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Creating a Classroom of Writers Using the "Meet the Author" Collection

Drive home the importance of each step of the writing process with real words from real authors!

Creating a Classroom CoverYoung writers will be comforted (and surprised) to learn that their favorite author uses a writing process similar to their own. Famous authors also experience many of the same writing frustrations as kids do!

The words of real authors might be just the inspiration your students need to help them through the painstaking writing process! Below is the text of a teacher's guide produced by the publishers of the Meet the Author collection, a series of autobiographies written by your students' favorite authors.

(Notes reproduced with permission of Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc.)

In Dancing With the Pen: The Learner as a Writer, the writing process is described in detail. The process has four components:

  • Forming intentions
  • Composing and drafting
  • Correcting and publishing
  • Outcomes

The Meet the Author collection helps young writers explore these stages by giving examples of the writing process in action, enabling them to experience the writing process on a personal level. Young writers will be both comforted and surprised to find that their favorite authors go through the same process as they do when they write. Authors such as Jane Yolen, Patricia Polacco, Eve Bunting, and Paul Goble not only answer questions about writing but invite each child into the process. Writing becomes an adventure instead of a chore!

FORMING INTENTIONS

How often have you heard, "But I have nothing to write about!"? Choosing a topic can be difficult for a young writer, but the authors of the Meet the Author collection help make this task easier by showing children that they really do have something to write about.

Karla Kuskin is often asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" In her Meet the Authors autobiography, Thoughts, Pictures, and Words, she helps children see where they can get their ideas:

"When I'm invited to speak to classes of children and teachers, one of the questions I'm most often asked is, 'Where do you get your ideas?' I ask back, 'When you write a story or poem where do you get your ideas?'
	"Where do you get the idea for a poem?
	Pippety
	Poppety
	Peep.
	Does it shake you awake?
	Do you dream it asleep?
	Or into your tiny tin head does it creep
	And pop from your pen when you are not aware
	Or leap from your pocket
	Or fall from your hair
	Or is it just silently
	Suddenly
	There?
"I suspect the answer is that you, like me, remembered something, saw something, felt something that started you thinking..."

In the Meet the Author collection, fascinating first-person accounts from published authors will motivate your students to explore the experiences in their lives that could become a story, a poem, or an essay. By choosing a topic in this way, your students experience a child-centered, meaning-centered approach instead of a teacher-driven one.

Children learn that many events in their lives are important enough to be the topic of a story and have an audience. For example, the loss of a beloved pet can be a traumatic experience for anyone at any age and relating it to others in written form can bring some comfort. Patricia Polacco, in her autobiography Firetalking, recalls:

"Enzo and I have three cats, Nina, Lo Lo, and Nikita. Our most beloved cat, Tush, died last year, and she is buried in a place of honor in our yard. Dear little Tush inspired me to write Mrs. Katz and Tush."

Anything can be inspiration for writing, as shown in Ruth Heller's Meet the Author autobiography Fine Lines:

"We lived on King Edward Avenue and I went to Prince of Wales School. In Canada, streets are often named after British kings and queens and princes and princesses. Maybe that's why I put them in my books."

COMPOSING AND DRAFTING

This part of the writing process involves getting thoughts down on paper, rereading, reorganizing, and revising. Authors do this in different ways, as do children and teachers. Some write first in pencil or pen, and others prefer the typewriter or word processor. Children become aware that tools are not as important as the process. Eve Bunting evokes a humorous example of this phase in the writing process in her Meet the Author autobiography, Once Upon a Time.

"Sometimes I get an idea when I don't have my notebook with me. What a disaster! But usually I can find something to write on. Once I wrote a story on the back of a program when we were at a play. It was dark. Lucky for me I could still read the scrawl the next day! Once, on an airplane, I started to write a picture book on a 'barf' bag. I just hoped I wouldn't have to use the bag for its real purpose!"

The heart of the writing process is the creation of meaning. The focus of the revision phase is on clarifying and extending meaning.

Writers of any age are often reluctant to revise. The Meet the Author collection affords children the unique opportunity of having authors model the revision process. Jean Fritz, in her autobiography Surprising Myself, reassures children that it is difficult (even for her) to choose the "right words" from the beginning and she graphically shows them what a revision looks like:

After I travel, I go home to write.
I write in longhand first.
I cross out as I go along,
rewrite, and cross out again.
I can never seem to find
the right words the first time.

In her Meet the Author autobiography, A Wordful Child, George Ella Lyon lets students in on a secret about revision that might surprise them!

"Teachers often tell me, 'My students are happy to do first drafts, but they don't want to revise!' Let me tell you a secret: revision is what makes you a writer. I hardly ever find the right words the first, or third, or even the sixth time. Just like your teacher, my editor, Dick Jackson, suggests ways to make my writing better. Sometimes we work on a book for years. It takes patience, faith, and a sense of adventure."

CORRECTING AND PUBLISHING

This stage of the writing process involves correction, proofreading for spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and a concern for neatness. All pieces of the writing that are developed to the point of having an audience must be correct. This is especially true in the classroom, where a published work will be used as a model for others. Correctness shows respect for one's audience.

Students are encouraged to proofread and self-correct their own work as much as they can, relying on the teacher for the final corrections. Teachers edit students' writing, leaving one teaching point to do at an editing conference, one-on-one with the student.

The teacher is an editor for students in the same way professional writers have editors to help them get their work ready to meet an audience. In his Meet the Author autobiography, Playing With Words, James Howe relates how his wife acts as the first editor of his books:

"Because Betsy also works at home, we often talk with each other about our work. She is the first editor on all my books. I never show her my work until I've finished the first draft. Then I go somewhere else while she reads it. Knowing that she's reading something I've just written makes me nervous. Betsy puts paper clips on the pages she wants to discuss with me. If she hands the manuscript back to me and it feels much heavier than when I gave it to her, I know I'm in trouble. We sit down and go over the manuscript, page by page, paper clip by paper clip."

Writers in your classroom must take into consideration factors such as design, style, and the medium when they are considering publishing. It is important not only for the classroom to be equipped with a wide selection of materials for this purpose, but for students to be exposed to a variety of published models.

Young writers should be given the opportunity to publish in a variety of forms, including posters, articles, displays, and books. In his Meet the Author autobiography, The Writing Bug, Lee Bennett Hopkins [tells] how a poem he wrote wound up as a bookmark:

"In 1985, I was chosen Children's Book Week Poet. I wrote a poem for the celebration called "Good Books, Good Times!" It appeared on a bookmark that was sent all over the United States, with an illustration by Marc Brown."

OUTCOMES

The writing process does not end with publication. The outcome stage is just as important as the other components of the process. It is during this stage that young writers share their work, get responses, and come to see the purpose and value of publication. They also learn to accept and give praise and constructive criticism.

In responding to others' writing, and profiting from others' responses, learners will:
Readily share their published work with many others, both in and outside the classroom;
Be eager to read the published work of others;
Expect a response to their published writing;
See the purpose and value of publication and response;
React positively to others' responses, making appropriate adjustments to their own writing; and
Offer constructive criticism with courtesy and understanding.
(Source: Dancing With the Pen: The Learner as a Writer)

It is important for the teacher to provide a supportive environment and to make time for sharing published work. There should be many opportunities for work to be displayed or read and students should have easy access to the writing of others.

Sharing one's work can be a creative process and can take place in a variety of ways: a presentation, making the written material available in the school library, or writing letters. Margaret Mahy, in her Meet the Author autobiography My Mysterious World, puts on an outrageous wig and shares her stories with classroom children:

"My writing time is precious, but I just have to read, too. I love reading a mixture of things like mysteries, histories, and poems. Many schools in New Zealand have book weeks, and invite authors to talk to classes. When I go to school, I often dress up for fun and put on a colored wig to disguise myself. As well as talking about writing, I draw pictures and tell stories, sometimes my own, sometimes other people's."

THE "MEET THE AUTHOR" COLLECTION

The Meet the Author collection is an important classroom resource for teachers who value the writing process as well as the product. The real-life experiences of the prominent children's authors are:

  • wonderful models of good writing;
  • a way of inspiring young writers;
  • invitations for students to write their own stories; and
  • excellent resources for engaging students in the writing process.
Create a classroom of writers by using the ever-growing Meet the Author collection and providing a supportive, child-centered environment in your classroom.

Meet the Author books are hard cover, and have 32 pages. The collection includes the following titles:

  • A Bookworm Who Hatched by Verna Aardema
  • One Man Show by Frank Asch
  • Once Upon a Time by Eve Bunting
  • Under My Nose by Lois Ehlert
  • Surprising Myself by Jean Fritz
  • Hau Kola Hello Friend by Paul Goble
  • Fine Lines by Ruth Heller
  • The Writing Bug by Lee Bennett Hopkins
  • Playing With Words by James Howe
  • Thoughts, Pictures, and Words by Karla Kuskin
  • A Wordful Child by George Ella Lyon
  • My Mysterious World by Margaret Mahy
  • A Storyteller's Story by Rafe Martin
  • Can You Imagine! by Patricia McKissack
  • Firetalking by Patricia Polacco
  • Nature, Wild and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle
  • Best Wishes by Cynthia Rylant
  • A Letter from Phoenix Farm by Jane Yolen

Be sure to read a review of the Meet the Author collection on Education World BOOKS IN EDUCATION page.

RESOURCE

Dancing With the Pen: The Learner as a Writer is published by the Ministry of Education, Wellington, New Zealand (1992). A resource for primary and middle grade teachers, this book aims to develop their understanding of the writing process, help them create a teaching environment in which learners feel confident to develop their writing, and provide them with some ways to foster writing development.

Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

11/17/1997
Updated 02/06/2006