First came the stories. A year ago, fifth-graders in the Penn Yan Elementary School classroom of Terry Test ’73 met three times for interviews with Keuka College “authors” in the introductory English course “Literature in the Wider World” to craft stories from the perspective of each child. Now, colorful images bring an extra punch to the words on each page.
The project, dubbed “Who is Penn Yan?” was the brainchild of Associate Professor of English and Chair of the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, Dr. Jennie Joiner. The goal was to provide both college and elementary students with a hands-on learning experience in story development and characterization.
Rather than an exercise in creative writing, the assignment emphasizes “the power of story,” Joiner said. “It’s catered to the child, and goes back to the narrative form and what it means to take someone’s story in your own hands and be responsible for it.”
This year, the collaboration took on new dimensions with the addition of an illustration component, provided by students in the book illustration course taught by Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art and design. A group of college artists were assigned to produce illustrations spanning a wide range of artistic styles and mediums.
Both the stories and illustrations came together over several weeks during the fall semester. College artists met first with each child, to discuss what they had in mind. The fifth-graders borrowed books from the library to use as examples of styles they liked. The College author teams then spent three weeks meeting with fifth-graders at the elementary school to hear how the children envisioned their stories unfolding, jotting down notes each time to take back and work into drafts in progress. College artists then collaborated with authors to determine what key story element to illustrate for each one.
According to Test, the Keuka College students made quite an impression on her class.
“To have fifth-graders see a college student sit down and write and take notes—well, this year’s class was impressed. They mentioned it after the first day and I see much better note-taking than there was before,” she said, adding that she was also seeing improvements in their writing too, particularly in response to literature.
And it’s not just the tangible improvements that have Test thrilled.
“They see that real people go to college and how it’s do-able. In talking with their authors, they realize they have to get good grades, finish high school, and they have to plan for it,” she said.
Just before Thanksgiving break, College authors brought near-finished drafts of each fifth-grader’s story to the school to read them aloud and gather any additional feedback. More than a few were waiting with bated breath. Take Elysia Robbins ‘18, for example, who teamed with “Jack” on a story about his character facing football tryouts.
“I was really nervous coming here this morning, but this is so rewarding!” Robbins said after hearing Jack rave over the results. “Coming down here is such a unique experience.”
In another corner of the room, “Tiffanie” listened to Katie Crossley ‘16 read through the story of her character’s experience fast-forwarding through life with a magic remote control.
“I kind of like the end more,” Tiffanie explained. “My character finally realized she didn’t need to live in the past. She can live in the now.”
At another table, Ian Ault ‘17, an adult student, sat with “Johnny,” reviewing a detailed tale of Johnny’s exploits as a superhero known as Lizard Ninja. As far as Ault was concerned, far more than mere fantasy happened in the tale.
“It’s a matter of taking a concept, such as good versus evil, and recreating how you view it, and with kids, they make up a story and that’s how they decide what decisions they’ll make,” Ault said. “For some, like Johnny, you create the story and the concepts, and that’s how you learn.”
Similar revelations unfolded when the artists returned to the elementary school on December 1, visiting Test’s classroom to unveil final paintings, drawings or multimedia works to each child.
“It was challenging, because it wasn’t just my fifth-grader’s vision, but it had to fit the author’s vision too,” said Courtney Knauber ’17, who illustrated two different stories of a dog named Pug-Popo for “Christy.”
According to Prof. Newcomb, creating different pieces in different styles and mediums for each child stretched her art students outside their comfort zones, and provided personal experience in working with a “client” just as they could encounter as a professional.
The sustained interaction with Keuka College students was maturing Test’s classroom in new ways too, she said.
“You had 17 ten-year-olds discussing art for 40 minutes in hushed, gallery tones,” said Test.
Back at campus, College authors made final revisions to each “Who is Penn Yan?” story, turning them in to Joiner as part of the final project for her English course. Then over winter break, artist Jesse Ninos combined all of the elements into the second volume of the “Who is Penn Yan?” collector’s book for his senior Field Period™. The finished books rolled off the press just days before Test’s entire class made a special visit to Lightner Library where the new College mascot, Kacey, waited with Joiner, Newcomb and their students to celebrate the book’s release.
Flanked by special guests from the Keuka College Executive Alumni Association, which co-sponsored the field trip for the fifth-graders to come to campus, the Wolfpack mascot gave each child a hug before handing him or her their book.
“Beautiful job, you guys,” Dr. Paul Forestell, provost and vice president for academic affairs, told the fifth-graders as he got a first glimpse of the special edition and praised them for sharing their great ideas.
“What’s really interesting is to realize how much you as fifth-graders have taught our College students, and other way around. That’s a really important learning adventure, so thank you for being willing to join us and share it so well,” Forestell said.
Speaking above the laughter and excitement of her class as they downed cookies and punch, Test added her thanks to each Keuka College student for “the amount of time you invested into 10 year-olds.”
“We have a fifth-grade class that now loves writing and it’s an honor to say that,” Test added.
As fifth-graders and college students turned the crisp, new pages of their shared book, exchanging hugs — and autographs—praise for the project continued. Seated next to author Anna Kramer ’18, “Marley” demonstrated how the book flips open in the middle —right to her story.
“Oh, I like it! Two thumbs up!” Marley gushed.
Holding his copy of the work, Ian Ault ‘17 gestured to the schoolchildren beaming smiles.
“The book is cool, but the experience of doing it — you can’t put that on paper. This makes the college experience deeper.”
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…)