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National Writers Month & a Visit with Tessa Dahl

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of the Boston Writing Project...

...This is a group of about twenty language teachers from around Boston, who focus on the best practices in teaching writing. In addition, all these wonderful teachers and I worked on our own writing, offering and receiving feedback in a Reader’s Response Group.  

The writers in my Reader’s Response Group enjoyed each other’s work, and this helped me believe, for the first time, in my own talent. I have now begun to write a novel, a project I have been longing to do for seven years. So, the Writing Project has been immensely rewarding personally and professionally. One of my professors shared research showing that children who are allowed to express themselves creatively become better writers, as compared with children whose instruction focuses on how to write a good paragraph or a five paragraph essay.
I could not wait to bring my new knowledge and enthusiasm back to LMS. And upper elementary has proven to be fertile ground! In our Writer’s Workshops, the children have been quick to pick up everything I learned during the summer. Then, in October, I heard about the National Novel Writing Month for Young Writers (NaNoWriMo). I asked if anyone was interested in participating, and the response was a resounding “YES!” We ended up with twenty novelists at our NaNoWriMo kick-off meeting. Each author received a workbook with guidelines, including fun tips and forms to help plan their story. Then, they set their word goals - anywhere between 500 and 5000 words. The program makes some clever suggestions, including sending the author’s “inner editor” on vacation. Some children drew pictures of their inner editors, and then literally hid them away for a month. Each Friday we held a NaNoWriMo lunch, where children cheered each other on and encouraged their friends to meet their goals. The classroom was abuzz with words, sentences and ideas. I witnessed the hatching of authors!
The NaNoWriMo program helped these students meet their goals. As they approached the final deadline, they worked really hard so they could celebrate their effort. Having earned NaNoWriMo certificates, these proud authors gathered in the school library for an authors’ share. There, they were treated to a surprise visit with Roald Dahl’s eldest child, Tessa, who has published four best-selling children’s books, as well as an award winning novel. She also has written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, mainly published in Great Britain.
Ms. Dahl showed a delightful video in which her father and she were interviewed. In fact, it was the last interview before Mr. Dahl died. Following the video, the children asked Tessa questions, and we all enjoyed hearing what it was like to grow up with Roald Dahl. Tessa told us that her father told his stories to his children at bedtime before he wrote them as books. She described herself as the “Launching Pad” for James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Magic Finger.
The children each shared a brief summary of their own novels, and they read her a favorite part. Tessa listened intently to every word, remarking on the clearly fictional Why Am I Always The Unpopular Girl At School, and The Adventures of the Pizza, The Cheesecake and the Sushi, and The Little Girl who Longed for a Pony. One reading included the shocking outcry:
“I-I j-just s-saw Gramma in a …” Kayla stuttered, grasping for something to hold onto.
“In a what?” I asked.
Ours was a true gathering of authors. Tessa was very impressed. Afterwards, she remarked about the high quality of the students’ writing, but she was most impressed by how supportive the children were of each other. National Writer’s Month has ended, but the children’s enthusiasm for writing has new life!
Here is what the kids had to say about participating in NaNoWriMo:
“It took my creativity to a whole new level.”
“It was fun, it made me have to reach my goal.”
“NaNoWriMo really opened my heart, showing me my own unique writing world all over again.”
“Even if you think you know all the techniques of writing, there is still something to learn every day.” 

- Ellen Rutgers, Upper Elementary Teacher