Wednesday, December 5, 2012

KidsWrites helps students harness creativity

from today's Waukesha Freeman -

Middle school students share feelings, high school students adapt them for stage
Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA – When the man who walked into their classroom told Mary Kuemmel’s fifth-grade students that they didn’t need to worry about grammar or spelling for the rest of the day, they knew that the writing activity he had for them would be different than the rest.

“Think of a time when you were really happy,” instructed Tom New, an English teacher and drama director who was visiting from Catholic Memorial High School. “The main thing is to get ideas on the page.”

The student writings that stand out as particularly unique or descriptive, he said, will become part of a high school drama production in late April. In addition to seeing his or her story come to life on stage, any grade school student who has his or her writing selected as part of the KidsWrites program – which creatively links the two grade levels – will be credited as a contributor.

This is the second year New will travel to grade schools in the Waukesha Catholic Schools System, prompting students to submit their most descriptive writing.

“Think of who you were with when you were happy,” he said. “What time of day was it? What were the sensory details? What did you see? Smell? Hear?”

Over the course of the next few months, high school students use these narratives as source material to create their productions.

“Twenty to 25 percent of what the kids write will be used,” New said. “This means 60 to 90 middle-school students will have contributed toward the finished product.”

New’s first stop was Kuemmel’s class at St. Mary’s School Tuesday. Other stops this month include St. John Vianney in Brookfield, Holy Apostles in New
Berlin, St. Dominic in Brookfield, and St. Leonard in Muskego.

The absence of the usual parameters, such as punctuation and spelling, allows students to concentrate on the flow of ideas and how to communicate them effectively, New said.

This year’s prompts are designed to facilitate a discussion of feelings. Questions are meant to make students focus on times when they were happy, worried, triumphant, or embarrassed “Grade-school students experience the full range of emotions,” New said. “It would be wrong to not acknowledge that fourth-graders experience the full gamut of emotions that adults experience. Sometimes they even feel them more deeply. Generally, adults tend to hide their emotions, where children are more in touch with what they felt.”

Students were quick to discuss what they wrote Tuesday.

When asked to write about a triumphant moment, Elijah Sledge imagined he was the first kid to make a pizza 7,000 feet wide. The dish took a century to eat, he wrote.

Amy Wildes shared a moment when she was truly happy.

“My sister came home from college ... and I hadn’t seen her since she went away to school,” she said.

Wildes was watching a movie in the dark, so didn’t know the figure approaching her was her sister until she got close.

When asked to share a moment that worried her, Valentina Medrano chose the time when she nearly fainted in front of the whole class.

“I was really sick,” she said.

When her class participated in KidsWrites last year, Kuemmel said she saw the benefits right away.

“They really blossom under this kind of freedom,” she said. “And there is a real buzz leading up to and following the production.”

The high school students benefit as well, New said.

“They get the thrill of realizing a project as it goes from germ to fruition,” he said. “They work together as a team to complete a project on a large scale.”


Photo credit: Charles Auer/Freeman Staff     Tom New holds a stopwatch Tuesday as he talks about the timed KidsWrite exercise during a visit to St. Mary’s  Catholic School. Fifth-grade students participated in the creative writing exercise.

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