Friday, October 6, 2017

Author Visit: Writing Workshop with Linda Urban

I sit at a table in my classroom, side by side with my students. Our workspace is layered with notebooks and index cards and black Flair pens and their covers. The students hands--and mine--scrawl a memory onto our pages. I'm finding myself transported to Barcelona, 1995; I'm sitting down to dinner with my high school Foreign Language Club. And while I'm about to sample that first ringlet of calamari again, I'm also keenly aware that my classroom is still and busy, humming with an aura of writers at work. 

"And, stop," a voice cuts the quiet. "Who has something they would be willing to share?" 

Half a dozen hands go up, and Linda Urban proceeds to move from one student to the next, signaling the students' moment, each reading aloud with confidence and pride the writing produced from an image conjured up through the selective questioning of the visiting author.

This week Linda Urban returned to OES to lead writing workshops for my 5th graders, enlisting their help in co-researchers about writers notebooks. Each workshop began with a glimpse into Linda's own notebooks and notebooks of other creators of kidlit, emphasizing the imperfect and the importance of writing in our notebooks for ourselves first. Then, my students and I participated in exercises selected from Linda's own study of and with comic-artist Lynda Barry (What It Is, 2009, and Syllabus, 2014). The curated exercises Linda facilitated were geared towards engaging writers and quieting their critical mind while using their writing notebooks as a place of play. My students were enthusiastic workshop participants and co-researchers, many producing more writing in short spurts of time than they typically do in our regular writing workshop and complaining when time had run out.

After school, Linda presented a third writing workshop session, this one for an audience of district colleagues and staff members. The adult audience wrote through many of the same exercises, and Linda shared her message about the importance of play in writers notebooks with research from numerous leaders in the field of education.

I am not new to the inspiration of Linda Urban. Linda and I collaborated in a long-term partnership a few years ago that shed light on Linda's process while revising Milo Speck: Accidental Agent and influenced me to strive for as much authenticity as possible in my classroom writing instruction. I've hosted Linda Urban at OES twice before, in both a classroom visit and a whole-school visit with assemblies designed for primary and intermediate audiences. I've witnessed her interactions with individual students and groups of almost 200 and know first-hand that Linda Urban's energy, sense of humor, and genuine nature contribute to her highly-engaging and phenomenal way with students.

And yet, I will never turn down an opportunity to be reminded.

Linda Urban's writing workshops were a terrific success. Here's why:
Linda builds quick and easy rapport with writers--both students and adults. In her willingness to share her own examples, Linda's model of vulnerability invites her workshop participants to take safe risks, also. Linda's interest in and respect for students has them eager to embrace their writer-selves.
Linda's suggestions are practical in practice. Each of the exercises and ideas Linda shared can be done in little time, making the commitment to "try it out" feel doable in and among all the other constraints we face in the classroom. Many of the ideas and practices Linda shares will require small shifts in the work we already do with students.
Linda's presentation is well-balanced between sharing her own story and examples, those of other writers, and issuing an invitation for student (and adult) writers to play and write. Our sessions were close to two hours long, and the participants could have gone for longer.
Linda's message about using notebooks and making time for play is important. And sometimes we need these important reminders to revisit, or we need the chance to slow down and experience the truth ourselves in order to recommit to doing what is best for students.

My week has been spent picking up little gems that my students and colleagues are putting down from our time with Linda Urban. It has been gratifying to overhear students make reference to their time spent with Linda, to incorporate small bits of what we shared together into the last few days in the classroom, and to bump into colleagues who attended the afternoon professional development session and hear them express how meaningful that time spent writing with Linda was to them.

We're thankful to have shared a day writer-to-writer with Linda Urban, and her words and encouragement will last through the year and beyond.

You can have Linda visit your school or classroom, too. (And honestly, I don't know why you wouldn't...) Send an inquiry or find out more.

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