Time for Writing and Lingering: Minnesota Writing Project Launches Youth Camps
Ah, summer! A time to slow down and make time for things you love to do. For kids who love to explore writing, the Minnesota Writing Project (MWP) has started offering some new, fun challenges.
In June 2018, MWP launched new writing camps for middle school students. Teacher (and U of M alumnus) Jonathan Nelson explains that these half-day, week-long camps, with topics ranging from poetry to graphic novels, “provide a great outlet for students who want to show their understanding in a creative way.”
MWP, a local site of the National Writing Project with a mission to improve K–college literacy in Minnesota, is housed in the College of Liberal Arts’ Center for Writing. Kirsten Jamsen, director of the Center, notes, “Having provided meaningful summer writing and learning opportunities for teachers since 1990, we are thrilled to tap the expertise of several of these teachers to create exciting camps for middle schoolers, an age group known for their creativity and energy.”
Creating a Space Just for Writing
These writing workshops—with titles such as Argument Artists and Graphic Novels in America—are taught by local secondary teachers who have participated in MWP’s summer institutes and who bring energy and experience.
“The students who were in the Minnesota Writing Project Summer Youth Camp classes with me all created their own graphic novels, and most of them started on a second novel by the end of the week. They were excited by… the format and wanted to experiment with different styles and methods we discussed in class,” says teacher (and also U of M alumnus) Jacob Juliar.
The teachers truly understand the creative process. Juliar used his own experiences to build his curriculum. While taking courses at the University, a professor allowed him to write a graphic novel as a final project instead of an essay. The essay would have easily taken three hours to write. His graphic novel, however, took him ten.
“I was exhausted, but I learned so much! Without that assessment I wouldn’t have the confidence to tell students they can create their own graphic novels. Students have more confidence going into writing their novels when I tell them I know how hard the process is,” says Juliar.
Nelson, who taught Interactive Fiction, which focused on the art of short stories, did not want students to worry about the final product. “I wanted them to experience an authentic writing environment where... they did not have to worry about what kind of grade they were going to get. Instead of trying to write for someone else, like a teacher, they were writing for themselves."
The Luxury of Time
Juliar believes that one of the most important parts of the camp is the leisurely pace. “We had time to linger on ideas and topics,” he says. He enjoyed the students’ excitement about writing, recounting that “one day, I had reading time planned, but my students looked at me and asked, ‘Can we just write? We want some extra time to write.' That's beautiful because we had the time to write together. What a luxury!”
Giving the kids the time to deeply pursue their interests promotes confidence, goal-setting, and deeper thinking, among other skills.
When Laura Stelter, a parent with previous experience with MWP, heard about the program, she jumped on the opportunity to send her son to a MWP camp, because she “knew that he would likely leave with the same enthusiasm and passion for writing that [she] did.”
Her son attended the Graphic Novel and Interactive Fiction writing camps, and months later he still writes and draws every day, journaling his experiences in graphic novel form. Stelter notes, “he tells miniature stories that appear in random places—like on Post-It notes in my pencil case, or drawn with a Sharpie on squares of toilet paper and taped to the wall in our bathroom. Writing is part of his daily life.”
The summer youth writing camps allow the students to throw caution to the wind and explore innovative writing formats and unconventional stories. Nelson says the students should “have fun. It’s summer! If you relax, enjoy some snacks together, and establish a good routine that lets students get into a writer’s flow, then a lot of really cool things come out of it.”
This story was produced by CLAgency. Meet the team.