CHATHAM, NJ - The National Day on Writing, a day that “celebrates the importance, joy, and evolution of writing,” is sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Each year on Oct. 20, teachers from around the country celebrate writing, exploring its critical role that extends beyond the academic writing students compose.
To mark the day, Chatham students in grades six through twelve had the opportunity to write journal entries, letters, stories, poetry and more. They wrote while sitting outside as well as in their classrooms. They shared and/or heard from others about why they write.
“We decided to recognize the day because we believe writing enriches our lives," English Supervisor Heather Rocco said. "We want our students to see writing as a way to explore their thinking, to express their creativity and to engage with their world. We want them to see that no matter what type of writing they do, we are a vibrant community of writers.”
Several English teachers created writing activities inspired by the literature students are reading. Cindy Gagliardi’s eleventh grade students are currently reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things I Carried, a collection of interconnected stories of soldiers serving in the Vietnam War and the aftermath of those experiences.
The first story in the collection begins by focusing on the physical objects that the soldiers carry and ends by reflecting on the emotional weight that is also present in their lives. Gagliardi’s students spent time in class writing about the things that they “carry” to reflect on their own values, hopes, fears, and purposes.
Shannon Falkner’s ninth grade students worked in groups to create “book trailers” for the self-selected literature circle books that they’ve been reading in class. The “book trailers” are designed to entice readers to pick up the books featured, so students had to consider ways to employ various rhetorical strategies to make their books appealing to viewers. They also had to make decisions about language, sound, and images and find effective ways to blend these features digitally.
In Christina Lesnewich’s class, students also participated in writing activities inspired by the literature they’ve recently read. Students have just finished reading J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and experimented with the stream-of-consciousness style of writing by penning their own pieces. They will have the option to create a "poetic persona" for their first person narrator or write a personal narrative. They may also choose to tell their story to someone, as Salinger did, through the use of second person.
Oona Abrams’ students, too, had the chance to experiment with perspective and style. Students have recently begun a unit on narrative journalism. In honor of the National Day on Writing, they participated in an activity in which they wrote about themselves in the third person from the point of view of another person.
“This writing experience is a low-risk opportunity for students to practice this point of view and to build on their previous knowledge of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 5: ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood," Abrams said.
Melissa Bryan had her students thinking about the ways that writing can bring about real-world change. Her ninth-grade students are reading Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night, in which Wiesel tells the story of his internment, torture, and starvation in the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust. Bryan’s students are researching individual cases of human rights abuses around the world today and participating in a global letter-writing campaign to elicit change as a way to “never forget,” as Wiesel says in his book and to speak out on behalf of others.
Meghan Marohn’s students considered the ways in which writing is shaped by particular experiences and behaviors. Students read the essay "On Keeping a Notebook" by Joan Didion and participated in a writing "scavenger hunt" in different environments in the school. They moved from one place to the next, writing in each space along the way to notice the ways that place impacts writing.
The NCTE created a Twitter hashtag (#WhyIWrite) to allow teachers and students to show how they marked the day. Several Chatham teachers shared their work using #WhyIWrite as well.