Tag Archives: kids

What’s it gonna take?

At my kids’ school, the third through fifth grades have no playground equipment. How come? Seattle Public Schools tore it up and put a portable in its place, that’s how come. In theory, funds from Seattle Parks and Recreation, combined with funds from our PTA, will put in new equipment — but if the district adds another portable, all bets are off.

My kids used to get bus service to school, because their walking route includes crossing a dangerous state highway. Not any more. That’s been cut.

There’s a substitute shortage, meaning that some days kids show up to school and there is no teacher for them. Yes, really.

New housing is going up in my neighborhood, in preparation for light rail, but no new schools are being planned.

Our schools need funding so badly that the Washington State Supreme Court is currently holding the legislature in contempt of court and will consider sanctions if adequate funding does not arrive by the end of the 2015 session.

Meanwhile, though, the legislature is talking about suspending an initiative Washington State citizens recently passed to reduce class sizes. Why? They don’t want to do what it takes to fund it.

Oh yes, and the legislature has also given our schools an unfunded mandate to administer expensive, labor-intensive, and time-consuming tests.

What’s it going to take?  Seriously?

At a minimum, we need a reality check on the scope of the problem. Here are three charts from the website Network for Excellence in Washington Schools — the group that brought the lawsuit to the legislature and is monitoring and reporting on it.  They are from the group’s 2014 report to members.

Washington State funding for education falls far short of the actual expenses.

Washington State funding for education falls far short of the actual expenses.

 

Washington State legislature fails to comply with the Supreme Court order in 2013

Washington State legislature fails to comply with the Supreme Court order in 2013

Washington State legislature fails to comply with the Supreme Court order in 2014

Washington State legislature fails to comply with the Supreme Court order in 2014

 

Is Doctor Who for kids any more?

(Removed and expanded from another post.)

Season 8 of Doctor Who has been billed as “a darker season” with “a darker Doctor” than the previous two, more flippant Doctors. Is it still appropriate for kids?

In a review of the episode “Dark Water,” columnist Sam Wollaston from The Guardian points out all the disturbing elements he enjoyed and then writes:

“I suspect my approval may mean he gets the opposite from the kids. Yeah, well, so what, it’s not your show any more. Love you, now go to bed.”

Yeah, well, fuck you Sam Wollaston, from the bottom of my motherly heart. Should my kids be deprived of this show just to make you happy? Plus, you’re dissing the future adult fan base of Doctor Who. Don’t forget that it was rebooted by adults who watched it as children.

This, by the way, is nothing to do with wanting or not wanting the show and the Doctor to be “darker,” whatever that means. Children are fully capable of dealing with “darker.” Read any Roald Dahl lately? Any Brothers Grimm fairy tales? In fact, many children’s ordinary lives are a lot scarier than any episode of Doctor Who could ever be.

Anyhow, when my spouse and I sit down to watch Doctor Who, the kids join in. My oldest loves to be scared, and my youngest leaves the room when the going gets too rough. She didn’t actually leave the room during “Dark Water” — I have a feeling it was scarier for the grownups, who think more about death. Nobody had nightmares, except me.

I think the show is good for kids in many ways. For instance, it’s a great source of metaphors and a way to understand our rapidly changing world. When a child asks, “But whyyyyyy can’t I have a cell phone? Even second-graders at my school have them!!!” I can say, “Because they will turn you into Cybermen,” and they get it.

The show is also a great way to expose children to some of the frightening truths that adults grapple with (badly) without overwhelming the kids. How many apocalypses have we had on the show? Ecological disasters? Megalomaniac rulers? But there’s almost always been a counterbalance, a ridiculous and fallible Doctor who saves us from the monsters, while tripping over his own shoes.

That’s the magic formula of the show, the one that’s kept fans coming back for more. The world is scary, but you can go out into it, explore, confront danger, because somebody’s got your back. It’s a lie, of course, but it’s a lie that children need in order to learn and grow and take risks. (As an adult who figured out that lie, and learned we have to save the frigging world ourselves, I do love the mental health break of stepping inside that blue box to watch that magic formula in action.)

This season has done a beautiful job of keeping that magic formula while still exploring all the troubling aspects of being the Doctor. But I do have a perpetual worry that Doctor Who might stray too far from the formula and stop being fun for kids. Of any age. As an extreme example, I don’t want Doctor Who to turn into “Torchwood: Children of Earth.” That episode had the kind of gut-wrenching impossible choice no hero could live with. And I don’t want the companions to get killed — especially Clara, the character my daughter adores. Finally, I don’t want the underlying optimism and humor to be lost. Fortunately, for now at least, we have a showrunner who remembers and values what it’s like to be a Doctor Who fan as a child. Don’t forget. Run, you clever show, and remember.

And hey, kids — Doctor Who is and always has been your show. Stay up late.

Have a jelly baby.

Have a jelly baby.

Have a jelly baby.

Day Three of the Fanfiction Workshop

This is part of a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids, Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round, Day One, and Day Two.

Day 3: A Flurry of Activity

Day 3 was a mad dash to get the rest of the prewrite exercises out of the way so the kids could start their drafts the next day. Some of the kids had already jumped in to doing drafts, or started in the middle of filling out worksheets. Others were struggling to fill in worksheets. None of the kids filled in any of the worksheets all the way, but all the kids got some details to use in their stories.

Overheads:

Handout:

5-10 minutes: Review of Day 2

I answered various questions, told the kids we STILL weren’t doing rough drafts yet, checked in about the other worksheets.

5-10 minutes: Talking about setting

I showed the overhead “Setting and the Five Senses” and we brainstormed some kinds of setting details for each sense. Then I showed the overhead “More About Setting.”

15 minutes: Setting worksheet

I handed out the “About the Setting” worksheet and kids started filling it out.

10 minutes: Ideas for starting stories

I showed the overhead “Some Ways to Start Stories”

10 minutes: group discussion

Kids broke up into groups and started talking about their story ideas

Next up: Diving right in!

By Jens Rötzsch (Jens Rötzsch) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jens Rötzsch (Jens Rötzsch) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Day Two of the Fanfiction Workshop

This is the third post in a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids, Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round, and Day One: Introducing Fanfiction.

Day Two: The Prewrite

On day two, some of the kids were ready and raring to write, but we had some preparations to do first. Our school uses a writer’s workshop model that includes a prewrite, rough draft, and final draft, so everyone was familiar with the concept of prewrite. We worked on getting rough ideas for character and plot.

Handouts:

5 to 10 minutes: Talking about being a writer

I talked more about what it was like to grow up reading and writing, and how I had written fanfiction as a child before the word fanfiction was even invented. I discussed writer’s block a little bit more. Then I touched on the idea of using established characters but changing their names, to make the story more their own.

5 to 10 minutes: Group Discussion

The kids broke up into small groups and discussed their characters. Everybody picked a character they would like to use and decided whether they would like to use the character’s name as is or change it.

20 minutes: All About My Character

I asked the kids to think up as many details about their character as they could and write them down. I also suggested that if they didn’t know the answer to a question that they make it up. I explained that they might not use all those details, but the details would help them imagine the characters better. Next time I would be a little firmer on this and require the kids to make up three details.

Once they had gotten a start on that, they broke up into small groups and talked about their characters.

20 minutes: Where’s the Story

I discussed common types of plots. Then I asked each of them to write down three types as story ideas. They didn’t have to use one of them, but they could.

As the kids were working, the teacher and I went around the classroom talking to kids who were feeling stuck or weren’t sure their ideas would make good stories.

By the end of day two, most of the kids knew who they were going to write about and what kind of story they were going to tell.

By Громыко Григорий Олегович (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Громыко Григорий Олегович (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Day One: Introducing Fanfiction

This is the third post in a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids and Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round.

Day One: Introducing Fanfiction

On the first day, I introduced the concept of fanfiction and started in on the prewrite process.

5 to 10 minutes: Introducing myself

I introduced myself and talked a little about what it was like to be a writer, and what kinds of things I had written. I had learned from my Writers in the Schools experience that having a bit of an “author glamour” helps keep students engaged and interested. I also touched on writers block as a lead-in to the next activity.

5 to 10 minutes: Warmup

This idea came from the teacher and is great! I handed out half-sheets of lined paper. The teacher took a wastepaper basket and put it on the front desk. The students wrote for three minutes, then crumpled the papers and threw them toward the basket.

Of course the question came up: “But what if I like what I wrote and don’t want to recycle it???” I gave them The Look and then said, “Okay, fine, but then you don’t get to play basketball!”

10 minutes: General concepts

  • Fanfiction means writing a story using characters from a book, TV show, or movie.
  • It’s great practice for writing short stories using your own characters.
  • Since many books, TV shows, and movies are copyrighted, there are various laws about what you can and can’t do. Writing fanfiction in a classroom but not publishing it is called “fair use.” Just like you cite sources when you write research papers, it’s important to say which book, TV show, or movie you used.
  • Examples of two authors who wrote fanfiction books and then went on to write their own novels: Kij Johnson and Vonda McIntyre. I showed them my copies of Kij Johnson’s Dragon’s Honor (Star Trek novel) and The Fox Woman, as well as my copies of The Entropy Effect (Star Trek novel) and The Moon and the Sun.

20 minutes: Brainstorming

Then we brainstormed a list of books, movies, and TV shows that the kids might like to use, and the students broke up into groups to discuss the ideas. Each student then picked one they wanted to use.

We ended the day with the kids full of energy.

Next up: Day Two

Entropy Effect and Dragons Honor

Writers in the Schools — A Second Time Round

(This is Part Two in a series on teaching a fanfiction workshop. Part One is here.)

When planning the fanfiction workshop, I had the benefit of experience to look back on. The MFA program at the University of Washington offered an internship called “Writers in the Schools.” I worked with a classroom teacher at a local school to teach short story writing to a class of 7th graders. That was a challenging job and although we all made it through, with some great short stories, I never quite felt I was up for the task. I was pretty shy and had absolutely no idea how to keep the attention of thirty teenagers! They were awestruck for the first few weeks, but when my “author glamour” wore off, it was a struggle to keep them quiet enough so that I could give my lessons.

On top of that, after the class was over I felt that I had taught them the wrong things. I spent so much time explaining the conventions of the short story form, the mystery genre, the adventure genre, and so forth, when many of these conventions are already imprinted on our brains. I spent much less time with confidence-building and tips and tricks for getting unstuck. And when their stories were finished I critiqued them in the same way adult writers critique each other’s stories, not understanding that I was sending a message that a Professional Stamp of Approval would be required for their art.

I gave it my best, and I did a good job, but still . . . . I wanted a do-over!

Since then, I’ve had a lot more experience with teaching and public speaking. I now know that teaching is as much performance art as it is transmission of information. It’s about knowing when kids’ attention is lagging and how to get it back.

I’ve also had a lot of time to think about what kinds of help young writers actually do and don’t need. In general, it’s helpful if it’s about how to get ideas out of your brain and onto the paper. It’s not helpful if it’s about how to do it correctly. It’s helpful if it’s about practice. It’s not helpful if the initial focus is on final product.

Above all, it’s helpful if it’s fun.

Enter the fanfiction component.

Next up: Day One

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On teaching a fanfiction workshop for kids

This year I volunteered in the classroom to teach a group of 4th and 5th graders how to write fanfiction stories. It was a great experience! I got the chance to see some really excited writers and read their work, and the kids got the chance to have fun writing.

When planning it, I thought about what would have helped me as a young writer. I was constantly writing stories, but I felt like they all had the same character in them . . . a girl with an embarrassing similarity to me! There’s nothing wrong with that, but it made me feel self-conscious about my writing. I was also self-conscious about writing stories featuring my favorite book characters. I didn’t realize that authors are always borrowing characters and plots and then reworking them.

I also thought about what would be helpful for kids who think they can’t write. Grownups make writing quite difficult for kids by insisting it be done “the right way.” That’s why so many adults have writer’s block. In some ways, schooling seems to have improved — I’m seeing more focus on starting out with a rough draft and not worrying about spelling and punctuation in that rough draft. But at the same time, there’s a much smaller emphasis on teaching handwriting, and that hinders kids’ fluency and their feelings about their own writing. So writer’s block isn’t going away anytime soon!

Teaching fanfiction instead of regular fiction had big advantages for both these groups. Self-conscious writers don’t have to worry that their characters or plots suck, because somebody else made them up. And they don’t have to worry so much about pleasing adults — only themselves.

In the next few blog posts, I’ll be writing about my experience. I also have some worksheets to share, so I’ll be uploading them to this blog for general use.

Next up: Writers in the Schools, The Second Time Round

– Kristin

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