Look out, Harry Potter. The debut of a recent book in the fifth-grade classroom of Terry Test ’73 in Penn Yan Elementary School could be poised to rival old standbys on the summer reading list. At least if Test’s students have anything to say about it.
Each of Test’s students received a copy of the book, “Who is Penn Yan?” Wednesday, hand-delivered by Dr. Jennie Joiner, assistant professor of English at Keuka College. Late last fall, the 17 students in Joiner’s “Literature in the Wider World” course paired up with 17 fifth-graders Test and teaching partner Rebecca Morse selected from their shared class. For three weeks, College “authors” met one-on-one with schoolchildren to craft a personal story from the child’s perspective. Each three-page story – part of the final project in Joiner’s class – was bound into the special edition keepsake for all participants. Based on the buzz around the classroom, it was quite a hit.
Most students started by flipping through the book searching for a photo of themselves with their “author.” Or they scanned the story titles until they found the one with their name, or more specifically, the name of the character they had chosen for themselves for the story project. Then it was on with the read, until –
“Did you see mine? I still have to read yours!” exclaimed “Miranda,” jumping up from her desk and crossing the room to her friend “Charlotte,” just to point out a particular page. Similar excitement bubbled up around the room as other students eagerly pored over pages, flipping and pointing their own finds to classmates seated nearby.
“It’s fun to watch them all reading so intently,” Joiner said, pausing at the desks of several girls to ask if they’d seen page 45 yet, where a stuffed monkey belonging to “Maddie” made it into the photos.
“The story is really good – he did a really good job,” “Mikie” said of his author, junior Devon Locher, who crafted his tale of an aspiring college scientist-baseball player. “I think I want to read it a million times.”
At another desk, “Allison” was raving over the zombie story written for her by freshman Sabrina Androvett, pointing out their photo together and praising Androvett’s “very graphic descriptions.”
“She even made it kind of funny, like putting in a detail about one of my dogs chewing on the corpse’s bones,” said Allison, alluding to the other-worldly aspects of the story.
Indeed, among the advice Test’s students gave Joiner for how to approach the project next fall with a new crop of college and elementary students was “use your imagination.”
According to Test, the College authors did great work capturing what each fifth-grader tried to describe and using that to guide the plot each child tried to present in his or her story.
“In reading these, I can hear the fifth-grade voice and I can also feel the Keuka author’s interpretation,” said Test. “It was valuable for the fifth-graders to see how stories are the outcome of ideas.”
By crafting a story through collaboration, the project enabled each college student to learn more about Penn Yan through the eyes or imagination of each child. But beyond that, it served to highlight how literature is the doorway to community, culture, society and more – part of the overall goals for the introductory English course itself.
Peppered with story titles including “Butch’s Greatest Adventure,” “The Amazing Annabeth,” and “Miranda Saves the Day,” the book of personal stories seems poised to be saved and cherished by each of its starring characters. Hunched over his desk, poring through the pages of the story Devon Errigo wrote about him, “Rico” had big plans to share the book with his family at home.
“I’m gonna tell my parents that a kid from Keuka College made it and he gave me details and I gave him details and we put a story together,” Rico said.
Seated nearby, “Miranda” had similar enthusiasm and praise for the story written by her author, Tiffany Scott.
“I love this!” she gushed. “I love the details she put into it, and that it’s exactly the same way I wanted it to be.”
“Butch,” a fifth-grader at Penn Yan Elementary School, didn’t like reading.
But thanks to a three-week partner project where Keuka College students met one-on-one with schoolchildren to craft a personal story from the child’s perspective, it wasn’t long before he changed his mind. So says Butch’s new buddy and personal “author,” Keuka freshman Will Staub.
“Butch told me the first day he didn’t like reading, then the next week he showed me this book he’d read,” Staub described. In truth, it was more like Butch raced to Staub’s side, book in hand, thrusting it into view and leaning forward in eager anticipation for the response.
Watching the interaction – and others like it across 17 such pairs of college and elementary students – were Dr. Jennie Joiner, assistant professor of English at Keuka, and fifth-grade teacher Terry Test, herself a 1973 Keuka graduate. The two teamed together, with support from elementary principal Edward Foote, to enable the collegiate “authors” to craft a three-page story from the perspective of each child selected from the joint classroom Test shares with team teacher Rebecca Morse.
The project, dubbed “Who is Penn Yan?,” was the final assignment for Joiner’s Literature in the Wider World course, a new introductory English course in Keuka’s general education curriculum. The course was designed to highlight the focus the English program is placing on literature as the doorway to culture, society, community and more. Over the course of three weeks, each college student spent time getting to know his or her child, and ultimately, learning more about Penn Yan through the child’s eyes or imagination.
The fifth-graders all chose character names for themselves and wore name tags to each session, where partners paired up, using whatever chairs, tables, floor space, gym mats, or window ledges were available to continue their conversations.
“Look at the dynamics of this,” Test said, gesturing around the room at the pairs. “The ‘I’m too cool to do this’ vibe just shattered in the first second, and my students are real, being true to themselves. The energy is here on all sides. I’m so impressed at Dr. Joiner’s scaffolding of this.”
To say the children were thrilled would be an understatement. Some brought sketches, notebooks, origami, and more to share with their college author during the second and third sessions. A handful of boys could be seen half out of their seats, leaning forward to dialogue with their authors, while other children were seated more casually, body positions mimicking the college students taking detailed notes.
Watching from a few steps away each week, Test and Joiner were almost as excited as their students at the energy generated during the interactions, and the impact it had on student learning. By the end of the first week’s session, when alerting everyone in the room that only two minutes were left on the clock, Joiner said she could tell the project was en route to success.
“Every student – big and little – turned around and went ‘awww’ in disappointment,” Joiner said. “Some of my students who are not as vocal in class totally engaged with the children. It was just a cool thing.”
Test said the impact on her fifth-graders was almost immediate. (more…)