Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 18 #sol19

I felt my heart skip a beat as I looked around the room.  Faces of eager but nervous seventh graders, all holding notecards, gazed back at me, now all gathered at the center of the library.  Behind them, a group of adults, holding clipboards and pencils.  The time to commence had arrived, and all eyes now rested on me to set things in motion.  I began,  “Welcome to our Global Issues Symposium, everyone! We are honored by your presence today. This morning is an opportunity for many things: if you’re a student writer, today is a chance for you to present your views on a topic that really matters to you. If you are here as a guest, let me explain a little about today.”

At that point, I explained that some of the topics that would be addressed by our student writers might make some feel uncomfortable.  Some may not agree with the views presented, I said. But, I explained, we know that in a civil society, a free exchange of ideas is foundational.  I respectfully requested that any feedback adults chose to give be respectful and diplomatic. I reminded them that our student writers worked from a different level of world knowledge than adults.  “But they’ve studied the topic,” I continued, “weighed the evidence, and today they will present a considered argument. We request all audience members feel free to ask a few questions at the end of each student’s talk. And if you’re willing, provide a little written feedback.”

My colleague Shannon then joined me at the front as we projected a seating assignment, followed by the bustling movement of 34 seventh graders proceeding to their assigned area in the library.  Students had been organized into panels of 3-6, broadly grouped by topic.  Issues ranged from the value of college education to medical marijuana, from school uniforms to gun control.  I grabbed my clipboard and made my way to a low table located near the checkout counter.  Six faces were already there, awaiting my cue.  “Good morning everyone,” I greeted them excitedly. “Who’d like to go first?”

What took place that morning (and later in the afternoon) was nothing short of impressive.  Broadly speaking, students came well-prepared: Across the library, they presented claims, reasons, and evidence that widely impressed the adults who had gathered to listen.  Although not many students invited listeners from outside our school community, some did.  A state representative had joined to listen to a student argue about the minimum wage.  The president of a local animal shelter came to listen to a student discuss her views on the treatment of animals.  A few parents came to support their students by listening to presentations.  And many colleagues from my school joined to bear witness to student writers as they presented their positions.

As the students filed out of the library at the end of the symposium, one of the teachers approached me.  “I’m so proud of them,” she said.  “They really stepped up their game.”  I nodded in agreement, thinking to myself about the importance that authentic audience plays in the writing process.

Author: Lanny Ball

For more than 23 years, Lanny has taught, coached, presented, staff developed, and consulted within the exciting and enigmatic world of literacy. With unyielding passion and belief in the possibility of workshop teaching, Lanny has worked to support students, teachers, and school administrators around the country in outgrowing themselves as both writers and readers. Working first as a classroom teacher, then as a coach and TCRWP Staff Developer, Lanny is now a literacy and reading consultant in Northwestern Connecticut. Outside of literacy, he enjoys raising his three ambitious young daughters with his wife, and playing the piano. Find him on this blog, as well as on Twitter @LannyBall. Lanny is also a co-author of a blog dedicated to supporting teachers and coaches that maintain classroom writing workshops, twowritingteachers.org.

5 thoughts on “Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 18 #sol19”

  1. I was considering the entire piece about how important an authentic audience is to our fledgling writers. I know that organizing and coaching the students to this point was not an easy task, but what it provided to all involved writers and listeners was beyond measure.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What you have done for the students, providing them with authentic audience, will stay with them for a long time. To present their views, after having researched them and studied the topic, to an attentive and responsive audience is a gift we should present to students more often. I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

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