I spent two days this week working with Grade Ten students at Laval Senior Academy. That's me in today's pic with Ms. Gosdanian at the left, and two of her students: Alexia (next to me) and Alessya (at the right). (Hey, thanks to Chelsea for helping me get the names right!!)
So in all, I worked with five classes: Ms. Gosdanian's and also Ms. Lambropoulos's. As usual, I shared writing tips and got the students to do some writing. We talked about the importance of observation. That's one of the reasons I wrote the word "Snoopy" on the white board -- writers tend to be snoopy sorts. We observe, we ask questions, and sometimes, we even eavesdrop!
So, let me tell you about some of the things I observed. I observed that Alessya had a splint on her finger. So I asked her what happened, and she told me, "I broke my finger during cheer doing a back flip." Which let me learn about Alessya -- that she does cheer and that she's daring. I also observed that she likes pink lipgloss!
Speaking of pink, I observed that a student named Sarah was wearing a light pink cropped sweatshirt that matched perfectly with her water bottle. I asked whether she'd done that on purpose, but Sarah said it was a pure coincidence. When we were chatting after class, Ms. Lambropoulos also observed that Sarah's nail polish was the same shade of pale pink! Which goes to show you that the more observers you have, the more you learn!
A few other fun moments from my visits this week: I had to laugh when a student named Antonio told me, "Your hair is grabbing my attention!" (If you don't know me, you may not know that I have BIG hair!)
This afternoon, Ms. Lambropoulos's students admitted they weren't too interested in writing, and did not dream of writing their own books some day. But when I talked about keeping a journal, I asked the students, "Do you want to know what I write about? Do you even care?" At first, no one said anything -- until a student named Michelangelo (GREAT NAME! LIKE I TOLD HIM, HE HAS A LOT TO LIVE UP TO!!) raised his hand to indicate that he cared! I took this to be a moment of great triumph -- I was getting Michelangelo interested in the writing life! Except when I suggested that maybe Michelangelo was just feeling sorry for me because no one had answered my question, well he gave me a look that suggested maybe he had been feeling sorry for me!
When I taught the students about my favourite question to get the imagination going -- What if? -- a student named Joseph told us, "At night, I always ask myself 'What if I'm Batman?'" Joseph, I think that could make a cool story!
Ms. Gosdanian' students will be writing a memoir piece and Ms. Lambropoulos's will be working on a monologue, narrated by a literary character they have read about. In terms of ideas for the memoir, I tried a couple of exercises that involved returning to old memories. As I told the students, for me, memories are stories asking to be told. Nicolas gave me permission to share a little of his memory of the first day of elementary school: "I was so used to being with my brother and now I was on my own for the first time." I love how NIcolas uses words to take us back with him into the past. And today, a student named Christopher started his memory with a gorgeous sentence guaranteed to make readers want to keep reading: "I knew there was nothing I could do." Haunting, no? And I bet you want to know what came next!
For the monologue exercise, I told the students that stepping into another character -- which is exactly what they'll be doing when they write their monologues -- is a way to build empathy. We all spend so much time being us that it can be a great relief to be someone else -- even if this only happens in our imaginations. It's one of the things I love most about writing fiction.
We talked about the terrible situation in the Middle East -- and I shared my view that if enemies could find a way to step into each other's skins and lives, well, it might gives us a better chance of having peace. I know that for me, the last few weeks have been a sad, stressful time, but the best remedy for my sad feelings has been to spend time with young people. They represent the future and they represent hope. Even if they don't all want to be writers, I know they all want to do their part to make our world a better, safer place. And for that, I'm very grateful.
I'll be back at Laval Senior in November for a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project. I'll ask Ms. Gosdanian and Ms. Lambropoulos to let their students know when I'll be back in the building -- just in case they want to discuss their memoirs or monologues with me. Thanks to Ms. Gosdanian for organizing this week's visits, thanks to Ms. Lambropoulos for sharing you students with me, and thanks most of all to the kids for giving me hope for the future!
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