Deadly Ever After

The Writing Adventures of The Undead Duo–Julie Hutchings and Kristen Strassel

Julie Gets To Be A First Grader: What Your Kids Are Capable Of Learning

TODAY’S BREW: Cinnamon Pecan. Sounds fancy, right? IT IS.

By Julie

I don’t even know where to start with how awesome this is.

Yesterday I spent a half hour talking to my son Bennett’s class about being an author, editing and revising. As if that isn’t cool enough, it wasn’t just like “bring your mom to school day.” This is actually in my first grader’s curriculum right now.

There is so much awesome about this, I can’t handle it. First off, what I love is that my son’s school is in the lowest income neighborhood in Plymouth, arguably and yet they have the most forward thinking curriculum I’ve ever heard of. It’s the most multicultural school in our large town as well. It’s also such a small neighborhood school that there aren’t even any busses that go to it; walking school only. So, all of our families, from different backgrounds, some of which don’t even speak the same language, feel like family. The teachers walk the kids into school in the morning, and dismiss them one at a time in the afternoon. Every teacher, no matter what the grade knows the names of our kids. It’s this intimacy that has helped make this advanced curriculum so successful so far, I think.

Bennett’s first grade teacher, Mrs. Albert, shares my amazement at the complexity of this curriculum. The kids are learning to not only write creatively, but are being taught to edit. The fact that “editing and revising” are words they know just flabberghasts me. They understand the importance of going back over your work to look for places to add more detail and to remove extra words and phrases that don’t contribute to the text. While it excites me to have Ben be even more a part of my writing process in this way, I can see the big picture enough to know that this is a lesson that means more in his life than just about writing. I have to think that this careful attention to detail about the written word is going to help these kids really think about what they say in life in general. To think harder about the quality of person they put out there.

After editing and revising their work for these points, the kids then exchange their work for proofreading. They’re learning that an outside opinion of their creative work and another point of view on something that’s personal to them is valuable. It’s much different than when I was their age and would write to be judged by the teacher on whether or not it was good enough. This gains them the approval of their peers, encourages openness about feelings and opinions, causes them to accept one another’s interests and open their minds to new ideas. When I was a kid I was overprotective of my writing, hid it from view, never shared it and thought for sure I would be openly ridiculed for what I  liked. If I’d had this kind of support from school, I don’t think that would have happened.

All in all, the point of teaching the kids about editing, revising, and getting feedback is so that by the time they go into second, third and fourth grade, they hand in quality work. That they own their creative process enough to not need the correction of simple things. This will translate into every aspect of their lives when it’s supported at home, I feel.

Also, THOSE KIDS THINK I’M AWESOME AND I LOVE THAT.

To be able to field questions about how I come up with my ideas and listen to how they come up with their own fiction was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. One little girl told me about how she sometimes pictures dragons with her when she gets ready for school, and she’s writing about it in her diary. I got to tell that kid she just made up an urban fantasy story just like I do. (She then turned to Bennett and said, “We definitely need a playdate. Your mom’s cool.”) Telling them how I edit and revise, how Ben sees me do it at home, and how I’m doing the same thing that they do was so much fun. They’re doing the same thing as me and I write books. Which means they can write books.

I got to tell them about how Kristen and I would pass a notebook back and forth when were not so much older than them, and how we’d write a line of a story one after another, making a whole story together. Now we still do it, and we both write books, and we love to get each other’s feedback. I had no idea it would become such a monumental part of my life now, make me so much me. They asked me if I know a lot of authors, and I had the extreme pleasure of saying, “yes, I do.” They thought that was amazing. I think it’s pretty amazing, too.  

Something that wasn’t even anywhere on my radar at their age was the publishing process. These kids GET IT. Weird as hell. One kid asked me if a company published my first book or if I did it. I got to tell him that  a company published mine, but that anybody that practices what they’re doing right now can self-publish a book, do the whole thing from the ground up. Anyone can be an author. What an amazing thing to be able to tell a bunch of bright eyed kids filled with creativity and love of getting feedback from their peers. I love that not a one of those kids was too shy to talk about what they write about, the things that they find exciting to read. That fear of acceptance was nowhere in the room. I love it more than I can say.

And when one little girl told me how when she’s in karate class, she imagines she’s in a book about karate class, I got to tell her that there was karate in my book, too. EVERY KID GASPED LIKE IT WAS THE COOLEST THING THEY EVER HEARD. So, mostly I feel like a rock star right about now.

It’s important to me to point out that the entire country is irritated by the cutting of programs in schools. I get it. But what we don’t look for often enough is the ability to integrate what we find missing in our school curriculum into the current curriculum. (Yeah, you do have a say in it, folks. It isn’t just about being on the PTA.) Not to mention, never in my life did I imagine that my seven year old would be learning about editing and revising. It’s not something I ever thought was missing from his education, but now that it’s there I see how incredible it will be for his class. Look outside the box, parents, and think of what might be beneficial to your kids that can be implemented in your school. Suggest it. Offer to go in and help out with it. Anyone can do this. When you show your kids that anyone can introduce something new and help, it makes them believe they can do it, too, and it shows them that you care enough to support them in it. It’s a little bit of “quit your bitching and make lemonade” philosophy. Being progressive is about losing some of the old and creating some of the new.

Yeah, I learned that from editing and revising.

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7 thoughts on “Julie Gets To Be A First Grader: What Your Kids Are Capable Of Learning

  1. Very good.The one thing my son struggles with is going back to read through his work.

  2. And what kid doesn’t? They think, “I did it, it’s done!”

  3. What an awesome day, Julie.

  4. Fabulous post. If only more schools were like this around the world. Like you I hid my writing as a child and as an adult for too many years, fearful of the criticism of my peers.
    As a parent too, what a rewarding experience. I am part of my kids’ school parent council and, as a part of that, have been involved in two initiatives to encourage parents to see school through their kids’ eyes. The first was “Teach the Parents” where the kids taught a group of parents a short lesson. ( I went to the English class where we wrote a short story- each parent in the group writing a sentence and passing it on. After 30 minutes we had 6 short stories and had to read them to the “teacher”. A nerve wracking experience!) A follow up to this is planned for next month and the parent council has been nominated for a national award off the back of the success of the first one.
    The other initiative was “Back to the Future” where teachers taught the parents exactly the same as the kids get taught, to demonstrate not only the subject matter but the learning techniques and methodologies being used in the today’s classroom.
    Perhaps your school could run similar sessions in the future?
    Parental involvement and understanding of how the kids are being taught is so important. It not only shows the kids that you are interested in them and theire world but it also lets the school know you are focussed on your kids. it’s also even more rewarding when you get “Cool Mummy” points out of it!

  5. She then turned to Bennett and said, “We definitely need a playdate. Your mom’s cool.”

    I love that she even used the word “playdate.” And the girl who imagines her life as a story — she’s being meta! This definitely sounds like an amazing school!

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