Guest Blogger: Kath and the 2K20 - Encouraging Future Authors

 Encouraging Future Authors: Advice from the Class of 2K20 books

By Kath Rothschild and the Class of 2K20 Books (Twitter @Class2k20Books; Instagram @class2k20books)


A teacher’s impact on future writers, whether online or in person, is huge. In recent research, students consistently linked their writerly identity to what their teachers had told them about their writing abilities (Rothschild, 2020). The Class of 2K20, a group of middle grade and young adult debut authors, can attest to the impact that teachers can have. They offer three ways today’s teachers can increase students’ interest in, and commitment to, writing: regular low-stakes writing, offering diverse books (especially inclusive of multiple languages), and encouraging small group book clubs and other extracurricular literary experiences.


Encourage Daily Low-Stakes Writing


It may seem simple, but often it is time that is spent not at home doing writing for homework, but in class writing—at levels from kindergarten to college—that can impress upon students how important low-stakes, especially non-graded writing, can be. Although scaffolded writing exercises are the norm now, there are strong benefits to cross-over between self-sponsored writing (such as home journaling) and “academic” writing. Claire Swinarski, author of WHAT HAPPENS NEXT attest to the benefits of unstructured writing. “I had one teacher in particular who gave us a half hour a day to simply free-write. Most kids complained about it and used it as journaling time, but I would always write short stories. Just having the time and space to use my imagination was incredibly valuable, and the fact that they weren’t graded allowed me to just be creative!”


Amanda Sellet, author of BY THE BOOK: A NOVEL OF PROSE AND CONS, notes that when classrooms only address the academic, and ignore the creative, it can have lasting negative effects. I wish I’d tried my hand at fiction sooner. Growing up, it felt like being good at school meant I had to focus on strictly academic things, because creative writing was for a different type of kid--someone more artsy and poetic…It took me a long time to give myself permission to invent my own stories instead of writing about other people’s work.” In her academic work, Katherine Rothschild, an instructor at Stanford University and the author of the forthcoming WIDER THAN THE SKY, has found immense benefits to students seeing crossover between their “creative” writing selves and their “academic” writing selves. “Daily writing with an approach that moves between self-sponsored, or self-chosen types of writing, and academic models, has been shown to increase students’ ability to identify as a writer—an issue that can assist them to value writing in the future.” Setting daily writing prompts before the week or month begins can be a great way to make sure the practice sticks.


Offer Diverse (and Multi-lingual) Books


Great readers often become great writers, as we know. But no single type of book can speak to all students. One approach that many teachers in K-5 are taking is to have a genre BINGO board so students can check off all different types of book genres and engage in learning genres as well as exposing themselves to all types of books—while still getting to choose what they read. Speaking to the impact of exposure to good books, Amy Noelle Parks, author of THE QUANTUM WEIRDNESS OF THE ALMOST-KISS, says, “my teachers encouraged me to write by getting great fiction into my hands. I had a really amazing language arts teacher in middle school who introduced me to so many books I loved. When I started writing, it was because I wanted to recapture that feeling of losing myself in an imaginary space.”


That said, books that include multiple languages can strongly prepare students for a globalized world, and a for life in a diverse community. Tanya Guerrero, author of HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA and the forthcoming ALL YOU KNEAD IS LOVE, says, “Coming from a trilingual family, I learned early on that language and storytelling doesn’t only have to be in English. My family spoke using English, Tagalog, and Spanish all at once. That’s why I pepper my dialogue in this manner, not only to reflect my own upbringing, but to also reflect other multicultural reader’s experiences.”


Books can transform our thinking. Cathleen Barnhart, author of THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO, attests to the importance of critical thinking through reading. Everything I read makes me think differently. That’s what books do: they open up space in our brains where we didn't have space before. About a year ago I read a book: Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy. It blasted a hole into what I thought was a solid wall so that I could see through a window that hadn’t existed before.” And KayLynn Flanders, author of SHIELDED, says “from an early age, books taught me how powerful words could be. They create a connection between me and others, a connection between my experiences and theirs. They allow me to see a new world, or to see my world in a new way.”


Encourage Extra-Curricular Writing and Storytelling Groups


Due to the recent move to online learning, many teachers are encouraging book clubs and other literary extracurriculars organized by parents or teachers but led by students. The move to give students literary-focused time, through a creative writing prompt and then share-on-Zoom, or through a book club, or a Spooky Storytelling group, can all encourage both students’ imaginations as well as their commitment to writing and reading. Lorien Lawrence, author of THE STITCHERSspeaks of the power of storytelling to create both a lifetime love of stories and understand the power of language. “I moved schools in the fourth grade, so I told spooky stories at lunch to make friends.” And now, she tells them for a living! Our students today don’t have the playground on which to tell stories, but they can still engage in self-directed language-arts driven activities, such as book clubs, storytelling projects, and creative writing groups.


A Last Thought: Validate!


It’s always a good reminder to any teacher at any level that writing is an act of bravery, and that students’ creative work should be given high positive feedback, and very little negative feedback. The validation needed to keep writing is high—and it’s often why students report stopping writing, or feeling that they are “not really writers”—they got negative feedback from teachers over the years. Teachers at the high school and college level must give feedback to assist students to improve their academic work, but when it comes to creativity, studies show it’s okay to just say “great!” Lawrence attests to the importance of validating writers' efforts. “I was fortunate enough to have MANY teachers who encouraged my love of writing - all the way from 4th grade to graduate school. And it was never just one word or encouraging phrase - it was a steady stream of validation. I became a teacher and an author because of these interactions.”


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Class of 2k20 Books is a group of Young Adult and Middle Grade authors releasing debut novels in 2020. If you’re interested in learning more about our books, our authors, giveaways, and in-person events, you’ve come to the right place. Prepare to be All Booked Up from now through our release dates!

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