In a small conference room at the Klein ISD Teaching and Learning Center, an idea was born. While brainstorming for the National Day on Writing, the ELA coordinators realized the actual day would fall on a Saturday. At that moment, I exclaimed, “Let’s do something district-wide. Let’s go big with this!” The date was already September 10, and with the National Day on Writing (October 20) only a few weeks away, I really wasn’t sure what we could actually do. But I did know that as a team we shared the goal of increasing writing volume and proficiency, shifting our culture toward writing intentionally and meaningfully at every grade level and across genres. So my heart was already committed, and after a little more brainstorming the idea of hosting a Scholastic Writing Workshop materialized fully. If we could secure enough volunteers for each category in the contest, we could actually promote the Scholastic Writing Awards and celebrate the National Day on Writing at the same time.
Our instructional officer, Lisa Robinson, and I immediately started recruiting volunteers. Those of us who write and love teaching writing find each other easily. Writing creeps into our conversations within and outside of formal meetings. So we had teachers in mind, and we reached out to a few of them directly, testing the interest level. They began recruiting colleagues, and before we had a chance to fully contemplate what was happening, we had enough volunteers to staff the workshop.
Klein Cain High School
Lone Star University
Klein High School
For the next three weeks the teachers and I touched base via email, Google docs, and Zoom. When we checked enrollment one week before the workshop, only 8 students were registered. Surprisingly, none of the teachers wanted to cancel. Everyone felt that we should proceed no matter how few students participated. Participants would just get more intimate attention from the staff. We therefore proceeded with our plans and reached out to our communications department, Advanced Academics team, and the digital learning specialists for an extra promotional push, blasting the event on social media, through district-wide email messages, and in campus-wide Schoology courses. From that moment, enrollment increased exponentially. By midnight before the event, 145 students had registered. Ultimately, it was like planning a wedding reception in which 150 guests RSVP but only half actually make their way to the party. In our case, 72 students participated, with several apologetic students sending email to report scheduling conflicts and express interest in other opportunities.
Because we organized the workshop around contest categories with students signing up based on interest, each session included 7th through 12th graders working side-by-side. Some students came in with full drafts that had already been revised; many had rough drafts that they felt uncertain of; still others entered with only a budding idea and the need for affirmation that they should take the leap and write. No matter the students’ various entry points, we worked with them, helping them to tap into their inner expert, choosing their own writing mentors from an assortment of past winners based on the selections they individually enjoyed reading. We allowed them to respond to each others’ writing or writing ideas as readers, and we modeled this work for them through our feedback and conversations. In each room, collaborating writers created anchor charts of what they noticed in the mentors they studied closely and had conversations about next moves in their own work. They played with language and discussed possibilities.
At the end of the day, our students’ faces were full of smiles. Our volunteers expressed appreciation for the opportunity to serve, and conversations about expansions for next year ensued.
Later that evening after organizing workshop materials to return to the office, my daughter Janae, a 7th grader at Kleb Intermediate, grabbed her laptop, sat on the sofa, and said, “I am going to work on my writing.”
“Do you have a next step?” I asked. “What did you decide?”
“You know how I was trying to decide whether to do a short story or flash fiction one? Well, I decided to stay with flash,” she explained. “But I am going to expand it. You know, really show more of what happened with dialogue and stuff. I got some really good ideas at the workshop. I’m so glad I went.”
I have a feeling there were more conversations like that in other households across Klein, and that makes volunteering time on a Saturday morning absolutely worth it.
For more information about the contest, see our slide deck: Scholastic Writing Contest Guidelines and Mentor Texts. Students must turn in entries and submission forms to teachers no later than November 12, 2018. Department chairs deliver paperwork to the Teaching and Learning Center by 3 p.m. on November 14, 2018. We look forward to seeing the great work our students will submit this year. Teachers may contact their ELA Department Chairs, Literacy Specialists, or Kionna LeMalle (ELA Program Coordinator) with any questions related to preparing entries.