Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Young Writers

I've been in the computer lab the last couple days. My students are typing the final drafts of short stories they've written. It's the final project for a unit on the elements of literature: characters, setting, plot, theme. We read a number of stories together, identified the elements, and now the kids have to demonstrate their knowledge by writing their own story that incorporates all of the elements.

Last week we worked on our rough drafts in class. I let the kids listen to music as we worked. This isn't something I normally do, but I thought I'd give it a try. A colleague of mine told me Michael Jackson is usually a big hit, so I brought in Thriller. I have to say, the kids worked very well to MJ.

My school is in the process of becoming an International Baccalaureate school, and one of the goals of the International Baccalaureate program is to foster open-minded students. Let's just say, it is quite the challenge to open the average middle school mind.  In an attempt to open minds through music, I decided to bring in some music from international artists.

Day two I played some Beatles for the kids. I wish I could tell you they were excited about it, but alas, there was much whining. Mr. Riley patiently explained to his students that it was important for them to expand their musical horizons. And when that didn't work, he told them, kindly mind you, to shut up and listen to the Beatles.

I was ready for more whining day three, but I was pleasantly surprised. When I told the kids we'd be listening to Bob Marley, the room exploded with enthusiasm. Score one for the reggae master.

On day four, I went with Ireland's finest, U2. I thought most of the kids would be familiar with U2, but I was wrong. Having established a whine-free environment, the kids managed to muffle their skepticism. I could see it in their eyes, so I tried explaining that just last year I had seen U2 in Phoenix, along with 80,000 other life-long fans, but this didn't seem to impress them. To the kids credit, they gave it a chance. I don't think Bono and the boys won everyone over, but they may have managed to open a few minds.

Friday was the last day to work on the rough drafts. I needed the most conducive environment possible, so I let the kids choose the music. Three of the classes played it safe and chose more Michael Jackson, but a couple classes told me to mix it up. I complimented them on being open-minded and did my best dj imitation.

It was a fun week. There were plenty of kids who squandered their time, but unfortunately, that's par for the course. You can lead a horse to water, as they say. I do think the music helped, and I can see myself using music when we write in the future.

The final product is due Thursday, and I'm looking forward to reading the stories. Let's hope MJ, Bono, Bob Marley, and yes, even the Beatles, helped my students write some decent fiction.   


  1. Tim- Good on you for letting them create while listening to tunes. My son (who's in 9th grade) swears he's a more efficient worker, and more creative, when he's got the ear buds in (and Marley is his favorite). I, on the other hand, can't write a sentence if I've any distraction at all, including even, classical music.

    And I'll bet it's a heck of a lot of fun to read what your students are producing.

    Very exciting that the school is moving toward the IB program. Lots of really good stuff going on there.

  2. I'll bet you're a "favorite teacher" for many of the students. My three daughters (6th, 8th, and 10th grades) like school; and love it when their teachers do things a bit outside of the box.

    Art was especially fun for one of them as the music played in her class.

    Keep it up.

    Hope those papers are fun to read. :)

    Oh...my girls would have agreed with your students' choices of music.

  3. No one can resist the Beatles.

  4. Hooray for you! Some people genuinely do work better to music, and even the ones who don't, find it stimulates their brain in a different way. Having worked with adult learners for years I can assure you that trying something different may have a huge impact in years to come - you might never hear about it, but I have, and I can't thank innovative secondary teachers enough. Sue

  5. I would have suggested using the "Across the Universe" movie to illustrate the Beetles but it may be too adult for such a young crowd. But it has nice looking boys and girls in it singing to the Beetles which may make it more acceptable to those that appreciate this kind of thing.

  6. I get a kick out of imagining the kids whining. I'm sure I wouldn't if I was actually the one dealing with it, but just reading about it makes me laugh.

    I'm sad they weren't won over by U2 though. What's wrong with these kids? ;)

    I bet it is fun working with these young writers and seeing their creativity come out.

  7. There is nothing better than music to open the mind. What a great idea. I hope you get some entertaining stories out of it. Maybe even inspriing a budding young writer to touch a new generation.

  8. I must agree with your kids on the Beetles and U2 rolling of eyes. Also not a fan of the other two, but have broadened my horizon to at least listen to them.

    What a great idea! You are wicked cool Mr. Riley.

  9. Jayne: The real fun is seeing kids get excited about their stories.

    Anita: I think it's important for teachers to get out of their comfort zones.

    dbs: I agree. They just needed to hear more. I'll keep working on them.

    Sue: I've had former students tell me that something I did had a big impact on them-pretty awesome feeling.

    Michael: I have a colleague who shows parts of Across the Universe. I've never seen it. I'll have to check ii out.

    Julie: What's wrong with these kids? Don't get me started.

    Nari: I aspire to inspire.

    Nubian: Don't like U2 or The Beatles? Interesting.

    Munk: How so?

  10. Excellent lesson. Love it! How could they not like the Beatles? I thought The Beatles had something for everyone. hmm. Great that they love Marley. Maybe your stories will have a unique rhythm.