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Writers in the Schools

The Cabin

The Cabin is a Boise, Idaho literary arts organization. We forge community through the voices of all readers, writers, and learners. Now in our twenty-second year, The Cabin is an anchor of literary arts in our state. For The Cabin’s Writers in the Schools (WITS) program, we employs teaching-writers — professional, published poets, novelists, journalists, and playwrights — to teach writing residencies in schools and juvenile detention centers with students in grades 3–12. WITS runs concurrently with area school districts’ academic calendar. Each WITS residency begins with planning by the classroom teacher, teaching-writer, and Cabin Program Manager. Teaching-writers also meet at The Cabin at least twice yearly to train and share ideas and experiences with each other. The teaching-writer visits their classroom weekly with outcome-based creative writing lesson plans. Students write original work based on new writing prompts. They share work and respond with thoughtful critique. In addition, our teaching-writers write critique on all student writing. Each residency culminates with a published classroom anthology and a reading that is presented to parents and invited guests.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

Why does creative writing matter?

Following are several examples of WITS students answering our essential question.

Creative writing matters because…

“It lets me create a world of my own and control however I want.”

“It lets you get out the pent up emotions you hide and sometimes you feel like sharing the world but don’t know where to start.”

“It expresses emotions or thoughts that we might not recognize subconsciously, until it’s on paper.”

“It helps bring out the raw feeling of your experiences. To better deal and learn from them.”

“It inspires more people to write.”

“It also opens up new ideas to people’s minds.”

“To show others how to use their imagination and what you can think of with it.”

“It matters because people think differently than others.”

“It might teach you to be open when times are tough.”

“It teaches skills and vocabulary. It can also change a person’s point of view.”

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Our goal was for our WITS students to exhibit accomplishment in the following areas:

Anchor Standards 1, Creating: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.

Anchor Standards 6, Performing: Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.”

Anchor Standards 7, Responding: Perceive and analyze artistic work.

Anchor Standards 10, Connecting: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.

Impact

The best way to illustrate the impact of WITS is through the individual accomplishments of the diverse students we serve. Below are examples from two classroom teachers and one WITS teaching-writer.

“Helena is an English language learner an intelligent young lady who was very shy with speaking English especially writing in English. After the WITS program she is more engaged in conversations in class and her writing is clearer.”

“A 5th grade student with dyslexia who didn’t really enjoy reading up to this point, because of the challenge, really began to gain confidence in his writing and his reading skills. He volunteered to share his writing with the group, which we hadn’t seen in the past few years.”

“Colin attended the majority of the creative writing classes of my residency. He quickly showed himself to be a dedicated, passionate student of poetry, and always tried to write a better poem in response to each project. He started to gravitate to stanzas in his writing, and soon began using white space to emphasize concepts and images. Enjambment is a particularly hard concept to teach, as is line vs. sentence, but Colin took on the challenge, and developed an understanding of how to use this method. The body of work he created was remarkable, and from beginning to ends shows his arc of learning how to read, analyze, and make poems. His poems—nearly 20—form a type of chapbook.” – Danny Stewart, Teaching-Writer at Ada County Juvenile Detention Center

Reflection

Following is a reflection from our 2017–18 Program Manager, Katie Fuller.

“In the 2017-18 school year, our caring teaching-writers cultivated a love of writing and reading through poetry, fiction, and multi-genre residencies in over 20 classrooms in local schools and detention centers. They served nearly 700 young students. The numbers belie a larger and quieter story about the democratizing power of education and writing’s role in manifesting a whole generation’s future visions. When we ask students to trust and hear the writing inside them and take that quiet moment to let their imaginations come to life on the page in the form of descriptive language, magic happens. One highlight of the year is to read through the WITS anthologies and witness the amazing wisdom in our young writers’ words. The delight of seeing some similar truths about ourselves pour forth, from students ranging from a public school third grader to a new immigrant high schooler, reminds us all that our capacity for radical empathy remakes the limits of our world.”

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