by Cassady Thompson

 The University of West Georgia’s Cherokee Rose Writing Project (CRWP) recently hosted the third annual Literacy and Beyond Conference where educators gathered to explore the newest literacies.

Kate KliseCRWP is a branch of the National Writing Project and began in 2007 as an idea from the mind of Dr. Tami Ogletree, associate professor at UWG and director of CRWP. Its purpose is to empower educators to do something they are passionate about and improve the teaching of writing by providing professional development.

The one-day conference began in 2015 as the brainchild of Shoney Brice, teacher consultant for CRWP. New curves are analyzed during various sessions in which educators examine how literacy is applied in the classroom.

“This is called Literacy and Beyond, not just writing,” Brice explained. “Writing involves reading, speaking, listening and more. As a second grade teacher, I went through the project and it changed my world. No other professional learning has shaped and changed my career like the writing project. I have a master’s degree, which shaped and refined my career, but the change really began at the writing project.”

Award-winning children’s author and keynote speaker, Kate Klise, explained the evolution of her writing and provided insight that sparked inspiration in the minds of the educators in attendance. Klise has written more than 30 books and two book series, “Old Cemetery Road” and the “Regarding” series. She lives on a farm and has been drawn to writing since she was a kid, as her father was a writer. Klise grew up with five siblings. To the educators’ surprise, one of her sisters has illustrated almost all of her books, even her first book written as a child.

“My first book was about a mouse,” Klise said. “In the first chapter, he went to a town and stole Cheetos. In the second chapter, he went to another town and stole more Cheetos, and so on. I put my pen down and told my sister, Sarah, that I was a genius! So Sarah drew the pictures and we gave the book to one of our sisters for Christmas. The next day, I found my book in the garbage can. It was my first rejection, but it was useful. I realized that what I had done was a lousy way to tell a story, but that’s how we all start our writing careers.”

As Klise matured, her writing did too — or so she expected. When she was in the fifth grade, her teacher told her that her story needed to have a mountain shape, which is commonly used in the classroom today. As she was a compliant kid, she wrote a second book following the story mountain method, which turned out not to be much better than the first.

“Many teachers teach this way,” Klise said. “I think that when the story is written that way, the writer is telling their readers that they have a really good story to tell them, but they are saving it for the climax. That’s not that much better than the mouse traveling town to town and getting Cheetos.”

On her birthday that year, Klise got a bad haircut. Long story short, she came to a realization that would change her writing forever. She learned from her haircut that a bad problem can be a good story.

Klise also learned something important that day that she passed on to the attendees. She realized she needed to get rid of story mountain and think of a story as a circle.

“When I write, I start with a main character and find a problem as soon as I can,” Klise stated. “What you find is your character gets 100 percent more interesting as soon as you add a problem. You take your character, add a problem, send them on a journey, they make a big decision, which leads to an ‘oh no!’ which is followed by an ‘aha’ in the end. It seems very formulaic, but when you share this sort of rubric with the students, it’s easier to evaluate.”

All of the educators were stimulated by their new discovery and are looking forward to sharing it with their students. Stephanie Holloway, assistant principal of Carrollton Middle School, shared her thoughts on Klise’s method.

“I love the idea of using the circle,” Holloway said. “I have never thought about that before, but it is definitely something I will pass on.”

Before the educators broke into their sessions to further explore different ways to enhance their classrooms, Klise shared some final knowledge.

“Any book you are reading with your student, you will be able to find that circle,” Klise said. “So all of my books have this circle. Tell your students to just sit down and write. That’s what it comes down to. Encourage them to let something bad happen to the character. It gets readers to start rooting for them. If you tell your students that you’re going to grade them based on this circle and how many ingredients they hit, you will be able to better evaluate them.”

Posted on February 19, 2018