Sunday, January 31, 2010

Who gets more out of a school vist? Students or the Author?

I have to confess. A school visit makes me nervous. The butterflies start weeks before the actual event. And on the day of the visit, I'm filled with the jitters.
On Friday, I drove my jittery self up north for a visit with some 5th grade classes.
(btw, "north" is Jersey talk for the northern part of the state. In NJ, the actual north/south border is a subject of great debate and even the subject of a movie documentary.)
It had the makings of a great day.The drive up was fine. No traffic. First time in ages that my GPS and I didn't argue about how to get there (okay, there was that tiny spat about that one turn in the beginning of the drive, but I did it my way and we made up after that).
My jitters were gone the moment I walked into the school. What a wonderful greeting from the 5th graders. Smiling faces. Hand made cards. It couldn't have been better.
The presentation went well. There was a minor blip. Sometime toward the end, I got a ton of blue ink on my face and looked like I was auditioning to be an extra in the movie, Braveheart. (If you've never used a Smartboard, watch out for the blue markers). I cleaned up.
After my talk, the students had a writing assignment. I walked around the classrooms while they asked questions. Good ones. About conflict and plot and characters and voice.
When that was done, I met with quite a few students for a one-on-one conference.
Each child had about five to ten minutes to talk about his/her work.
"I'd like some advice on how to engage the reader," asked one girl.
"This is the sentence I'm most proud of," said a boy.
Another girl showed me about four or five pages of a short story. "You came up with this idea and did this in that half hour you had to write?" I asked. She nodded.
I hope the students learned something from my visit, because I sure did.
After hearing them talk so enthusiastically about their writing, I learned that fifth graders are fearless. They're not afraid to pour their hearts out onto a piece of paper.
As a writer, I owe them the same thing back.


TerryLynnJohnson said...

WOW! How to engage a reader? That's amazing. Very interesting post. I have school visits to look forward to in my future, so this is gold for me. Well done. Loved the Braveheart image.

nanmarino said...

Terry, They had great questions. They were very well-prepared by a terrific writing teacher. And the kids were amazing.

Kristopher and Crew said...

That's a great post. My brain isn't working well enough to make coherent thoughts, but I enjoyed what you wrote. Them word things, they was nice.

nanmarino said...

Just read your blog post. No wonder your brain isn't working. A major out-of-state move (especially after a car accident) is brain numbing.

Lisa Green said...

I love hearing that - and it's so true! My son is now in fifth grade and over half the class says they want to be writers when they grow up! My son sat at the computer after I first told him I wrote a novel and announced that he was starting his own. I have to tell you that it's not half bad! Whatever they're teaching these kids it's working!

MG Higgins said...

Oh, what a wonderful experience with those fifth graders! I can so relate to being nervous weeks before, though. That would definitely be me.

nanmarino said...

Lisa, I met many writers, too. And they had many great story ideas.
Mel, I'm already getting nervous about the next visit.

Anonymous said...

You sounded so nervous at first, but everything went well. I fondly remember having artistic freedom as a 5th grader (especially with a teacher who elicited it).

nanmarino said...

Medeia, Thanks for your comment. Yes! Those teachers who inspired us are always memorable.

Sliding on the Edge said...

I loved your account of the school visit, Nan. As always you made me laugh and gave me insights. Aren't kids that age inspiring? This post makes me want to get back to that "fearless" stage of life. I'm writing my mantra now, "The only thing to fear is . . ." Oops! That was Churchill, wasn't it? I should get an original one of my own.

nanmarino said...

Lee, I'm working on it too. "Fearless" is my theme word for 2010. far..well, the year is young. We can hope.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but I'm returning to let you know that I'm passing a blog award to you.

nanmarino said...

Thanks, Medeia!