By Nancy Lloyd
The joy of teaching lies in seeing the whole class come alive, with everyone on target and enjoying the work. Working with the Telling Room process makes that happen more often than not. The Telling Room is a Portland-based educational nonprofit that works with students from 6-17 to allow them to tell their stories in their own voices (see: TellingRoom.org).
In October, Telling Room lead teacher Caitlin Schick began a began a two-day-a-week, ten-week residency at the Vinalhaven School with Robb Warren’s fourth and fifth grade class. Wilhemina Ulbrich and I were support teachers, arriving for one day each. The promise that we strangers brought was that every student would become a writer of a very short story—a process called flash fiction—and then become a published author in a book.
With 20 students who are all island neighbors, Robb and his co teacher, Pat Paquet, keep a happy, disciplined classroom, relaxed, and respectful. This made it easy for we strangers “from away” to settle down into focused creativity.
We were peppered with questions. What is a story? What is flash fiction? How long is it? How do you make a book? What is an author? What do we do?
Schick is a superior teacher, warm and firm. As well as assuring each student that their ideas could and would make a good story, she is a lively story teller herself who makes new ideas fun.
Mr. Warren and Ms. Paquet quickly caught on to The Telling Room style. Their classroom reflected insistence on respect and calm behavior. The curricula of alternating games, think time, and writing, reading, and listening helped everyone along the path of watching creativity unfold.
From brainstorming, writing a first draft, self-editing, reading to your neighbor, more editing… what’s missing? Thinking again, final draft, then titles and reading to everyone. And so the stories progressed—slowly, but surely.
Like the clapping rhyme, “Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack…” they went over and over their ideas. “It was an abandoned house… There was an alien. We went into the woods and saw a… The tree was alive with a thing. What kind of thing? It was purple. It was an alien, it burst into flames, it came at night…”
And, “I was walking home the same way I always did. The wind blew through the window. Did it smash the window?”
Those days were joyous, but stressful. Would they finish their stories? Would they be stories? Publications director Molly McGrath came up from Portland to take their pictures for the book and explain how a book is made. The tedium of thinking and editing was beginning to pass.
“You mean my story will be in a book?”
“What’s it called?”
Wait! You need to give the book a title. Hmmm. Let’s write ideas on the board and take a vote.
And so it became known as Planet Vinalhaven.
Nancy Lloyd taught as a Peace Corps volunteer at the University of the South In Sousse, Tunisia, then for 16 years taught First Year Composition at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. Now retired, she lives in Camden.