WESLEY CHAPEL — When Sand Pine Elementary teachers wanted to find ways to improve their writing instruction, they turned to Melissa Forney.
Based in Volusia County, Forney writes novels that schools can use as starting points for getting students interested in reading and writing. She also offers strategies teachers can use to make writing fun. She talked with the St. Petersburg Times about her advice while visiting Sand Pine last week.
I am interested in why you come to schools like Sand Pine and talk to students about writing.
I love the philosophies of John Dewey, that education should be hands-on. And we've gotten so far away from that with testing. And as a child I was a big reader and I found I just lost myself in books. And I wanted to re-create that experience for kids to have outdoor books that at least mentally took them outdoors. No technology. Everything about climbing trees and swimming in brooks and learning about the outdoor fun stuff. And now I love going to schools that are actually implementing things where kids are on their bellies shooting marbles, or having a slingshot contest, that kind of thing. I just think this makes education memorable for them.
Were you surprised to see how many children are into your books and the things that you are doing?
I am surprised and of course extremely gratified. When I went to graduate school to become an author for children, the philosophy was that you wrote for yourself. But I never adhered to that. I always think about the children who will read my books as I'm writing them. The book might be plotted ahead of time. But as I'm writing I might think, 'If I did this, the kids will love it.' Or, 'If I did this twist, kids would be sad but we would get through it.' So I do have them in mind when I write. So when I see that kids are excited about it, of course I'm thrilled.
How did you decide to come here [to Wesley Chapel]? Do you just tour Florida?
We train teachers in the area on writing, and we do assemblies for kids and we help prepare kids, oddly enough, for writing testing. But the reason I come to some schools like this — I'm just coming on my own time and I'm not getting paid for this — is because I want to support teachers who will teach it like this.
If you had one thing that teachers should take away from your lessons, to make kids better writers and enjoy writing more, what would it be?
Do something memorable. We have kids 180 days a year. How many of those days do you remember? Not many. So what kind of an impact do we have long-range? Do something memorable. I was with a school just a few days ago who had a Teddy Bodain whoop-de-do outdoors. They had men frying venison and quail. They had kids dancing to banjo and guitar music. Like they've done here. That makes education memorable. Kids will remember it, not just because I wrote it, but because we did something cool, we learned about another era that's based on Florida history.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.