want to write realistic fiction stories like that. Tom: We could make a list in the back of our notebooks of what we want to write. Teacher: What are some things he does as a writer that you think are kind of cool? Tim: He puts it funny. Tom: He tells about his life. The book is stories about his life and how does his life go on. Craig: About him and his best friend. Tom: And his family. And how his life goes. Samuel: Writing like this could make it more fun for us. Monitoring our Progress The boys enjoyed their writing club, but it was hard to keep up the enthusiasm. They began to lose interest in only talking with each other. One thing I noticed is that the boys’ only audience was each other. New Questions Grew How can we open up our work to a larger audience? How will the club respond to sharing their work with others? Will the quality of their work increase if they have a wider audience? Shining a Spotlight on the Boys: Boy Writers Go on Tour The boys tried out writing for an intended audience a group of 3rd grade boys They met as a group to brainstorm genres they thought the 3rd graders would be interested in reading The boys prepared writing they wanted to share with the 3rd graders In his book, Boy Writers, Ralph Fletcher makes the following recommendation: “Make sure boys have real and varied audiences for their writing. Sharing and celebrating should not be a rare occurrence but a regular event in the classroom.” Sharing with a New Audience This is an excerpt from a session when the 5th graders shared some of their writing with a group of 3rd graders. Tom: I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have two good fairy tales and I don’t know which one to pick. (Tom shares his fairy tale about donkeys) Tom: Listen closely, there’s a lesson in this story. Teacher: Did you guys hear the lesson? Craig: Not to bully. That was the most obvious lesson. How did you feel about sharing your writing with a new audience? It’s very fun and it’s very cool. We get to show other people what we wrote and that makes me happy. It makes me think harder about more stuff to write about. We can write interesting stories and share lessons. Final Thoughts from the BOYS At the end of our work together, I surveyed the boys again. How do you feel about writing? When you think of writing what comes to mind? What are your thoughts about being part of a Boys Writing club? The Boys Speak It feels so good to know that I can write about anything. Writing is so fun and interesting. Sometimes I feel happy about writing but others times I don’t. I feel writing is fun because you’re writing something that’s about you. Best Practices Let’s share some of our thinking… How do you use clubs in your classroom? What have been the benefits? What were the struggles? What suggestions do you have for making AUDIENCE a bigger part of the writing and thought process for our students?