I recently reviewed Carol Baldwin’s Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8 2nd ed.: an instructional guide clearly outlining step-by-step how to teach students the complicated art of creative writing.
Impressed with her book and how her writing instructions were so clearly laid out both for teachers and for students, I was able to catch up with Carol to ask her a few questions about her book.
With the emphasis in the school systems on writing 5 paragraph essays, why teach about writing creative stories?
From my experience, students who learn to write a cohesive, original short story practice many of the same skills which they use when writing 5 paragraph essays. Namely, they must be focused, organized, show elaboration, and use style– as well as practice all grade-appropriate writing conventions.
But, writing an original story is more fun and draws upon students’ imaginations in ways that writing an expository essay doesn’t. As I say in my book, “Students who learn fiction-writing skills such as show, not tell, through vivid verbs, specific nouns, and figurative language can also use these same skills when writing a persuasive essay. In the end, teaching your students to write fiction will benefit their expository writing as they add interest and detail to all their writing.”
I am also concerned in our age of computer and video games that young people are losing the ability and pleasure of creating something which they can call their own.
Your book covers writing instruction from 4th to 8th grade – that’s quite a spread, how do you address the different levels?
I was very aware that when I was writing this book that it would be used by a variety of teachers with a large variety of students. As a result, I was careful to include in the introduction a section on “Teacher Goals.” Each teacher knows what writing skills her students possess.
A 4th grade teacher, for example, may recognize that she can only require that her students brainstorm and write a descriptive paragraph about a character and a setting. A 7th or 8th grade teacher can expect that her students write a story incorporating that character and setting into the fabric of the story. Students in higher grades may also be more able to incorporate genre details into their story and be able to tackle historical fiction or science fiction.
Although the process is the same, the end result—the completed story—will differ reflecting the amount of time the class can devote to editing and revision and the skill sets which the students have acquired. This second edition of the book also includes several mini-lessons with adaptations geared towards fourth and fifth grades.
The second edition of your book integrates technology and comes with a Resource CD – what made you decide to do that?
To be perfectly honest, I met Steve Johnson, the author of the technology mini-lessons at a workshop which I taught. He is a technology facilitator and I asked him about the possibility of including digital portfolios into the book. He looked at Teaching the Story and said, “There’s a lot more that we can add to this book besides just digital portfolios!” I am indebted to his foresight and expertise in writing the sixteen technology mini-lessons which enhance my book tremendously. It brought my work into the 21st century and I learned a lot in the process.
What type of feedback have you gotten on your writing program? From kids, teachers? Has it been used by homeschoolers?
I know that not every student enjoys writing fiction. So, some students groan when faced with the prospect of writing a short story. But even some of these students (often boys!) have risen to the occasion and written very detailed historical or science fiction stories. By the way, the resource CD includes eighteen stories written by middle school students. I included them so that teachers and students could see models of student work.
Many teachers have been excited about the mini-lessons and the way in which I have broken down the process. I have met language arts teachers who don’t feel comfortable teaching creative writing—unfortunately they don’t see themselves as writers. I wrote this book with them in mind, even including sections entitled, “How to Teach This” where I provided a model showing how they could teach a concept (such as “How to Create a Fantasy Setting”) to their students.
I also hoped that this would be a book which homeschool parents could use since many home educators teach a variety of grade levels at the same time and need a flexible writing unit. Here is one homeschool parent’s comment on the book:
“Carol Baldwin’s book is a great resource for any educator! As a homeschooling parent, I have found this book to be one of the best writing curriculums around. Clear and easy to use, both my child and I have enjoyed going through the lessons — a big change from the struggle I used to have with my son who once claimed, ‘I don’t like to write.’”
What in your background compelled you to write a book on teaching story writing?
I began this journey by volunteering and teaching writing in my children’s classrooms. I taught the basic components of short fiction and gradually expanded the unit to include multiple grades and multiple genres. I have a passion for reading and there is a strong component of “learn from literature” that runs throughout my book. I am a firm believer that, “If you want to write, read!” And as I said before, I am worried that our students are losing the ability to imagine and to create. I love a good story myself, and enjoy reading the stories that students create out of their own imaginations. I have also read a lot of articles about good writing principles and took much of what I have learned and wrote it for teachers. I think of Teaching the Story as Writer’s Digest for teachers on writing short fiction.
Do you have any future writing projects planned?
Although I have published both fiction and non-fiction articles for both adults and children, I am taking my first foray into the world of full-length fiction and am writing an historical novel that takes place in Charlotte, NC in 1950. I am finding it challenging and rewarding as now I get to practice what I preach! I also wrote a book for young adults on the art, science, and history of glass for a publisher that went out of business when I completed the manuscript. I have a nibble of interest from another publisher so hope to be working on that in the future also.