In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I have taken down the brown "butcher" paper that held ideas, photos, drawings, and my hand-drawn maps and plot outlines for the past five or six books. I've placed all those items into three-ring binders, and cleared the deck for paintings and photographs that involve courage, as I move forward in GHOSTKEEPER, the new novel set in Lyndonville, Vermont. My 1850 Vermont adventure THE LONG SHADOW is under contract with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you a publication date as soon as I know! Scribbling lots of poems, too. And there's a possible route to publication of the "Vermont Nancy Drew" novel I built on Wattpad (see right-hand column). Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Learning to Write Better, Because My Co-Author Teaches Third Grade

East Barnet Schoolhouse, courtesy Janice Boyko
--> I'm working on the second draft of CHARLIE'S PLACE, a book for third and fourth graders -- and my co-author, Sue Tester, is behind many of the details in this revision. (I wrote the first draft, based on our plotting and character sessions together.)
Sue teaches grade 3 now and has taught others, and she taught me some Common Core Standards vocabulary to go with what we're now doing to the text: working on rich vocabulary that takes readers into the text. On my own, I then poked into Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning, Webb's Depth of Knowledge, technology in classroom learning ... 

I also took a course this January on the "arc of the story," and it helped me zoom through my plot twists and focus on character in fresh ways. But Sue and I are writing the kind of book where every word matters. Partly that's because it's for younger readers. Partly it's because I care about words as a poet does. And now it's also because Sue is showing me how to carry this into her classroom effectively.

Some of this is new names and frames for what good writers/storytellers do, and all of it is pushing me to dig deeper, think harder, write better. Here's a small example of the changes happening, as we take 8-year-old Charlie into school for his first time, around 1956:
First draft: Charlie looked around. Big windows made the schoolhouse very bright inside. Two windows had small screens at the bottom of them. Air from outside came to Charlie through the window screens.

Second draft: Charlie looked around. Big windows made the schoolhouse very bright inside. Two windows had small screens at the bottom of them. Charlie noticed the late summer breeze slipping into the room. Some of the outdoors came inside this way. 
Good.  It's exciting for me to see my own writing and revision process as part of what's happening in US classrooms where teachers are using the new Common Core standards. I like this chart from teaching coach Tracy Watanabe (, showing the deliberate changes that teachers are aiming for.

PS to Barnet, Vermont, and Ben's Mill readers and fans: The East Barnet schoolhouse photo is a good one, a bit earlier than the time when this story takes place.  I'm actually picturing for the story the West Barnet schoolhouse, which, when I moved to town in 1986, was the home of K&M Sales and I believe had been a Grange hall as well. If you have photos, I'd love to see them! 

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