Still Surprises

Often lessons I think will be magical, fall flat.  But sometimes, it’s the little lessons that take off and surprise me.  This a week, a quote from Stephen King (of all people!) did just that.

Our English block is divided in half timewise but united by topic, with a 5 minute Brain Break to mark the transition.  In Readers’ Workshop we were discussing theme – a tough concept for many 7th graders.  We discussed how often the theme is revealed in the plot; something a character says or does or how they react to or change from an event can reveal the author’s theme or message.

We read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson earlier in the week and we noticed that Chloe, the protagonist, changed because she never got a chance to make things right with the new girl, Maya. Of the theme theories discussed, we decided, ‘Be kind whenever you can.’ was the best choice. So, on this day at least, they ‘got’ theme. 🙂

After our Brain Break we always do Beautiful Words as an intro to Writers’ Workshop. These could be a video, story, poem, or in this case, a quote, followed by 3 minutes of uninterrupted silent writing.  Then we share. (One of my writing mentors, Don Gallehr, taught me, ‘Writing is a muscle that needs exercise to grow stronger.‘ so Beautiful Words is my attemps to honor that advice.) This quote was from Stephen King, the horror writer, and was:

‘A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer.  But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.’

When the three minutes of writing were over, nearly every hand shot up to share.  This is an unusual occurence.  Rarely are so many students inspired at the same time.  Many students agreed with Mr. King.  Sam said, “Ever scar is a story waiting to be told.” Mary said, “No one else has the scars you have – those stories are yours!’ Very few students disagreed with the first part of the quote. They are convinced that everyone can be a writer, that each of them has stories only they can tell.

The surprising part was the level of passion this quote generated.  Many students disagreed with the idea that you actually have to be scarred in order to be a writer.  Trip said, “I don’t think there is anything wrong with writing about happy things!” Connor agreed, “If you only write about the dark stuff, it will just make you depressed.” But Mackenzie disagreed, “You have to write about things that matter to you or they won’t matter to the reader. Not everything is sunshine and lollipops.”

The discussion became very heated as some students felt strongly that it was indeed possible to imagine and write about a scar as vividly as if it had actually happened to you in real life.  Mason said this, “If I’ve had a broken arm, I can still write about a broken leg – I may have to do some research but the experience is similar enough for me to imagine the rest.”  Jason vehemently disagreed, “If you have not gone through the experience first hand, you will never be able to write about it as well as if it actually happened to you.” Each class was fairly evenly divided about this issue, again something that rarely happens with 7th graders.

What I loved most about this discussion was the fact that these 12-13 year old writers were thinking deeply about craft, about what it means to be a writer, and what it means to write well.  I wish all the teachers who don’t really believe every one of their students can be a writer could have witnessed this discussion firsthand. And it’s only October…