This week I have been working at Douglas Elementary, an A+ magnet school, in Raleigh. We began by a little back and forth teaching and learning. The students began by filling me in on all they’d learned (and their learning was considerable) about the moon and its relationship with Earth. I promised in return to share with them all I knew about writing.
I began by reading aloud Adam Rex’s Moonday (Hyperion, ages 4 and up), the story of a young girl who is followed home by the moon. Ridiculously the moon winds up in her backyard and her entire town is besieged by sleeplessness.
The students could easily identify scientific facts Rex had used that were true and, with my help, saw how he had ingeniously tweaked them in this fantastical story. It led to a great discussion about the need for real information to ground readers as we write a fantasy. And it set the perfect tone for creating magical moon characters.
When I write with children, I set 4 parameters for character creation. All of these are aimed at inventing an original character imagined from their inner landscapes. It’s not a place they travel to easily, everyone’s reality is so colored by media that it’s sometimes hard to tune out media. My rules are that they are:
- not allowed to “steal” characters.
- can’t use violence as it’s harder to wit than outwhip.
- must consider audience (ie their parents) and not use “nasty stuff” (as one child put it).
- most importantly, invent a character who makes us wonder and care.
Invent they did…an entire single-spaced page of characters. We chose “a dust bunny from the moon” and spent the week imaging the life of this brilliant scientist who comes to Earth to teach men how to work as a team.
I realized this week, that these classroom adventures, nerve-wracking though they can be in the moment, embody the essence of the Common Core State Standards. We constantly use higher order thinking and collaboration to determine our many wacky elements of story.
We have faced questions like:
How can a tiny dust bunny take over the government? That’s when our character, Senor Dust, became Dr. Dust . One third grader suggested that if he were a scientist, he could invent a serum to enlarge his fellow dust bunnies. We talked about how stories change as you grow them.
How can he get the serum to the dust bunnies? His evil henchman, Smote (a play on dust motes) gets it into the space center’s sprinkling system and pulls the fire alarm.
Does he really need a pet? I’m constantly advising against the “cast of thousands” problem, but the students insisted that he could warn Dr. Dust of the night watchmen while he invented the serum. So Mite (as in dust mite) stayed in our story. Dr Dust’s son? Not so much, we killed him off
How should dust bunnies (albeit large ones) remove the President, Congress and Senate? We considered different possibilities:
- One child suggested Dr. Dust just picks up the president and removes him. “Wait,” I said, “Do we want to say with our story that might is right?”
- Another child suggested that he scares the president away. ” Wait,” I said, “Do we want to say that fear is the way to solve problems?”
- Meanwhile…all this time I thinking how the heck will we resolve this? Finally it hits me, these dust bunnies have to hang together so they must know how to collaborate and being that there are a ton of them (there are, in fact, endless supplies in my house alone), there are plenty to help the American people.
It’s been a thrill a minute and today (Sunday) I’m typing up our story which is probably why I’m blogging instead. This has been an extraordinary experience partly because I’m being shadowed and aided by librarian extraordinaire, Carol Owen, who has taken many of my CEU classes. The plan is that she will observe me for two weeks so she can teach the process in classrooms. But she’s done WAY more co-teaching and co-planning than I suspect she’d bargained for. The teachers have been extraordinary as well—very much a part of our hard-working writing team and so generous with giving me extra time, allowing us to finish the story properly.
Tomorrow I return to work with three more classrooms…can’t wait!