National Writing Project

School Partnership Leads to “Exciting Writing Week” in Little Rock

By: Elizabeth Radin Simons
Date: July 29, 2009

Summary: A partnership between an Arkansas elementary school and the Little Rock Writing Project has greatly advanced the school's writing culture, especially through its annual Exciting Writing Week.

 

Exciting Writing Week
A young author's words gain an audience during Exciting Writing Week.

An event called Exciting Writing Week doesn't last just a week at Terry Elementary School in Little Rock, Arkansas. You might say the event is just the most visible part of a yearlong project that makes writing exciting every day.

Now four years old, Exciting Writing Week immerses students in writing and sharing their writing for five days. Teacher-consultant and veteran teacher Nona Grubbs got inspiration for the event while she was a participant in the 2006 Little Rock Writing Project Summer Institute.

"Writing had always been dear to my heart," Grubbs says, "but the summer institute changed the way I taught my five-year-olds how to write."

After sharing her idea for a writing week with Diane Jackson, her colleague at Terry Elementary, Grubbs approached Sally Crisp, director of the Little Rock Writing Project (LRWP), with her brainchild. Crisp was particularly receptive to Grubbs' suggestion because the school and LRWP had formed a partnership in fall of 2005.

As part of that partnership, Crisp facilitated a book and video study group for the entire staff. They read and discussed a book of their choosing, Ralph Fletcher's What a Writer Needs. At the book study meetings teachers were "throwing out ideas, taking notes. It was really wonderful," Jackson recalls.

The book study exposed the whole staff to many of the ideas Grubb had encountered at the writing project. The staff began to develop a common approach and a renewed enthusiasm for teaching writing—creating an atmosphere that was right for launching Exciting Writing Week.

Not Just a Week

As it has evolved, Exciting Writing Week comes as the culmination of a year of writing activities at the school. The yearlong preparation and the event itself broaden and deepen the writing culture of Terry.

All 700 children in 30 classrooms have a chance to share their work.

"We just brainstorm every year trying to find as many things as possible to encourage children to write," says Jackson. "You teach all year long and then you tell the students, 'Now we get to show off. Let's prepare something wonderful.'"

It's also a collaborative experience. The teacher, for example, might feel that something a student has written during an everyday activity is profound, and tell the student, "Please hold this for Exciting Writing Week."

The week features such activities as

  • a gallery walk in which every child in this pre-K–to–5 school has his or her writing displayed with accompanying illustrations for students in all classes to read and admire.
  • an experience with local jazz singer and poet Genine Perez, who has participated in the event for several years. Perez encourages the kids to throw out words and then comes up with some of her own. From this collection she and the students develop a song, which Perez performs. Says Jackson, "She shows how words can be spoken or sung."
  • a whole day of emphasis on poetry.
  • a day with local writer Jonathan Wolfe, author of Louis the Leaf.
  • a writing slam in which a writer from each of 30 classes reads at the mic, and afterward all students have the opportunity to read to their class. Jackson explains, "After the readings, they go outside and have a signing. They sign their anthologies like they are real honest-to-goodness published authors." By the end of the day all 700 children in 30 classrooms have a chance to share their work.

Keeping with the spirit of creativity that has gone into the creation of Exciting Writing Week, the partnership has developed some inspired ancillary projects. One of these, Family Writing Night, serves as a fund raiser for Exciting Writing Week. "Parents come, we even have live animals to write about, children write, and we share writing on the stage," says Grubb.

The teachers hold a silent auction with items donated by community friends and partners. With the auction proceeds and the contribution of partnership funds, Exciting Writing Week is paid for.

No End in Sight

As Exciting Writing Week has matured, the bond between the Little Rock Writing Project and Terry Elementary has solidified. Grubb continues to encourage teachers to attend the summer institute and a number of Terry teachers have become teacher-consultants. They continue the professional development started by LRWP, sharing their ideas and strategies about teaching writing with new and transfer teachers.

Crisp and co-directors Shari Williams and Ann Beck at the Little Rock Writing Project continue to informally support the teachers and take great pleasure in the growing importance of writing at Terry.

Crisp was able to witness this growth when she attended the 2009 Exciting Writing Week writing slam, which began with kindergartners reading their writing to their classmates.

Coached by their teachers, Crisp said, the students "walked confidently up to the microphone. One of the dearest was a little boy who had written about tigers—the tiger is the school mascot. His ending got to me. 'The tiger is scary, but your dad will help you.'"

Writing too can be scary, but like caring dads, the Little Rock Writing Project and the dedicated teachers at Terry Elementary are there to help.

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