By Sheri Rodman
My visit with Angela Stockman and her students at the Western New York Young Writer's Studio.
When I arrived at the studio, while the students were settling and enjoying some holiday snacks, Angela told me that the plan for the day was to investigate string.
"Okay..." I said, not sure how else to respond. I was skeptical, but also intrigued. She told me that the purpose of the activity was to connect string to story arcs.
The students started by brainstorming and discussing string. What is it? What could it be? How is it used? They jotted down and then shared their ideas with a partner. Then they had a group discussion.
Next, Angela asked them to quietly create something with string. They made braids, bracelets, keychain-ish things, and several other creations. They tied knots, made loops, and some connected the ends of their strings to make one big circle.
Finally, the students reflected and shared how their and their peers' strings were like story arcs. As the students wrote their ideas in their journals, Angela snapped pictures of their writing. "I'm taking pictures because I'm using this as an assessment," she said. Easy, efficient, and brilliant. At the start of the discussion, the students were a bit shy and hesitant to share what they wrote. Angela reminded them that part of being in a writing community is sharing good thinking so other people can profit. Then they opened up. A student who made a bracelet said that a story can come “full circle,” having the end connect back to the beginning. Another student mentioned a turning point in her creation; when she was a bit more than halfway through, she knew she needed to wrap things up.
Armed with new ideas, the students spent the rest of the time working on their own pieces of writing and having individual meetings with Angela.
One student wanted feedback on when her story got "bland." She intended it to have a steady pace, a jagged incline, and a peak. She wanted it to build up and then drop off. Angela suggested that she investigate how to build suspense and directed her to the writing magazines in the studio library.
Another student was refining questions for a survey she was planning to conduct at her school to measure her peers' perceptions.
The last student reported that she was getting better at adding comic relief, but struggling to get through her story's climax; she felt like she was rushing it. "How can I help?" asked Angela. The student agreed to email her story to Angela and receive feedback and pointers.
Throughout the afternoon, the students had opportunities to think independently, collaborate with partners, share as a group, work on their own stories, and receive feedback from Angela and each other. When these young writers, with support from their teachers, families, Angela, and one another, become novelists and journalists, I wonder if they'll think back about the day that they investigated string on a Saturday.