This post was written by NCTE members Tricia Baldes and Andrea Hayden.
“Good morning, Somers Middle School! Today is November 1st and you know what that means: it’s the first day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short)!
This month, eighth graders at SMS will take on the challenge of writing a novel. Please encourage and support our young writers as you see them. Ask them what they’re writing about! Look out for more updates throughout November.”
The excitement around NaNoWriMo in our school is palpable. While this excitement starts long before November 1st, this morning announcement over our school’s PA is a perfect example of the celebratory energy around the challenge within and beyond our classrooms.
Our journey with NaNoWriMo started four years ago at an IGNITE session during the 2015 NCTE Convention. Immediately, our wheels began spinning. We were somewhat apprehensive as we considered how we might fit this into our year, but we started to realize how many standards it meets and the potential positive impact NaNoWriMo could have on our students.
Our love for this part of our year has grown exponentially and we now talk about it every chance we get: we presented along with other NaNo lovers last year at NCTE, we set up our formal observations with our principal during this month, we share pictures on our district’s Facebook page, and share our plans with parents at Open House.
NaNoWriMo is now part of the culture of our classroom, the culture of our school, and the culture of our community.
This year we asked students during the first weeks of school, “What are you most excited about for this year in ELA?” and “What are you most apprehensive about this year in ELA?”. Before we had even mentioned it to them directly, the responses to both questions included, “NaNoWriMo” (or sometimes, “that writing a book thing”). They vary from, “I’m so excited and have waited for three years to write my novel! When do we start?!” to “You’re crazy to think I’m going to write a book.”
This year, we were lucky enough to have local author Joseph Wallace visit our school on two occasions in October to kick off our work with NaNoWriMo. After he gave some words of advice about how to get started, our students were off and running—brainstorming plot lines, developing characters, creating worlds for their settings—all with the added benefit of one-on-one and small group conferences with Joe himself.
Leading up to the start of NaNoWriMo, we moved classroom furniture, providing more flexible seating choices. We encouraged students to create playlists so that they can plug-in and be moved by music as they write. And we explained how our classroom will be Flipped throughout the month with students watching instructional videos at home while using all class time to write.
On November 1st, students were greeted by a decorated Peanut the Elephant—our school mascot, who stands guard at the entrance to our school celebrating the start of NaNoWriMo.
Signs were hung outside our classrooms, decorations were put up, and announcements were made. By then, the buzz around NaNoWriMo was everywhere: the students were talking about it—in our ELA classrooms, of course, but also in the hallways, the cafeteria, other classes and at home.
As the writing began, the balloon that had been blown up, little by little over these past few months (and past few years for some), finally got to fly around the room. When students began typing and on that first day, it was fast and furious. They had prepared for this day, and most were ready to go.
They dove into their stories, heads down, fingers flying across the keyboard. There were some students, of course, who needed more help along the way: some who still couldn’t believe they were going to do this and couldn’t imagine how it would go; some who were afraid about starting; and some who started off strong but then got stuck or suddenly doubted themselves. And we were there with resources, supports, and words of encouragement as needed!
Now the halfway mark of the month is approaching and our students are energized and motivated to achieve the goals they set for themselves and to bring their ideas to the page. While we are facilitators of the whole project, our role changes day to day, conference to conference. We are cheerleaders, coaches, therapists, and wordsmiths providing whatever supports our students need along the way.
We see a lasting impact from this process that goes far beyond a typical writing unit in an ELA class. NaNoWriMo is remembered; it reframes students’ perspectives on who they are as confident and successful writers, and as confident and successful people.
Tricia Baldes earned a master’s in English from Lehman College and has been a middle level educator since 2001. In addition to presenting at national conferences for NCTE and ACSD, Tricia has led various teacher trainings and programs for students. She teaches eighth-grade English in Westchester County, N.Y.
Andrea Hayden earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education at the State University of New York at Geneseo. She earned a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Boston College and has been teaching Special Education at the middle school level since 2002. Over that time, Andrea has developed a passion for inclusive education. She co-teaches eighth-grade English in Westchester County, N.Y.