Since Fern had been a teacher and now writes MG and YA books, we talk about working with kids today. She works with the Writers in the Schools program to still teach in a classroom and we discuss working with kids.
So we’ve got a great topic working with kids, teaching Kids, which you’ve got great experience with. I’d love to talk to you a little bit here, but let me ask you first what software and services do you use when you’re writing? Do you have anything particular that you like and would recommend?
Fern: That is so interesting. You I’ve looked at so many different ones that they’re out there. I write inward, to be honest. I just, when I’m a discovery writer, I tend to not, I have a lot of things going on in here, which, my writing coach and editor, he’s always could you please put it on paper so I know what’s in there?
But , I ha I hold a lot of what’s supposed to be happening in here. And so when I write, I just sit and start writing. Now when I revise that’s when I start doing a lot of plotting. So I’ll do things, with sticky notes and things up on the wall to try to see where the plot holes are.
And then I usually use Scribner. And the reason I like to do that is because I can take it from the word file, put it into Scribner, and then I can move things around. Yeah. Because in invariably there’s stuff that’s now out of order , because I didn’t necessarily write it as chronologically as I thought I did, so I love Scribner for that. And, I have friends that use Scrivener for other things that, they have a lot of plotting help and they have character sheet help and things, and I just really don’t use any of that. I just really love the ability to parcel it out by scenes and then be able to move things.
And then put them back into word ,
Stephen: basically. Nice. Okay. And is that something you’ve always done or is that something you’ve done different since the first book?
Fern: I have, usually like the the first book I didn’t really use Scribner. With the first book I ended up having to cut and paste on Word and, move to another file and rename it, and so that was messier.
That was messier. But when I’ve started using Scribner, it’s really been very helpful in that sense. But the general process of it is, has stayed the same in general. I’m just I just sit down and let whatever happens in the story happen. . And then later I bring some order to it.
And then I find myself, like right now when I’m wrapping up the revision for Gor to Offensive, which is gonna be book two I find that I’m having to thread some things in that happens toward the end. And so now I’ve got a thread, some hints in, because, you can’t just have, magic liquids show up at the end.
You have to like, put them somewhere else, so people are like, really, that’s convenient, so I, I enjoy that
Stephen: process. Nice. And what are you doing to market your books? Is there anything you do to get the word out, get people to notice your book?
Fern: One of the things that I do is that I hired a really great publicist Mickey Holson from Creative Edge Publicity.
He is a really great. Person and I just enjoy working with him. He gets a lot of wonderful opportunities like this one to get on podcasts and to do interviews. And he works with me with the Gales to try to get some editorial reviews ahead of time. And I have a wonderful social media advisor and her name is Amy Ravish.
She owns Abundantly Social and, she is magnificent. She understands a lot of the trends. She understands how to position things and where to position things for the best for the best visibility in social media and when to do it and how to do it. And so she helps me a lot with those. and and besides, the online presence and things, I also love Karina Sakowski.
She is my graphics person. She makes me beautiful pro promotional graphics to use. And then and then I also just love to be in person. I think. I think people like to meet you as an author and so I go to a lot of comic conventions and just local arts and craft fairs and just meet people, plus it gives me a chance to dress up, which I’m a big fan of
Nice. Okay. So our big discussion is about teaching and teaching kids, working with kids. So you were a teacher. You decided to leave that because of various. Non-fun teaching things, , which I totally get. So tell me a little bit about what are some of the things you’re doing now working with kids or what you’re trying to do in that regard.
Fern: Sure. So shortly after I left teaching and I joined the Houston Writers Guild Board of Directors. And Wow.
Stephen: Let’s just jump right in there. .
Fern: Yeah. They were needing, the organization had started as a sole proprietorship. And so the lady that took it on, she turned it into a nonprofit, so she needed a board.
So I volunteered. I was like what the heck? And and then eventually I ended up executive director. I’ve been executive director of it for the last eight years. Wow. With a little break in between. And then, So as part of that, I met a gentleman in Nate, Jack McBride, who is, who was part of the Writers in the schools program.
And Writers in the Schools is a national organization and they work with local schools whether they are public schools or private schools. And they bring in a writer, a working writer that does either 12 or 24 week placements or different kinds of placements. And basically you go in. and you’re working with the kids for an hour each week, with each of the classrooms and you are doing writing lessons.
And they, it’s not connected to curriculum, it’s not connected to testing. It’s authentic. Just here’s what writers do, here’s how we enjoy writing and gives the kids the opportunity to experience, the actual creative process and how messy it is. And to be okay with messiness, because you don’t, you kids will ask me like how long does this have to be?
It has to be as long as it needs to be in order for the story to be told. That’s right. I just don’t know. I don’t know what the length of that particular story’s gonna be, my love, and that’s that kind of, just flexibility of don’t worry about it. Tell the story that needs to be told.
Is wonderful for the kiddos. And so I have been working with writers in the schools now for. I think about the full tenure of my time as the Houston Writer’s Guild president because I met him through a conference we were both at. And and I love it. I love it because it is literally all of the best parts of teaching and absolutely none of the not so great
Stephen: that I can understand that and that, that fits right along with one of the things I’ve been working on and I’m just getting started in this whole working with kids.
I have not been doing it as long as you, but. , I’m like, none of what I’m saying or doing is to take away from what teachers are teaching. I think kids need to learn their English, learn grammar, learn spelling, even learn sentence structure and all that. But the problem is that’s all taken out of context when you teach it like that.
Because until you actually sit and write a story and think of something from your imagination, some of that stuff doesn’t make much sense and they forget about it. So my focus isn’t on the core curriculum stuff. It’s, and not necessarily spelling, it’s the imagination and learning how to write a good story.
But then I’m also focusing on how they can use that in the future. Can they write stories their whole life, even if they’re an accountant or an auto repair mechanic. Yes. Can they use their storytelling abilities in business? So much so nowadays it’s becoming a big part of that. . So it’s a skill I think we’re losing in teaching our kids.
Cuz we don’t sit around the campfire telling stories anymore like they did even a hundred years ago. Instead kids are watching the screens all the time and parents don’t know how to help with that.
Fern: And there is an amount of storytelling in some of the video games that have been coming out.
And yes, there is storytelling. There is storytelling, but we don’t really focus on it and we don’t really highlight it to, to the, to an extent of being able to say, okay, kids, let’s look at, let’s forget about the game itself for a moment and let’s just look at the storytelling behind it. And, we don’t really do that.
And but to the point of, with the teachers, it’s very interesting. . One of the, when I started with writers in the schools, one of the things that they usually do is this very self-contained lesson, right? So you go in for lesson one and it’s a very self-contained lesson. It goes nowhere else.
Okay? I sh I show you how to do it. We do something together and then you do it, and then that’s it. It’s done. And one of the things that I have done with the way I do my program with writers in the schools, and I think they like it so far, so far they haven’t gotten rid of me. So I guess they like it is.
Create a continuity. So we’re, I’m doing the same thing I used to do with my kids, right? We are gonna create a world, okay? So first we’re gonna create a map. What kind of stuff is gonna go on our map? How is this gonna function for our world building? Okay? Let’s make up some characters. Let’s think about some backstory.
What has happened to these people before our story even begins? Nothing we’re about to talk about is gonna be the main story, right? And then we have lessons on, okay, so what’s going to be our story? What is gonna be the big issue that they’re going to be dealing with, right? And so across all of my lessons, we are building the story.
And then once we’ve draft. Then we go into revision. Because the reality is that as writers, 90% of our time is spent revising.
Stephen: And that’s where I, I love doing my best writing cuz I feel the story’s done now. I just have to make it better and improve and make it fun. And that I’ve come to really enjoy that part of the process.
And, yeah. Cause that’s where you
Fern: begin. Sorry. Yeah. But I to me that’s where you, that’s where you begin to add nuance. Yes. It’s threading in those little things that you hadn’t thought of, and then you start putting it together and building it for the audience, for the
Yes. And until you’ve written, you don’t understand how to write and the revise and some of that other stuff, spelling doesn’t matter. Grammar doesn’t matter. That’s what I encourage with kids and homeschool parents and whatever. And I think what you said there is one of the things missing is that we work with kids to write, but they don’t really learn story.
They don’t learn the three act structure. They don’t learn the conflict and the rising to the midpoint. And then, the part where the hero’s journey. But that’s not the only framework. But they don’t learn the parts that make a story work and work well. Cause I know a lot of the groups I’m with, when somebody learns about save the cap or learns about the hero’s journey, they’re like, oh, I don’t wanna be constrained and I don’t, and that’s, you’re missing the point.
This is really what you need to do. And I think kids wouldn’t really question it if you’re just. This is how, this is the three act structure.
Fern: Yeah. And what you find, what I had found a lot, and even as a teacher, a lot of times as a teacher you’re doing these short little things where you don’t actually delve into a deeper level of revising or completeness.
A lot of times, we are encouraging kids to, they start stuff and they never finish. And and that’s not a great pattern to do for your life. You’ve gotta dig in sometimes and finish things. And I also find that the teachers are really surprised sometimes when I do a revision lesson, because we are going to, for example, let’s say we wanna elaborate because we haven’t really described, we wanna add some sensory details so that people can visualize things and all of that.
We’ve talked about it. So now let’s circle. , all of our nouns. Where are our nouns? How can we describe each one so we can visualize it better? What are some descriptions that we can give? What are some can someone smell this? Can someone touch it? What color is it? What shape is it? And so you can work with grammar points.
They gotta know what a noun is to be able to find the nouns, right? And so now we’re adding description. What do we call those words? Oh, the, those words are adjectives. Okay. So now these concepts of nouns and adjectives are not on a worksheet. They’re in their own work. They’re finding their nouns, and they’re adding adjectives to make their nouns interesting and their work interesting.
And you can do this with with passive voice. Okay, so let’s look for everywhere where we put the word. Let’s look for everywhere where we put the word felt.
Stephen: Still big problems for me. Sometimes , it’s
Fern: the problem for everybody. And okay, so now that we’ve found these words, how can we change this sentence to make it stronger?
Because look at how weak it is. She felt her heart beating why not Brenna’s heart beat faster? How much more intense that is than she felt. It beat faster, so we can begin to show them how to look at grammar through the lens of how do we apply it as a writer and how do we revise with it to make it stronger by looking at our verbs?
Okay. How many times do you have the word walk? 500. Okay. Let’s see, what other words could we use, that are basically the same thing, but that might help the reader see how they walked. Better. So I think that these are the points where we might miss out if we’re doing these little tiny snippet lessons.
And they’re cute. Okay, we did these snippet lessons and we have this cute artifact, but did we really focus on the writing process? Yes. Did we really, I love that. Push them to do more, to dig deeper, to have to create nuance for their stories. And I feel like that’s what I try to do with with my work with writers in the schools, is to make the kids go deeper.
I always challenge ’em okay a short story really should be about 3000 words long, or l or between three to seven K. , a good short story. That’s a sellable short story. Let’s at least try for one. As a kid. And I’m always surprised at how many go way beyond because now they’ve been challenged, oh, I dropped a gauntlet one K oh, Ms.
Brady Uhuh, I’m gonna go much
Stephen: further. And, that’s the thing. Not every kid is going to be a writer. Not every kid cares to tell a good story or is able to, and you know who they don’t. Yeah. What’s it matter? But the ones that really do it starts clicking with them and you’ve just changed their life forever.
Fern: . And even the ones that don’t want to, the, just the challenge aspect of it. I, so I’ve, I’m you doing third grade and fourth graders this year. And so I decided that, we w we always decorate our notebook covers with a collage, to reflect who we are.
And so I decided they were gonna work on a sonnet. Wow. For their poem. Now these are third and fourth graders, and so I was like, okay, A sonnet is 14 lines with 10 syllables. Okay. I didn’t really go into the stress and unstressed and the different types. Okay. That was a little too much.
That be too
Stephen: hard for me too. So
Fern: just okay, this is this what we’re doing. Okay. We’re doing 14 lines, 10 syllables. If you want it to be an exact sonnet, it’s gotta have exactly 10 syllables. But I was like, you guys are third graders. I’ll let you get away with like between seven and 10. You, I was amazed.
80% of the kiddos hit exactly 10 syllables on all 14 lines. They were. going to miss it. They, you could see them working it, you could see them thinking and I, we talked about filler words, like yay or woohoo. Little things that you could do to cheat there every once in a while when you can’t quite make those 10.
And they did it. And I had one lady ask me why didn’t you just do seven? I If you do seven, everybody could do it. Sure. But 80% of those kids hit that mark, and 90 plus percent of them came really close. The one, the next ones that didn’t quite make it would, they made like 10 lines or 11 lines.
If I had said seven, maybe everybody would’ve hit it. But what a lost opportunity for those kids who pushed themselves to the 14 lines.
Stephen: This is probably a whole nother discussion, and I’m sure a lot of people could weigh in on it, but we don’t always have to give participation ribbons, and we don’t always have to make everything simple.
So everybody feels good about themselves because sometimes kids need a challenge and sometimes they gotta understand if you’re not going to rise to meet the challenge, you’re not going to get the end goal. That’s how life works later. And I think that’s a whole nother psychological discussion about our schools in teaching.
But I’m not gonna lay all the blame on the teachers. It’s not their responsibility for some of this parents too whole bit more talking. I’m sure we, we need to have a second podcast just to focus on more of these outsider issues. But lemme ask you this. Have you, you probably know the online service.
Lulu, have you heard of that? I have not, I’m
Fern: not familiar
Stephen: with it. Okay. This is something you probably would like to know. Lulu is what could be called one of the vanity presses. They don’t get your books and libraries. They don’t put ’em in online services. It’s so you can put your manuscript and order books and have books to sell.
They haven’t I got you of that, called Lulu Jr. Which offers a kit that kids can actually, the one I got has pages and the kids write their story and draw the picture, and then they stick it in the envelope, send it in, and about a month and a half later they get a published book, a printed book back. And it’s not for sale online, but you got a code.
So relatives family can go and order that book that the kid wrote. And it’s one of the things I’m telling people about and pushing because if a kid can see that this story they wrote, They get an actual physical book, even though it’s not on Amazon or for sale all over the place. But to say, my gosh, I’m a published author, I have a book.
I think that encouragement is necessary sometimes for kids to say, wow, that was fun. Let me do this again. So it’s, yeah. And actually it’s
Fern: interesting you say that with Lulu, because Lulu Junior right. Is the one that does what? Yeah. And
Stephen: the product is, I story is what it’s called.
Fern: Cool. So one of the things that writers in the schools actually does is we do put together an anthology.
At the end of the placement, you gather the kids work, they pick what they wanna put in the book, and and then you compile it, and we run it through copy.com, which is a local. Printing company here in Houston. They have, they and it’s not like a book.
It’s not bound like a book. It’s, eight by 11 and it’s stapled and, it’s not like a book, but they get that feeling. And I think that is a humongous part of just inspiring kids to be able to say, here’s the work you did, and now we’re going to celebrate this book by having an author signing.
And guess what? You’re the author. So you get to sign all your friends’ books. Oh, love that. On your story. And, we talk ab and we have little reading and we do of like a book launch party. And so it’s really cool. And I’ve actually been trying to get the writers in the schools Houston group to like, try to do something with Amazon, maybe load it on Amazon, get a cup of copies, and, But this Lulu Jr.
My, this sounds like that might be the very wave to go to. But I hate to take it away from copy.com Of course, cuz I love those people. But it would be so nice if it was bound like a book, because there, there’s something about the moment, the first time that you hold your book in your hand and it’s got your name on it.
I don’t know. There’s something about that as a writer. Absolutely. It’s so amazing and I think that is one of the reasons why some writers. end up getting scammed sometimes. And because we are so eager to have that feeling that we don’t do our due diligence and we don’t take our time, and I think that’s of sad for our community, but, okay. And now I have a and now I have something to pitch to the writers and school people over there. Do it.
Stephen: Do it. Oh yeah, definitely. I got two things that what you said made me chuckle. I’m gonna mention to you, so one, I’m a computer programmer by day and I do development.
And over the last couple years I’ve been learning and working more with WordPress, which is an online framework for building websites and content, okay? . And the structure of it, this is my thought, and I need to develop this better, whether it means. How to use what’s there or creating a plugin that makes it do it.
But my thought was that a school internal network could have a WordPress site set up and each teacher could have their students with a login, and the kids could write a story in, the online thing and their school. And so each page they write would be like a chapter in their book, which is fine.
WordPress can do that, teachers can do that. But the part that I think would make it a little special would be that the teachers then would basically have a button to press and say, okay, the year 2023, my class of yo know third period class, gather all those stories, put ’em in order, print ’em out.
So it’s like an anthology book with all their stories. Plus then giving access to people on the outside to be able to come and log in to read. All the stories from that year’s class. Not necessarily, putting it out there for everybody in the public, but so you could get on and read your friend, your kids and their friends and stories.
So that, that’s, it’s funny you mentioned that cuz I’m like, that’s something that’s been on my to-do list to look into to work with teachers, what would work with this? Cause I know one of the core curriculum things is to use the internet. I think it specifically says, use the internet to write a story.
And I’m like, that’s not even a fully fleshed idea of how to do that. And I’m sure teachers are like, what do I gotta do? Lulu Jr. I thought was perfect for that, plus using WordPress and whatever. So that’s funny you mentioned that . Cause that’s an idea, something I’ve wanted to work on now.
Maybe I should go work on it this weekend. But the other thing that I really chuckled about this you said earlier was, , I realized that storytelling is in video games, but it’s a totally different way of telling a story. and I talked with somebody who was a narrative designer for some video games that are out there, some real games on Xbox and that, and I talked to ’em about how that works and what you do.
And I got his book and he has a, he works at a school that teaches that type of stuff out in California. But I actually do a workshop now to help teach and get awareness of storytelling and video games. And I use a product called Blocks Souls, which is kinda like a Minecraft thing, and kids can build levels.
But I focus on what’s the story aspects in the game. And we know we gotta rise to a conflict, but in a video game we don’t control that. And how is that different? So I’m actually doing a workshop that I’ve been, revising on. For kids storytelling in video games and as a career in the future, because the job title has only been around for 10 years, but there’s more video games now that need it.
And the companies basically say, we don’t care if you have a college degree. Do you have any experience? So kids can start , you know that now and get that experience. So I love that you said that because that’s exactly where my head has been.
Fern: It’s so interesting because, so writers in schools has the creative writing piece, which is what I’ve been doing.
They have I did a placement with the Society for the Performing Arts where we had to create a a performance, right? So we had to do a screen screenplay and whatnot. One of the years right before Covid, unfortunately. So it got shut down, so I didn’t get to do it all the way. was one of the programs they have is a gaming program where the kids can create a video game.
And so part of that placement would be, okay, what is this video going to be? Game being about what are the backs, stories? And, creating the storylines to this video game and then doing the video game themselves. And I’m happy that I didn’t have to do it , because I don’t know how I would’ve done the whole tech part.
To be honest, I was struggling trying to figure that out as I was just first, trying to get them to brainstorm ideas for their video game. But and then Covid hit and then, that was the end of that. But it’s a great way to help those kids who are not gonna be writers necessarily.
but who need to practice their writing skills because you do need them in every profession. You need to be able to write well. Yeah. And so here’s a very engaging way to do it. And I, and it reminds me of, when I was in the classroom, there was a local comic bookshop, and it was owned by John Simons, who is the gentleman who actually started Comic Palosa originally here in Houston.
And I remember connecting with him as a teacher and saying, Hey, let’s do something with kids reading comic books, and he was willing to donate some and have a little program and stuff. And I pitched it to my principal at the moment. And yeah, I was told that, that’s not legitimate reading material
I was like we’re losing out on, we’re losing out on an opportunity to hook some kids who are struggling.
Stephen: One of my arguments and. . I know a lot of teachers agree, but I, there are some that just follow along without thinking about, they’re like these are the books we’ve always told them to read, so that’s what they’re gonna read.
And I’m like, but if the kids don’t enjoy the books, if they can’t relate to it, if the book is boring, what good is it? Who cares? If they can answer some discussion questions, cuz more than likely last year’s kids told this year’s kids what the answers were. So nobody even cared about reading the book.
Get them to read a book that they enjoy and who cares if it’s the best book in the world. The most well-written, there’s a new author that I enjoy, Jeff Strand and he wrote a couple ya books that some of the feedback he’s gotten is teachers saying, I gave your book to my kids, boys that never read before, said, this is great.
Can I have another one? That’s more important than saying, oh, they read Catcher in the Rye and took a test on it. And I’m not saying don’t, oh yeah, read Catcher in the Rye, but don’t use that to hook them on reading cuz it won’t happen. Charles Dickens is not who you should be introducing your fifth graders to that are hesitant readers.
That’s why Goosebumps was so big when it was at the height of its popularity.
Fern: Oh yeah. And one of the interesting things in that dynamic of trying to get the kids interested in writing and reading and something that they will enjoy is that, we need to remember what are you actually teaching?
Are you teaching that particular passage or are you teaching reading skills? Because I find that a lot of times what teachers are being made to do with these programs is, okay, we’re teaching this passage. All right. The kids now fully understand this one selection. They can answer gazillions of questions.
You’ve given them vocabulary that goes with it. But can they transfer that skill to any reading material? And let me tell you, when you go to the library or you go to the bookstore, the books don’t come with a vocabulary list. Okay? You need to read the book, and you need to, and you find words that you might not know.
Like I love that about Dean Koons. He uses words that I don’t know, and I have a pretty vast vocabulary, not bragging, but I do. And so the fact that he always, almost always has at least one word, and I’m finding that with Stephen King as well, at least one or two words, that I’m like, Ooh, this is a new word for me.
Exciting. And I figure it out using my context clues, right? I don’t, why are we need to teach kids how to do this. And a lot of times we’re teaching a passage, okay this passage now we know what that passage says, but guess what? That’s not gonna be on the test. That passage is not gonna be on the test.
Stephen: And that harkens back to, I think a lot of people are saying this, that the problem is we’re not teaching our kids how to learn. We’re teaching ’em how to memorize things for that test and moving on. And I know my I had a stepson who was hard tr trouble with math and he did not like it.
I made him do math workbooks over the summer and stuff like that. What I came to realize was he wasn’t connecting lesson to lesson. He wasn’t building those lessons. It was this one and forget it, move on to the next one. And I tried to get him to understand, no, this is information you already learned here.
And that’s what he’s basically been taught his whole life is learn it to pass this test, move on to something else and whoop out, out the brain it goes. And I think, we would be much better off as a society if kids knew how to learn and enjoyed that process instead of, okay, now we’re going to hammer this onto you cuz you have to take three days of testing so we can see how well you’re doing
And let me tell you a new way of doing math. I know it makes no sense to anybody in the world, but this is how you figure it out. . Oh,
Fern: don’t even get me started on my relationship with math. Exactly. math is my strongest. Math is my strongest weakness. I can do it, but, do I like to do it?
No, I don’t. But and part of it was because of how my math classes went, and how difficult it was for me. But I do think that we need to give kids fun, engaging, but be careful not to go into activity. Okay. Because, don’t do something that is an activity because it’s fun. Do it because it will teach something, because sometimes then you to that direction, you’re still having fun, but you’re teaching. And that’s why, and I really quit teaching because I found myself year after year in the principal’s office, this particular one, principal, and having to justify why I did book clubs.
Why I did the interconnected, thematic thoughts across the cultural and stuff, why I was doing this and that. Why didn’t I do this, testing prep thing and blah, blah, blah. Why wasn’t I doing the program they wanted me to? And the reality is that year after year, I showed up with my scores and I said, here’s what they did when they were in fifth grade.
But see, this is what they did now, and they actually did more than one year’s worth of growth. Why? Because they liked it. Yeah. They were entertained. They wanted to read those books. They wanted to do the read alouds, they wanted to do these the thematic things because it was fun when we did the Knight versus Samurai, right?
I would have the kids, half of them would be reading books with nights as the protagonists, Western style nights and half would do samurai and we would compare and contrast how these two cultures. So separate, totally different, yet came up with very similar ideas of what a warrior is. And we would look at our own military, what do we think about our Marines, blah.
And then we would learn really fun, gross things about the Middle Ages. And at the end I would give them this test about, nights and warriors and everybody who had, an 80 or hire got knighted. And let me tell you, I’ve never seen children study so hard for to learn the pieces of what an armor is.
I, because they wanted to be knighted and the whole process with the little fake sword, they just loved it and it was engaging and it was fun. . And so they were there. And so we didn’t have problems in my room. We didn’t have kids having, fights and stuff or acting out very few.
It was rare for me to send anybody out of the room because they were having a good time, but they were learning, and we were reading,
Stephen: so I love that because again, it encourages something fun that they really wanna work towards. Kids don’t care about that letter grade on that paper, but to be knighted, that’s totally different.
And I know I got a couple teachers I know and was talking to that gave me very disgusted looks and changed the topic when I said if we want kids to enjoy writing, why don’t we let ’em write fan fiction? Let ’em write a Harry Potter story or a Star Wars story, and then teach them the elements of a story with something they’re excited about.
Oh no, we can’t do that. Why not ? If the goal is to get kids to write this will do, this is one way that can do it. Yeah I’m not saying our schools are horrible. I just think that there are some things that we’ve fallen into, some non-thinking doldrums that I think could be shaken up a little bit.
Fern: I think what we’ve, what has happened is there was this sense of, oh how do we know if it’s really working? How do we know if they’re really learning? And we started shifting to this mindset that we have to assess and we do, we have to evaluate, right? But how we evaluate needs to be different.
And we need to start looking more at, growth. Because technically, if you really think about it, if you take the fifth grade reading test and you make a 30 on it, okay? , if you make a 30 on the sixth grade reading test the next year, you have made one year’s worth of growth. Correct.
True. Cause it’s one year hard, harder, harder test. And yet we’re expecting these kids, if they were making a 30 over here, now we want them to make a 60 or 70. Okay. That’s more than a year’s worth of growth. So it might not be as it, I, it’s important to see, are they passing it, but more important to see, are they making a year’s worth of growth or are they making more, some of these schools that are quote unquote, maybe not failing or whatever, they might actually be making more than a year’s worth of growth with their kids.
It’s just that their kids came at such a lower level to begin with, that it’s so harder to get them there. So how do we go into those communities and establish. Early education programs that will give the kids enough foundational so that it, they don’t start off at a disadvantage, that’s, think we’re just not looking at
Stephen: it correctly. That’s another area. I would love to get into a school that has disadvantage or problem kids and work with the storytelling in video games and get them excited and see if that changes things for them and the whole No Child Left Behind thing is exactly what you just said.
They’ve gotta quantify it. , but the problem is, , you might have, out of a class of 30 kids, you might have three kids that will never do well with spelling, that will never put the commas in the right place. It doesn’t click with them, but they might end up being masterful storytellers. But we’re not even looking at that skill.
We’re not helping them with that skill. And the missing the opportunities, not only for the schools, but the kids, more importantly that the, that’s a skill that’s being overlooked with this quantifying, the every number and everything and storytelling. There can be some kids that have gone through school and don’t even realize that they could tell beautiful, wonderful stories and maybe be richer than Stephen King, but we don’t encourage it and we don’t know how to bring it out of our kids.
So we miss that sometimes unless they get lucky enough to stumble upon it themselves. .
Fern: Yeah, it’s a, it’s an interesting, I think that there is a lot of gr room for improvement and growth in our schools, and we need to shift how we look at and how we assess. But, unfortunately we don’t have the will to look at it, and to really dig in and say, okay let’s really go back to what real teaching looks like, and let’s stop making the teachers.
Cause I remember having to do, right before Christmas break we would take sample assessment and we would look at our kids, which, you know who wasn’t doing so good with main idea and who wasn’t doing with cause and effect and whatever, all the things. And we would create a note.
With, three or four small group lessons that hit each target. And we would put our little list of who had not failed to master, who failed to master that and what dates we were gonna do that small group with those little kids. And these were fabulous notebooks that we put together. And, where they ended up collecting some dust because at the end of the day, that snapshot has shifted as I move forward.
And a small group is it by nature supposed to be reflecting of that moment of education? I’m teaching you something right now. I’m looking at you. I see that you and you are not quite getting it. So I’m gonna release everybody else to go do the activity. I’m gonna pull you to me right now, and I’m going to reteach right now because I don’t want you to learn it wrong.
right? And and then we would work on that, and then we’d send them out. And we would do these things, these binders and these lesson plans and, six weeks or eight weeks out of small group lesson, that’s not how small groups work. That’s not effective. You’re asking us to do a lot of work so that we could present something so that you can show it off to somebody else to say, we’re working.
And at the end of the day, it’s not working, and so y it’s just, it was just too exhausting. And I didn’t really care for the whole conversation at the end of every year, it’s I’ve already shown you that my children make more than a year’s worth of growth. Let me keep going. I’m making these kids read, I’m making these kids right.
They’re excited. They don’t misbehave in my room. That’s a successful teacher. Why aren’t, why are you on my back? And that’s we run out we run out good teachers cause we exhaust them.
Stephen: Just gonna say that I’ve got a couple friends and family members that are teachers or were teachers and they can’t teach.
They’re just managers of numbers for kids and just, moving on. And I, you I know I learned a lot myself. I’m one of those learners that I’m better if I can read something. If you give me a book and I can read it. I’ve got it. I’ll figure it out and do it. And most of the time I was ahead of where we were in any class.
The teacher was slowing me down more than anything because okay, I already know this material, I’m to the next chapter, and we don’t have any real way of dealing with that in, in the schools. And you get the opposite then too. Some kids may take a little longer and the only vehicle we have is, skip moving up a grade and stay in the same thing.
So we could keep doing it the same way for you . And that doesn’t always work either. I know my kids went to a school here locally high school that they’re they’re new. They’re only like 10 years old. And it’s. Trying to do things in a different way. One of the examples they always gave was when kids were learning about the locks and Panama Canal in like history class, that in math class they had to figure out the amount of water being displaced and they, it does that.
They connected it, but then they also had to do a science project where they had to build a lock system and how that would work to move the boats. And they, combined things in projects like that. So it wasn’t, we’re gonna sit here and read to you the book and teach you the history. We’re going to give you a project.
And then the kids had to go research that on their own. When they were learning the the table, the elements, they weren’t just, here’s this element, here’s this element, here’s this and all that. They were putting groups of two and three and assigned two elements and everybody had to do the research.
Those groups had to research those two elements and then present it to the class. They may not have learned every element on the chart, but they know those two so well that they can know how to learn the others. And they heard it from their peers. And I just thought the system, the way they did it was a better way for a lot of kids.
Not every kid was good. As a lot of times the kids are like, this isn’t for me. I’m going back to my other school. And that happened a lot and that was fine. It is different, but I think we need those different ways cuz people learn differently. Kids get excited in different ways. For different things.
Fern: I think that’s the key is we don’t all learn in the exact same way. We’re very cre teaching children is not the same as creating a product. , these are human being. With very unique abilities, with very unique styles personalities, interests. And so you can’t just do a one size fits all.
You really have to customize it to the kids. And, that’s where doing things that are thematic and that touch on so many different styles of learning will help because you’re going to hit them as they as you go through different projects and you go through different things that you’re going to get there, because you’re not just sitting there reading and answering the questions.
And then the next day we’re doing some vocabulary words and the little spelling test it, we’re, we are engaging with the material on a much more intimate level, a more one-on-one level. And we’re having these discussions and I think that we lose the opportunity to really reach kids, yeah. And they’re bored . And when they’re bored, Then they act out and they do things they shouldn’t, yeah. And then we punish ’em, and then they get upset because they got punished because they were bored, but they already knew this or whatever. And or it was hard for them.
They’re struggling. They can’t make it so they act out so that they don’t lose faith. And so then we have a whole system of punishing kids. Instead of really building, learners. And I love that. And that’s a great tragedy.
Stephen: Yeah. I saw something just a while back.
Somebody said, how do we know our education system is the right one and that it’s really working because our current system has really only been around a hundred years, give or take. And it hasn’t been around for centuries. It’s still fairly new. So if it’s not working, we need to figure that out and we need to see what we can do to make it work.
And I thought that was profound cuz when you really think about it, it’s yeah, you’re right. We know how to make horseshoe because that’s been centuries of making horseshoe, but we’ve only been teaching kids in buildings in this way for a hundred years. . So an interesting thought that, I’ve thought a lot about that since
Fern: We need to look at, we need to look at some app apprenticeship ship programs, because that’s how it was done before, before there were classrooms and things, people apprenticed and they learned from masters and and doing a, an app apprenticeship style program with some of these things, even matching up a with a writer, okay, you, your interest is in writing or, whatever in matching them up with that would be great.
But I do think that where our system started going down was with the child, no Child left behind because then the focus switched from education to accountability and it was trying to fix a problem that really didn’t exist because kids were coming outta schools. They were learning, they were, there were more authentic teaching methods going on in those days.
And and I think that we ended up handicapping the system instead of actually improving
Stephen: it. Our culture tends to fix and change things by reacting in completely the extreme opposite direction of what it was. And none of, I’m not saying any of it’s necessarily bad, it’s just not always the solution because we create other problems.
And, we’ve, I’ve seen that personally with things going on, oh, this is a problem, so let’s go the exact opposite way to the extreme. And it doesn’t, it makes new problems in my opinion.
Fern: Yeah, I think
Stephen: so. I think so. Fern, we’ve been going on forever. This has been an amazing, excellent talk.
I’m warning you, I will probably be in touch with you because I’ve got a couple things outside of this that I may throw your way. With all the things we’ve been talking about we, we share a common type of idea. Before we go though I need to remember that there are listeners and we, I need to serve the people listening.
, if you had some advice you would give to like middle school kids or their parents and teachers as far as writing goes, what would that.
Fern: I would definitely advise for them to encourage imagination and creativity. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense. If the story they’re telling makes no sense, it’s okay.
It makes story sense. And let them just of let their imagination go wherever it wants to go. A lot of times we try to bring order too soon to things. And also I would encourage parents to look into programs. There are some wonderful organizations. that are offering programs for kids that are after school programs that are, summer programs that will help the kids to, to reach their potential to, and or at the very least to find out whether or not they like it.
Because sometimes as a child, I remember I went through a lot of things as a kid that I thought I liked. I thought I wanted to be in ballet. I really did until I was in ballet. And then I didn’t want it to be in ballet anymore. . So sometimes you just gotta throw your kid into stuff and go, okay, you think you like this?
Okay, let’s give it a try, and then it’s okay if they just, okay, we tried it. It was not for me. And so I think as a parent, you gotta just give them a chance to explore who are we, I think that’s the biggest question children have is who am I? We don’t know.
We are finding out and it’s so exciting, agreed.
Stephen: Great. All right, Fern, this has been a wonderful talk. I appreciate you taking so much time. We’ve been on way longer than I usually tell people, so I appreciate that. Thank you. And when this goes live, I’ll make sure and let you know.
Fern: Oh, thank you. I appreciate it. I enjoyed talking with
Stephen: you a lot. Yeah, it was fun.