The Maine Writing Project is pleased to introduce you to High School English Teacher Natalie Davis! Natalie has some amazing ideas about increasing student investment by writing to an authentic audience. There is a take-away in her interview for every teacher of writing. Enjoy!
Natalie Davis earned her BS in Secondary Ed at UMaine Farmington and graduated with honors. She taught one year of 8th grade ELA in South China, Maine, and has since been teaching 9th grade English in Old Town. So far at Old Town High, she has created 9th Grade Teams, directed a student-staffed writing center for a year, and currently co-advises the student council. Natalie attended the Maine Writing Project in 2009 and was a mentor in 2011. In 2012, she earned her Master’s Degree in Literacy at UMaine.
Natalie, on the highlights of the MWP:
“Without a doubt, the best thing about my time in the summer institute was making 13 amazing, new friends. I don’t think I could have had as much fun or learned as much about teaching and myself as I did without each and every one of the teachers from my summer. We are so often alone in our classrooms, and we forget that there are other dynamic, innovative teachers out there striving for camaraderie and support.”
Natalie, on how her teaching has changed since the MWP:
“I walked away from my summer institute ready to change the world, but I also knew that I couldn’t do it alone. I needed support and help. I am fortunate to work closely with the wonderful, smart, witty 2010 MWP TC, Megan Watson. In the four years we’ve worked together, we have created and tweaked a new, progressive freshman curriculum. Without my time in the Writing Project, I would not have been as open to the kinds of collaboration and planning we do. For me, the summer institute solidified the idea that as a teacher, I cannot and should not be an island.”
Cool things Natalie does with kids with writing: Authentic Audience! It really works.
Portfolios, shared with a “keeper”
“I enjoy, very much, working with my freshman students because their growth is so evident. Megan and I use mid-year and final portfolios in our classes (thanks, Rich – Room 109 is dog-eared and sticky-noted). They compile all of their writing from a semester into one place, including revisions and at least one new piece. They then write a letter to the reader reflecting on their work. We ask them to share all of this work with a “keeper” (a trusted, important adult, aka “authentic audience”!) who responds to their portfolio in a letter.
Freshmen enjoy seeing where they started and where they end up, and I think they most enjoy that TWO people write to them about their work. This assignment goes beyond the classroom, and having an authentic audience makes it worthwhile and real for the kids.”
Fairytales for Elementary School “Buddies”
“Students in English 9 Honors study a unit on fairy tales. They learned about the structure, archetypes, and history of the tales. As a culminating assessment we asked them to write a fairytale of their own. In the spring of 2010, our students composed fairy tales for a “buddy” at Old Town Elementary School. We partnered with two classrooms, students conducted interviews with their elementary buddies, and then they incorporated the elements we had studied as well as information about their buddy into a fairy tale for and about the younger student. Students submitted several drafts of their stories – until they were virtually perfect – and they illustrated them as well. When they were finished, we walked our freshmen to the elementary school where our students read the personalized fairy tales to their buddy. Our high school students were invested in making their fairy tales amazing, not because they wanted an A, but because there was a real person on the other side of this assignment.”
Letters to an Author
“This year, after completing a unit on the novel Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher, our students prepared a piece to send to the author. As part of an in-depth character analysis, students had to create a character credo using the voice of their assigned character. During the unit, they also used Crutcher’s words to create found poems. The kids chose one of these two assignments to polish, or they wrote a letter to the author about their reaction the novel. We compiled roughly 40 assignments, and sent them off Chris Crutcher. The students had discovered earlier in the unit that Mr. Crutcher emails and tweets his readers (we asked him a question via twitter and got an almost immediate response), so they were confident that he would take the time to read their work. The idea that someone else cared about what they had to say motivated them to take time to edit and revise. Chris Crutcher emailed me back and said he planned to read every page and get back to us. There were 62, so we’re still waiting – but the investment the students showed in their writing was enough for me.”
On behalf of the MWP community, thank you Natalie, for your innovative and enthusiastic teaching of writing.