Let’s Talk Writing Process with Cassie & Kate Beasley

Our fourth grade is immersed in the writing process using Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop. They are looking at mentor texts. They are studying author’s craft and developing their own style of taking a story from an idea to a published piece of writing. During this exploration, the fourth grade team reached out to ask if there was any possibility of connecting with an author to talk about the narrative writing process.  I immediately thought of the dynamic sister duo from south Georgia, Kate and Cassie Beasley. Both of these talented authors have visited our school in the past for their books, so I reached out to them to consider the possibility of connecting for an informal chat about writing.

Our @fourthgradebarrow learned so many tips about writing from Cassie and Kate Beasley. #author #skype #writing

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They enthusiastically said yes, and the whole fourth grade came to the library with writing journals and index card questions in hand.

Cassie Beasley is the author of Circus Mirandus and the recently released Tumble and Blue.  Kate Beasley is the author of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and the upcoming Lions & Liars.  During our connection, they started out with an informal conversation about writing. They each took turns asking questions about writing process from the beginning to the end.  I loved how it was like a mini-interview conversation between the two of them and how we discovered that they both have different ways that they accomplish the same task of writing a story.

We learned many writing tips from the Beasley sisters including outlining. #author #skype

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Cassie shared that she often starts with an idea for a story and Kate often starts with a character and tries to put that character into a setting and a problem.  Both sisters shared that they do a good bit of outlining when they are getting ready to write.  One of the most surprising things to all of us was the amount of writing that they do that never makes it into a novel.  Circus Mirandus, Tumble and Blue, and Gertie’s Leap to Greatness all went through multiple rewrites. Kate even shared that she thinks that about 75% of what she writes doesn’t get used.  After our connection, we spent a bit more time talking about this and came to the conclusion that even though that writing doesn’t make it into the novel it wasn’t wasted work. The 75% was what was needed in order to discover the best story that was hiding underneath everything else.

 

I’ve heard several authors talk about how much they rewrite, and it’s important for students to hear that too because it’s really hard to start over.  I casually asked Kate and Cassie how they feel when they have to start again. I asked if they scream or throw things.  I mostly asked because that’s a bit how I feel when I have to start over.  I think it’s important that students know that it’s not always the best feeling to start over even when you know it’s the right thing to do.  Kate and Cassie both talked about the frustration. They shared how it’s a moment of panic. Cassie relies on Kate to talk her through the frustration so she can start again. Some deep breaths are involved and maybe some chocolate too.

Students had a chance to line up and ask their own questions to support their writing. One of the questions was about “where”.  Where do you write?  Kate has a very specific place where she writes.  It’s a house that doesn’t have phone or internet so that she can stay away from distractions.  Cassie also writes in that place but she does writing just about everywhere: a coffee shop, the pool, outside.  It was an important reminder to us all that sometimes it’s tricky in the crowded classroom to find writing spaces that feel supportive. I hope we can think more about how to give students a space where they feel productive in their writing process.

Another student asked about how many books they hope to write, and it was so great to hear that they have many more ideas for stories that are waiting to be told or are in the process of being drafted. Even though writing takes time and has frustrating moments, it still comes down to that magic of escaping into someone else’s life or some other magical place on the page.  It was so refreshing at the end of our skype to hear students who were excited to go back to class and write after hearing from published authors.

Thank you Cassie & Kate Beasley for taking time out of your writing lives to share your wisdom with us.  We can’t wait to celebrate all your future stories.

To purchase their books, visit here:  Circus Mirandus, Tumble & Blue, Gertie’s Leap to Greatness.

To learn more about Kate’s upcoming novel, click here.

Collaborating Within Walls Using Google Hangouts: A List Poetry Lesson

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Last year, I tried something new with the 2nd grade.  My library schedule was packed and it was hard to get all 4 classes on the calendar, so I used Google Hangouts to teach all 4 classes at one time.  It was an experiment, but it proved to be a lot of fun and also showed the students and teachers how to use a Google Hangout and collaborate on a Google doc.

This year, we planned it again and added on a few layers.  One of our favorite kinds of poems to write is list poetry.  You take a list and add descriptive words to each item on the list so that the reader can experience the items on the list.  Our goal in our Google Hangout this time was to learn about list poetry, hear a mentor poem, practice list poetry together, and then create one collaborative list poem.

In advance, I setup a Google Hangout on Air.

 

I sent the link to the hangout to all of the teachers participating in the hangout.  I also created a blank Google Doc for our collaborative poem and shared editing rights with all 4 teachers.

 

I gave the blank doc a title and wrote each teacher’s name inside the doc to create a space for each class to add to the collaborative poem without writing on top of one another.

On the morning of the hangout, I emailed teachers a reminder that included the link to the doc as well as the direct link for  joining as a participant in the hangout.

At hangout time, I went in my office and awaited the classes.  As they entered, I did a sound check to make sure microphones were working.  Then I used the control panel in Hangouts to mute all of their microphones to eliminate feedback.

I opened our lesson by reading from Falling Down the Page, list poems collected by Georgia Heard.  We focused on “In my Desk” by Jane Yolen.  I pointed out how she gave describing words for each item found in her desk so that we would be able to picture it or experience it.  I built on the reactions of students to the line about a “great big hunk of rotting cheese” found in a lunch box.  These kinds of words cause us to react which is exactly what we want in a poem.

Next, I opened up a blank doc and started writing a grocery list:  bread, milk, eggs, cereal.  Then I assigned each word to one of the 4 classes and had them brainstorm describing words to add to each item on my list.  Each class had a chance to speak in the hangout as I added our words to the poem.

Finally, I invited all of the classes to work on a collaborative poem about things under our beds.  Each teacher facilitated the work in their own classrooms.  I checked in from time to time to give an update on when we would stop working.  Then, each class read their stanza of the poem to close out our time.

While we were writing, I invited people on Twitter to watch the doc in construction.  We had lots of viewers engaged in our work in progress, and students loved being published authors with one tweet.

Viewers

You can watch the whole thing here:

This lesson certainly saved me time in the library to give to other classes who needed a lesson, but it was much more than that.  Rather than having each class in the grade level feel isolated, this lesson allowed them to unite together to create a piece of writing that immediately reached an audience outside of our school.  It allowed us to collaborate within the walls of our school without the disruption of shuffling kids from class to class.  It gave each class a space to think and work with one another and also a space for all classes to work together.  I don’t think that every lesson would work in this type of setup, but it does make me curious to think about when this type of learning is the better choice than scheduling each class individually.

Under My Bed

By Barrow 2nd graders

Under my bed you will find…

 

(Yawn’s Stanza)

Slimey Socks

Lost High Fives

Stuffed animals, toys, and books

Scraps of paper

Remote control plane

Hairy, mad Tarantula

Dusty Boogers

Junky Legos

Clothes and shoes and jackets

Hairy Monkey Eyes with a big chin

Tv, coke can, and baseball cards

Football cards and a zipline

Dirty underwear, rotten bread, and an old sandwich

 

(Ramseyer’s Stanza)

Two fat picture books

A fake diamond sword

My playful black kitten

Giant Lego parts

Huge dead bugs in the corner

A stinky, rainbow sock

A blue crate filled with Adidas shoes

A chewed up puppy stuffed animal

 

(Brink’s Stanza)

Hiding under my bed with my big, hairy monster

you will find

smelly dead cockroaches and dust bunnies

old paper candy wrappers

a big purple three horned monster

basketball shoes

an empty shoebox and an old toy

a skeleton reaching for water

a stinking mummy, rotten eggs, and a stinky sock

cuddly stuffed animals

a golden chair, medals, trophies

smooth rocks I found in the street

lost, overdue library books

a racing track

paper plates

 

(Wright’s Stanza)

Under my bed, I look and see

Flattened books

moldy food

cute and sleepy puppies

old broken legos I used to play with

misplaced and forgotten toys

and ripped, dirty money

 

So many things under my bed.

 

Following this lesson, I did a very similar lesson with one Kindergarten class in person.  We didn’t do the hangout, but we did share our work with the Internet so that students’ voices were already reaching an audience even in their beginning steps of writing.  It was so much fun to get a comment from one of the viewers of the doc.