A novel project
Charter School students become authors
Amy Reece's quiet fifth- and sixth-grade classroom hums with energy. "He's writing a fantasy," she whispers, pointing at one of the 11- and 12-year-old novelists. Her finger takes aim again: "He's writing the story of World War III; those girls are writing about young girls their own age; she's writing about an ice skater who hates skating but loves tennis. Everyone's writing very different stories."
Photos by Ralph Stewart
Ms. Reece's Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School class is the first group to take part in her yearlong novel writing project, which began in November and will culminate when the students bind and illustrate their books at the end of the year. In June, the novels will be placed in the school's library, available for anyone to check out.
The students progress at a rate of about a chapter a week. They are given class time to work on their books, and on Friday afternoons they conduct workshops, discussing each other's new material in groups of twos and threes. Each student is also paired with an adult editor - a family member, a teacher, a school staff member - who gives feedback and support.
Sarah Chickering just wrote a scene in which the protagonist's father dies. "It was very dramatic. Like very, very dramatic," says the author, who enjoys writing because - "You get to just make up something that's yours. You'll read a really good book that you love so much - and now you can make your own."
The students are writing their stories on Google Docs, a web-based word processing application that allows them to access and share their novels with each other from any computer connected to the Internet.
It was Patrick Phillips, whose job at the Charter School is to facilitate learning through technology, who recognized the application's value to the project at the beginning of the year.
"They can write anywhere and share anything with anyone," says Mr. Phillips.
Four months into the project and the students are deep into their novels.
"Kauai," by Elie Jordi, begins, "I was stranded on a lonely Island with only a damp map and a pocketknife and knew nothing of survival." Elie explains that his story is about "a family who goes on a Christmas vacation and they rent a sailboat and capsize. A tour boat rescues the parents but the kid swims in to try to get some help...It's pretty cool." Glancing away from his computer screen, Elie adds, "I actually went to Kauai, and I took a lot of notes. It was fun."
The first few lines of "Bodkin Story," a fantasy by Cassius Paquet-Huff, are gripping and encyclopedic: "As I was laying in my yurt, I thought of the upcoming competition to kill the Iron Boar. I've heard stories that its hide is hard to steal and as thick as a malboro's temper. (Bestiary note: a malboro is a large carnivorous plant that wanders the subterranean forests of the Rujjuo Forests.)"
Cassius pauses briefly to note, "It's hard to explain."