Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How Not to Speak to 8th Graders!

Today I had the privilege of speaking to three 8th grade English classes. I spoke about being an author, publishing, blogging, and I did some creative writing exercises.

8th grade is an intimidating age. 8th graders are the "big fish" on campus, most have "senioritis", and they are aware. They don't go for gimmicks. It's hard for me not to remember my own middle-school days. I would not choose to re-live those years! I feel for the kids who aren't having a good time.

I was excited but not nervous. I came with a lesson plan and quickly threw it out the window. I will say, it was hard to get my balance with the students. They were sweet--don't get me wrong. I'm just going to need more experience with this age group if I want to nail it.

I had a brilliant idea last night. I created a survey for the students to fill out after my talk. I encouraged them to give me honest feedback and now I have 80 completed surveys to review!

Overall--the feedback was positive. 60 students reported that they enjoyed the talk--that's 75%. (My 8th grade son, who wasn't there, says that's a C--whatever!) I think 60 out of 80 kids is good. The students rated me on a scale between 1 and 5. I only counted the 4 and 5 star ratings to get the 60 students who had a good time.

I asked for advice in a "comment" section and I got it! Here is some feedback from the 8th graders regarding how I can improve:
  • "Try to call on people." (Tried that--crickets!)
  • "Need more people to respond." (I agree!)
  • "I think you should involve the students more." (Yes, I will next time!)
  • "I think the only way to improve this workshop is to tell us why you wanted to be a writer in the first place. What inspired you? (Yeah, I blew that one. I didn't think the kids would want me to talk too much about me--I was wrong!)
  • "Try to plan some more hands-on interactive activities. (Interesting, need to figure out how to implement that.)
  • "Understanding the age group." (Trying! I'm over 40.)
  • "She could give more writing tips." (Of course!)
  • "Maybe she can talk just a tad less, other than that it was fun." (But I was the speaker--lol!)
  • "I think she should tell how to start writing a story. You have an idea in your head, but how do you get the writing started?" (Great question!!! Next time.)
I did get lots of "good jobs" and even an "adah girl!" One student wrote, "I believe the only way Jennifer can improve this workshop is just by being able to have more time with us. 50 minutes was not enough in my opinion but I did learn a lot in so little time." I wanted more time with them too!

I think I tried to do too much in an hour. I skimmed over topics some students wanted to park on. Quite a few students asked for more time to do the writing exercises--music to my ears!

A few students were inspired, "I don't know....I learned a lot and I don't think it can get any better. Thank you! for helping with tips to start writing my book."

32 students responded positively to the question: "Are you inspired to write stories of your own?" Ultimately, that's what I was there for--to encourage students to write. I also urged them to combine their talents with their education to produce a fulfilling career.

The treat of the day was meeting a blind student. She reads braille. She was intrigued by The Pet Washer because the main character is also blind. She's going to get The Pet Washer brailled so she can read it herself.

If you read The Pet Washer and get to the last page--you will know why this student broke my heart and filled it with joy at the same time. I can't wait for this girl to meet my wise and spirited pet washer!

Overall, I enjoyed today. The students may have wanted me to talk less or talk more or stay longer or leave earlier or make them work harder or call on them more or leave them alone--but I know they listened! They were respectful. They were sweet and they probably helped me more than I helped them. I'm grateful for them. They were incredibly cute and eager and full of dreams.

How do you talk to an 8th grader? I don't know, maybe you don't. Maybe you listen. Next time I will figure out how to pry their words out of them!

"Adah Girl!"