Proving that young guys love to read, teach, and write YA, here’s a guest post from Ryan McBriar about the experience of incorporating NaNoWriMo into his high school English classroom. Full confession: Ryan was one of YA Guy’s students way back when. Great to have you on the blog, Ryan!
Picture this: a crowd of eighteen high school freshmen filling a classroom. They descend on a mobile laptop cart without being prompted (releasing their assigned computer, finding their most comfortable spot in the room) and write. For sixty minutes, the only sound (aside from the occasional brag about word-count goals) is the tapping of keys.
I can’t take sole credit for this phenomenon. I decided at the beginning of the school year to challenge my first-ever Honors English class with the task of writing a novel in thirty days. This challenge came courtesy of the wonderful National NovelWriting Month Young Writers Program.
An Old-West assassin. A wrongly-accused convict. A seafaring pirate. A novice witch. A fallen football hero. These character types (and more) populated the novels written by my Honors class, a testament to the amount of creativity and passion young people will bring to writing if given (mostly) free reign and a little push.
Taking advantage of an online word-processing program, students were required to share excerpts of their novels-in-progress with me throughout the month, and I noticed something for which I hadn’t necessarily planned. Aside from just sharing their writing with me, they were sharing their novels with each other, and sometimes with students in different classes. Suddenly, sprouting up around my class was a small community of writers who were not only excited about but proud of their writing, so much so that they wanted peer reviews.
A lot of prep work went into getting students ready for this project, but I think the most valuable lesson came in mid-October. I introduced the coming month of frenzied creative output by first discussing with my class the qualities that make a novel good or bad. I required students to bring in an example of a good novel they had read and present it to the class to support their opinions on plot, character development, word use, structure, and a variety of other novel elements they found most important in the books they loved. Student volunteers generated posters of these good novel attributes and this became one of our guiding lights throughout the outlining and eventual writing process.
This book-sharing activity, done so early in the school year, exposed students to what their friends were reading and me to a slew of new YA fiction that allowed a sneak peek at their individual interests. I found that what high school students desire from both the fiction they read and the fiction they write is what all accomplished readers and writers want: compelling, complex characters; well-structured plots; clear but challenging prose.
An optional task over the summer for my first experimental NaNoWriMo subjects was, after editing (and in some cases completing) their first drafts, to take advantage of the program’s opportunity to receive five free copies of their published novels. I’m eager to see how many students have novels to show me on the first day of school this August.
At the end of the school year, one of my wrap-up activities is a course evaluation. I make it anonymous so students can tell me aspects of the class they found both positive and negative. The most recurring positive on my Honors English evaluations was NaNoWriMo. When the evaluations came in, any doubts about running the project again next year vanished. Like any seasoned writer knows, my job now is revision: how do I make this experience even better for my next group? I can’t wait to find out!
Ryan McBriar is a teacher and writer originally from Pittsburgh, PA. His first published short story “Writer’s Block” can be found in The Big Book of Bizarro, at www.burningbulbpublishing.com. Ryan currently lives in Warren, PA and teaches high school English in nearby Corry. When he isn’t teaching, Ryan enjoys spending quality time with his wife and young son. Ryan loves Halloween, anything scary, and obsessing over books, movies, music, and television. His ramblings on some of the previously mentioned topics can be found here: http://thoughtsfromtheblackrock.blogspot.com/