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Handwriting’s on wall for Monroe High students

Teacher generates creativity from kids with new technique


Mariah Abrams adds a line to a story in observance of the National Day of Writing at Monroe High School. Students spent the entire week filling sheets of paper on the school’s walls with observations, remembrances, and story lines.

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MONROE — Good walls make good manuscripts.

So the feeling went last week at Monroe High School, where students observed the Oct. 20 National Day of Writing by extending it to the entire week. The youngsters turned the interior school walls into a document of sorts, hanging large sheets of paper they then filled with observations, remembrances, and story lines.

The idea was the brainchild of English teacher Carol Sliwka, who said, “I thought instead of having a national day of writing, let’s have a week of writing.”

And what better way to teach good writing than by using the classic, archetypal example of bad writing: “It was a dark and stormy night,” part of the famous, or rather infamous, opening line of the 1830 novel Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. An annual bad writing contest even bears the English novelist's name.

Ms. Sliwka wrote the “dark and stormy night” line on a paper sheet hanging in the school’s commons and told the students to add a line of their own to further the story.

Some of the student contributions would do Bulwer-Lytton proud. One example: “The howls and echoes of wolves growling and stalking Benjamin riding his unicorn.”

Ms. Sliwka acknowledged that the narrative became “kind of disjointed” as the students added more and more lines. But the idea was just to get her young charges in the habit of writing on their own.

“When I tell them in class that they have to write something, I can hear the groans. That’s because writing is hard,” she explained.

Shelby Valmassei, a 16-year-old junior, said the wall-writing exercise was fun and served a serious purpose.

“I like to write short stories, but I’m really bad at it,” she explained. “I really enjoy short stories, and this kind of fits in with that.”

Principal Valerie Orr said the wall-writing dovetailed nicely with the school’s new literacy program, which once a week has the whole school stopping to read at the same time. The students then are quizzed on what they read.

Ms. Orr said the school took in $8,000 at a Monroe Pride Night fund-raiser in September that is being used to buy books and magazines. The books purchased are nonacademic and selected by the students. “We want to show them that there is a whole world of reading for fun out there,” the principal said.

The school also has “minilibraries,” which are crates of books wheeled into classrooms. The titles are constantly changed to keep the students reading, said literacy coach and English teacher Shannon Collum.

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