September 03, 2015

Turning my ELA Students into Published Authors

A little known fact about me is that I have been teaching English Language Arts for 10 years. I have spent half of those years as a high school teacher. Teaching can be an arduous job, I spent most of my time as a teacher convincing students to read classic novels written in time periods long before the country was founded; from Edgar Allen Poe to Thomas Thoreau, from the Masque of the Red Death, to the Yellow Wallpaper and the Scarlet Letter, we have read it all and wrote numerous essays discussing dissecting and analyzing what these ancient writers have accomplished. Each year, I have to convince my students that somehow reading this matters, and each year, it seemed they understood it. They would study just enough to pass every exam, every essay, and even passed the State Standardized test at 100% passer rates. However, no matter how much they get it, they still didn't quite get it. They could never truly answer the question: why do authors write?

So, one night, I was perusing the Forbes List of authors, and noticed something lacking. There were no black faces. I work at a Title I school that has high graduation rates and high test scores and with a student body of  98% African American students. So, i thought: why not turn my students into published authors. Yes, I had taught them all the logistics to reading and analyzing a novel, bit what if i taught them how to use it. Whats the point of learning all the English Jargon, but never ever being able to put it to use. Thus, an idea was born! I decided to use as a teaching to  in my creative Writing Class. Using the same Common Core English Standards for my Literature and Composition class, I have given my students the novel idea to write their own novel!

Step #1: Buy in!
So, the first thing I did was buy in! I had to somehow convince my students to write and to write a lot. A novel usually runs between 100-250 pages. How can  you get a 15 year old to agree to write a book-- literally. So, I should them power point presentation of the top earning writers. My students were shocked! They had never known that a writer could make millions. To think, writers write books to make money!!! It was an amazing concept to them. I discuss the top earning genres, the top selling authors, the highest rated novels, and revenue. I explained to them that if we embarked on this journey, we would embark together. That we would have to help each other, critic our works, and possibly, when this was all over, we could make some real money. This could be a career. The students were in. I hooked them all. I asked for a show of hands to the students wanting to implement this new type of learning; every single hand shot up in the air immediately. You are telling me that I could learn AND possibly make money, there was nothing better than that! in fact, there weeks tinot this assignment and I have a student that has voluntarily written 50 pages and another who is on page 20! They are emailing me stories everyday to get opinions over their creative works withour being prompted. Think! Students that are actually excited about learning!

Step #2: Research!
 I had the students create their own plan of action based on their own research. I gave the students a handout detailing information they had to look up before starting their book. The students immediately set off to research: the genre, target audiences, selling techniques, popular authors in their chosen genre, best selling pages or word count and inspiration. The students presented their findings to the class and each was excited about their project.

Step #3: Set Writing Goals!
All students had to set their own writing goals. Based on their research students set a page number and deadlines. They decided how many pages they would write a day. I got each students to agree to write at least 30 minutes everyday to enhance their skills and accomplish their goal. I made them pledge to hold each other accountable. I handed out an Accountability Worksheet so the students could log how many pages they wrote a day to their novel. Each one willingly and excited took it. For the first time in my teaching career, I didn't have to MAKE my students write. They were excited.

Step #4: Planning Your Book!
I had the students create a Story Map of their novel. This is when it we have to actually teach them. I introduced the students to several types of plot: subplot, climactic plot, episodic plot, parallel plot, linear plot, nonlinear plot, denouement, etc. Students only took notes on the types of plot that they wanted to use in the novel. Some students took notes on all the types, whereas some only took notes on 3. Students then read examples of each plot. As a warm up for this week i gave the students story starters of fairy tales, the students would rewrite the fairy tale in the plot assigned and share with the class. This helped students practice different writing techniques.

Students then chose a plot and made a map of their novel from beginning to end. I assigned the different parts, but I did not tell them how many to have. I told the students the map would be as big or as small as their novel. However, i remind the students that this novel is for revenue, and most people who read novels do not necessarily purchase smaller books. The students then began writing their novels.

Step #6: Choosing Their Characters
I had the students create a character list of all the characters they would include in their novel. The students then filled out a Developing Awesome Characters sheet using direct and indirect characterization. Students told me everything about their character from where htey were worn to their favorite hobbies and their description. Students even put pictures to represent their characters using handmade drawings, family members and google images.

Although, the process is not even close to finished, these are the first few steps that we took as a class. Its not done yet! We have a long way to go until they produce published pieces and present it at our end of the year book conference! Don't worry as I will keep everyone posted on this little adventure!

Dawnell Jacobs is the author of The Shade of Devotion, Brains Not Included, Black Magic, and The Monsters of Within: Heart of Darkness. She has also published a self-help book Your Story Matters: Leaning How To Be The Author of Your Destiny. You can find all of her books on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, and Barnes And Noble. She is also a motivational speaker to young audiences. She uses her personal journey to inspire hope and change. All pictures and entries in this blog are subject to copyright laws. ©Dawnell Jacobs 2018. 

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