Flocks of aspiring writers (103 students) found themselves living the college life, at the "Writers in Progress" elementary camp on the campus of Missouri Western during June.
Each day of camp began with a writing prompt to get ideas flowing. The prompts were often inspired by the reading of a picture book or viewing of a piece of artwork. During this writing time students could choose to respond to the prompt or write something of their choice. After a thirty minute writing session, campers were encouraged to share their pieces in an open mic reading. Many were hesitant at first to get in front of the class and read, but over time nearly every camper volunteered to share.
The campers also participated in literature circles as a way to keep their reading skills fresh over the summer and find inspiration from authors. The camp teachers read the books ahead of time and gave a book talk over each to get students excited. Campers then chose the book they wanted to read and formed literature circles with peers reading the same book. Each day, the circles met to discuss the reading from the previous day. The campers were given independence from the teachers in the execution of the circles. During each literature circle session the group choose a discussion director who was in charge of keeping the discussion moving and on track. Literature circles began with each student taking a turn to share their response to the chapters read the previous day. These responses led to many in depth discussions about the plot, theme, and characters of each book. During our four week camp, each student had the opportunity to read two different books with the chance to take home a third title at the end of camp.
Midway through the camp day, students were given an opportunity to clear their minds and re-fuel their bodies with an outdoor break. Following break time, campers divided into smaller groups and headed to breakout sessions. For the rest of the morning, students participated in workshops led by camp teachers that addressed specific writing issues. Among the issues addressed were: using sensory detail, voice, word choice, organization, sentence fluency, character development, self expression, and using multiple voices.
The end result of camp was a writing anthology, which showcased the best writing developed by students. Each camper started with an idea, which became a story in a journal, then typed into a document, edited thoroughly, and finally published. The elementary anthology was distributed on the last day of camp to coincide with the reading of campers' work in front of parents and teachers. A cover art contest was also held, with many students displaying their artistic skills. The campers then voted for which design would be on the cover.
While each day of camp had its special moments, there were two in particular that stood out. On June 5th, campers left the comfort of the classrooms and participated in a writing marathon across campus. Among the sites visited for inspiration were the clock tower, Agenstein Hall, Kemper Recital Hall, and the fountains in front of Eder Hall. Many campers took their writings that began during the marathon and turned them into published pieces. They learned that sometimes the best way to become inspired to write is to try writing in new settings. On June 12th the campers took a field trip to The St. Joseph Museum otherwise known as the Tootle Mansion. They were given the opportunity to learn the history of St. Joseph's famous cemetery, Mt. Mora, as well as spend some time roaming and writing in the museum. The highlight of the day was a scavenger hunt, arranged by Amy Grier, PLWP Teacher Consultant and Museum Education Director. Campers discovered artifacts in the museum to help the "ghost bride" discover the fate of her fiancé. This field trip inspired many adventure stories as the campers became immersed in the history of our city.
In just a month's time, over 100 young writers improved their skills, found new inspirations, became published authors, and made plenty of new friends along the way. While many students were sad on the last day to see camp end, they were eager to return to school in the fall and show off their new found writing skills.
PLWP Teacher Consultants and area teachers leading this year’s 2008 "Writers in Progress" elementary camp were Christie Leigan (director), Shannon Harris, Ann Dotson, Betty Stacey, Jerri Fischer, Leanna Lightfoot, and Mary Pankiewicz.
The work for camps began long before June, as camp directors and PLWP staff began recruitment at the start of the year. All third through sixth grade teachers in the St. Joseph School District received a nominating packet, in which they were asked to choose the top three writing students in their classes. At parent-teacher conferences, the selected students were given a brochure about writing camp and a letter to parents. Eligible students were required to turn in an application form, a letter about why they like to write, and a $20.00 materials fee, which included a writing journal and a t-shirt. Record numbers students applied this year, which resulted in our largest camps ever.