What do "A Slice of Life," "NY to MI," and "Marching Band" have in common? They are titles of stories written by students in Ms. Audra Whetstone's AP Literature class at Northview High School. Adult guest writers were invited to work with students to edit selected student writing pieces using the Steven Dunning small group process. Three students and one adult spent 90 minutes reading and giving feedback to each other about the first draft of an original story. The 90 minute class period flew by and groups were still engaged in discussion when the dismissal bell rang.
Nick, a Senior and author of "A Slice of Life," wrote about the events leading up to fining his passion for photography. The purchase of his first digital camera led to his own web site and attention to artistic detail. He accepted our critique of his first draft and expressed how he would use our feedback to make changes to draft #2. He went from Trucker to Photographer.
"NY to MI" was written by Aaron, a Junior. He had a compelling story about his move from an unforgiving NY city to a quiet suburb of Grand Rapids - Northview. His recall of the emotions held by a middle school boy entering a new school took me right back to my own entry to a new middle school. Aaron's selection of words and phrases rivaled older and more experienced writers.
The piece on the first few weeks of "Marching Band" convinced me that our band students work every bit as hard as our athletic teams. Cameron, also a Junior, wrote so clearly about his calves burning after the first day of marching that my own calves started to hurt. He went on to describe the emotions associated with doing well in local competitions and state-wide competitions at Ford Field.
My hands turned clammy, my heart began to pound, and my voice cracked as I said "here is my piece of writing for your review." The three students turned their trained eyes to my already published piece of writing - the May 2010 column for the Northview News. Their feedback was direct and helpful. Had I done the editing process prior to publishing the column it would have been a stronger piece of writing. This is exactly the outcome desired by Ms. Whetstone for her students.
I left class with the students, who moved on to after school activities or the homework of editing their stories using our feedback. I stood in the hall with Mr. Thomas and watched nearly 1,170 high school students exit the building. All demonstrating appropriate and respectful behaviors. We talked to a student who is also on the bowling team. He knew how to describe a Brooklyn Strike and began to tell us about how to throw the strike and the feeling you have when all the pins fall. I am guessing he will use this as a topic in an AP Literature Class at Northview High School.
As I walked back across the parking lot to the district office it really hit me - our students today have more opportunities, better teachers, and are smarter than I was at the same age. If today is any indication of the hands that will hold our future, then I am really optimistic about our future. I am also thinking about buying a digital camera, writing about my moves to new schools as a superintendent (sometimes like being the new kid in a middle school), and I am sure my calves would do more than burn if I tried to march with our band.
My next blog post will not occur until Monday, September 27. Comments regarding my posts may be sent directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.