The title of today's blog entry "Snoopy Rules at Rosemere High School" requires some explanation. This Snoopy has nothing to do with the dog from the old Peanuts cartoon. It has to do with being snoopy (another word for curious), which I consider a vital trait in a writer. I myself am extraordinarily SNOOPY! So during my visit this morning to Ms. Lawrence's Enriched Sec. I English class, I asked the students whether any of them were snoopy too. Check out the raised hands in today's pic -- those are all kids who admitted to being snoopy. YAY!
I had the best morning. I know school visits aren't supposed to be fun for me -- they're supposed to be fun and educational for the kids, but I CAN'T HELP IT. First of all, I had THREE HOURS for my workshop -- which means I got to work pretty intensively with the students. And I also got to tell a lot of stories -- and look at the writing work the students produced when we were together. Also, Ms. Lawrence and I have known each other for many years and as I was telling her, I feel like I'm part of the family. (She even made me banana muffins!)
Okay, back to the workshop -- since you're here to read about that and not banana muffins. The workshop took place in the school library (special thanks to librarian Sylvie Plante and her assistant Joanna Shields for hosting us). Also we had a lovely student teacher with us -- Jenny Novodad, whom Ms. Lawrence calls, "My Jenny." (I loved that and took note of it immediately for my blog -- details help us tell stories, and in this case, the detail shows the warm relationship between Ms. Lawrence and her Jenny! Another cool thing was that Monsieur Lalancette, a guidance counselor at the school, took part in the first half of the workshop. It's always fun when there's a surprise adult visitor -- I think it's proof for the students that you don't have to be a kid to learn! Finally, Ms. Lawrence invited some keen writers from the older grades -- some of whom I'd already met. So a special shout-out to Zack, Zed, Lily, Naoko -- there were others, but I didn't get all the names.
Now I'll move to some of my favourite moments from today's visit. Well, first of all, the moment when so many students admitted they were snoopy! Also when Naoko told me he had given himself the name Naoko. I asked whether it's Japanese (I'm going to Japan in a few weeks -- I know, lucky me!!) -- and Naoko said it is meant to sound Japanese, but it's not officially a Japanese word. "I just like the sound of it," he said. Which I love because it shows Naoko's pleasure in playing with words, which do not only carry meaning, but also sound.
I had a special bonding moment early on with a student named Sienna. That's because she was looking right at me and nodding when I said something smart (well, I don't remember what I was saying, but I hope it was smart!). I used Sienna as an example of a student with excellent body language. Then I explained that body language is another tool writers use to tell our stories.
I don't know how I found out that Lily doesn't eat breakfast. But I used this information to demonstrate curiosity and some interview techniques. Here's what I discovered: Lily went to sleep too late last night -- at 11:30 PM; she often skips breakfast; and our conversation made her hungry!
Ariana was wearing a T-shirt that said "Always joyful." (I forgot to take a picture of it.) That prompted me to ask Arianna whether she is always joyful. It turns out she is sometimes not joyful. I suggested she add the word "Almost" before "Always joyful." See, there we are playing with words again! Arianna consulted me about a writing problem she's been having. She said, "I have so many ideas in my head, but I don't know which ones to pick!" I explained that that is a GREAT writing problem -- and I suggested she write all her ideas down (I have an ideas file on my laptop) and that when she's ready to start a project, she should go through the list of ideas and choose the one calling to her the most loudly!
We did two writing exercises -- I had hoped to do three, but the second one was intense and I wanted to take the time to circulate around the library to see what the students had come up with. For the exercise, I asked the students to return in their memories to the hardest moment in their lives. I warned them in advance that if the exercise was too difficult, they could sit it out or put their heads down and take a rest instead. But they all did it! I also explained that writing is an act of courage. Not all of the students wanted me to see their work -- and I was good with that. I did suggest they could use their painful memory and rework it into fiction -- let the experience, or a similar one, happen to another kid at another school in another country.
A student I'll call J gave me permission to quote the beginning of his piece here. Get ready for some beautiful, powerful writing!
"2016, Summer, my parents separated. My house sold. My parents got two different apartments. Worst of all I had to give away my dog. His name was Pluto, like the planet. Just like Pluto is not a part of our solar system, he wasn't a part of our apartment."
See what I meant about beautiful and powerful? The part about Pluto, well it breaks my heart (because it's sad) and lifts my heart at the same time (because it's so beautifully written).
J wasn't the only student whose writing lifted my heart. There were many many other examples in the library, but I was too busy reading the writing and talking to the students that there wasn't time to write them all down. (J happened to stay after class so I had a chance to take a pic of his text and quote from it here.)
As I told the students, I am 63 years old and retired from teaching at Marianopolis, and I don't really need to keep working -- also I'm recovering from pneumonia -- but perhaps you can tell from this blog entry that working with kids, teaching them about writing, and hearing (and reading) their stories... well, I don't think there's much that makes me happier in this world.
Many thanks to Ms. Lawrence for the invite to come to RHS, thanks also to my friend teacher Lee-Ann Sacks for popping by (Vicki Fraser, you were there in spirit!!). Thanks to the students for being wonderful. I'm ENRICHED from my morning in your company!
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