Kathryn Dunn, 2019
Hand Crafted in the U.S.A.
The Friday Notebook – Sample Program
Many Voices, Many Stories – a Creative Writing class in a small city high school with a diverse population.
“I look at all that people are doing here and I wonder
why it is so hard for me. I do not understand what the teacher in A Period was saying…. I think of my home; I hear the gentle voice of my father, the sounds of the children playing. But now [at school], I am lonely and confused and worried.”
“…I didn’t know that.”
The semester begins with these words from a young Cambodian student and a response from her classmate. We discuss what makes this writing strong, how it touches us as listeners and readers.
Collaborative Learning begins:
Students with learning difficulties, students learning English, students who are thriving, students who are on the brink of dropping out: all write together, read together, and learn from each other’s words.
Safety is important. Teens who are struggling in school are not likely to take risks or try new approaches simply because the teacher thinks it’s a good idea. If we want pens to move across the page, we have to use a structure that takes fear of failure off the table. So our first rule is: you do not have to share what you have written.
Safety translates into respect:
for the stories, for the writing, and for each other. This is a laboratory in the best sense of the word: students begin to experiment, and in this process they become curious – even urgent – about the technical side of writing: how can I say this so that someone else will understand what I mean?
In this class, I learn over and over again how readily students understand and appreciate the emotional truths of each others’ writing. The details may be vastly different, but the issues, the dreams, the ideas, are understood by all.
Young adults with a wide range of abilities deepened their skills as writers. Participants from very different backgrounds grew to know each other as fellow students and friends. A rich range of cultures, histories, and lives were shared across the seven years of this course, in the form of poems, journal entries, fiction, dialogs, essays, and discussions.
“I liked the way we all got to know each other through our writing. And the way you find yourself through your writing.” — High School Junior
With English grades identified as a marker of success, we conducted a seven-year review of English grades for participants who had been identified by administrators as “at risk of failing.” In comparing grades in the semesters prior to and following participation in the Creative Writing class, we found that, of these “at-risk” students:
• 48% raised their English grade by a full letter;
• another 33% maintained or improved their English grade by less than a full letter.
Thus, 81% of participants who had been identified as “at risk of failing” maintained or improved their English grade after participating in the Creative Writing course.
And beyond the semester-long development of skills and confidence, students’ progress was evident on a weekly basis: in their efforts to understand each other; in their satisfaction at seeing their own words in print; and in their shy smiles in sharing their work and hearing the words of classmates in response.
“I loved going to this class, and usually school is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” — High School Sophomore
The Friday Notebook Project
Photos © K.Dunn