Today was day four of young writers camp. I am teaching fiction writing to kids K – 3 and poetry to kids from kindergarten through maybe 6th grade. I teach two fiction and two poetry classes a day. My schedule is vastly improved from last year’s, where we had an additional two electives crammed in after lunch.
We are three writing project teachers and a floating coordinator, helping out in many ways. There is also a Korean T.A. in charge of each group of kids. We have met with the T.A.s the camp director every morning this week, plus last Saturday. While the meetings are a bit much, they are also vital to tweaking and improving the camp as it goes. Many of the T.A.’s have no experience working with kids (they are all college students) and the director does not have an educational background, so it is really up to us to think through everything like cafeteria lunch procedures, arrival, departure, rules for bathroom use, etc. Last year we never really got together and gave feedback or made improvements. It was just sort of unraveling madness. This year, the whole camp feels like a much tighter and much more functional machine.
As far as the teaching goes, I feel my plans (which I worked hard on before coming) are mostly working out nicely. I basically simplified it to make the morning fiction lessons be tied into a different good picture book each day and the afternoon poetry classes to be based around a guitar song, which I teach them, and a poem or book/sheet of poems, as well as the idea of the Poetry Café where students write and study poetry and then begin to memorize and practice reciting their best work for a final performance, the Poetry Café, where visiting guests (or customers) can order memorized poems from a menu and be treated to a recital. I also am using a few picture-prompt QuickWrites and have already met with each student individually and gone over, specifically, their verb tense needs, but also corrected the whole paper and had them revise it.
This is mainly working out except today was a bit of a flub. The point of weakness is my afternoon poetry class to the combined groups of my youngest students. Many of them have very low English skills and I am not doing enough for them. The mid-range and more advanced of the young students are doing great, I think, because I’m providing a wide range of poetry as well as prompting them to write lots of smallish poems. However, I am still overshooting the little ones with the limited skills. While they can certainly little by little learn poems like The Red Wheelbarrow, I don’t think it will mean anything to them. I’ll get it straightened out from tomorrow forward. Not a problem, but it wasn’t ’til I was reciting Stopping by Snowy Woods for them today that it became painfully clear to me that I was ridiculously overshooting a bunch of them (it should have been a tip-off when I recited Jabberwocky for them on Tuesday…No lie! I really did recite it on Tuesday. It was on my poetry menu and some kid innocently requested it. I actually was able to explain my version of the story of it to them and got quite carried away with the vorpal blade part, using a stick that a little girl had brought back from their walk to the park at lunch time).
Other tricks from the bag of tricks have been a big hit, even with the little ones: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (attention teachers, they have a new portfolio edition with big pull-out posters, which I highly recommend), The Important Book, and Bananagram poetry writing (actually that’s coming up tomorrow I think). They also really like my Little Verb song and request it each day.
Otherwise camp is really good and I am super enjoying bonding with my excellent colleagues and super cute kids and friendly T.A.s. We teach in conference rooms which are fairly cramped but could be worse. Plus, we’re in a nice air-conditioned hotel all day while it’s 90+ degrees outside. We have full access to the copier this year (another key improvement) and things are much much much more stable in terms of putting overprotective parental freakouts into perspective and not making massive changes and moving everybody from class to class like they did last year throughout the camp. So far, no kids have moved!!! Wahooo! So much easier to help them improve if you have the for the whole meager two weeks!