This #blog4nwp guest post is from Laura Beachy.
Sixth Grade legs dangled from the campus desks. Shocks of seventh grade hair stood at oh-shoot-I’ m-
late-for-school attention. Eighth Grade retainers lurked in mouths, hoping to remain undiscovered. All
eyes focused hopefully and curiously on the two strange teachers welcoming the first group of thirty
middle school students from around the city to the classroom on the university building’ s third floor.
The GKCWP Youth Writing Conference had begun.
With some initial fist-bumps shared around the room and a celebration of the fact that we were all “out
of school” that day, Jennifer Quick and I attempted to win over our first batch of young writers. Our
activity was a poetry “mash-up” involving one Walt Whitman poem and one Langston Hughes poem.
Students read the poems aloud. We gave directions for the writing activity. We showed examples of
finished products and works-in-progress. We told the students to begin, and we silently wondered what
in the world these students would write as we settled in to do our own writing along with them.
Before we knew it, students were asking to transfer their drafts onto the colored paper we brought.
Marker caps clicked as every student – each one! – worked on his or her piece. Stickers were bestowed
upon students who shared with the class at the end of the session, and the group migrated to a
classroom down the hall for Session B. Session A yielded as much creativity and cooperation as we high
school teachers could have expected, so we counted it a success.
In came the second group, energized from their Session A writing activity and itching to know what
they’ d be doing with us.
“What is this colored paper for? Are we going to use it for writing? Will we get to use these markers?”
Again, we distributed poems, gave directions and examples, and answered the “do we have to”
questions by assuring students that no, they did not have to use a line from one of the poems as the
first line in their own poems. No, they did not have to use only words they found in the poems (but they
could do that if they wished). No, they did not have to wait for the entire group to finish the rough draft
before selecting a piece of colored paper for a final copy. A few sighs of relief accompanied an almost
palpable appreciation for the literary freedom allowed. Another cache of wonderfully creative and
expressive pieces was shared as the scent of warm cheese and pepperoni suggested that lunch time was
Jennifer and I set up a small buffet in the classroom and served this second group its pizza lunch.
Contented chewing and amicable (and surprisingly polite) chatter occurred as students fueled up for
the afternoon writing session. Jennifer and I quietly discussed how well the day was going until we
were interrupted by an explosive belch from our smallest – yet certainly most vocal – young writer in
the group. Incredibly (I admit to having to bite my bottom lip to keep from giggling), the other students
did not laugh or point or make rude remarks; they simply continued to consume slices of pizza and
talk about the day’ s activities. Well, we HAD established an atmosphere of respect for each other as
writers, and perhaps that carried over to respect for fellow digesters. Middle school students respecting
each other despite shocking and different behaviors: a small miracle, perhaps?
Our little writing and pizza enthusiast remarked that her pizza had been “surprisingly satisfying” as she
packed up her conference folder and writing utensils in preparation for the session shift. There was,
after all, another group of middle school students waiting to enter our room for Session C. Oblivious to
the fact that her two poetry mash-up teachers were eavesdropping on the students’ comments as the
group left the room, the boisterous belcher burst out with something a bit more savory as she exited.
An earnest proclamation for all to hear echoed down the hall and through my head the rest of the day:
“This is the best field trip EVER!” I’ m still processing that remark, and it is settling well.