Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SPILLING INK: One Classroom's Journey In Writing

"I love this book, Spilling Ink. It makes me laugh." - Cierra, age 11

What do you get when you take one enthusiastic teacher, an involved principal, 31 sixth graders, two authors and a book about writing? A recipe for success.

At the beginning of the school year, I decided to challenge my sixth graders to read more books. My students do not come from homes where there are an abundance of books. Nor do they necessarily even have adults who model reading. Thus began my weekly book chats and read alouds in their classroom. As I shared books that I had read over the past week, I discovered how motivating it is for them to read what the principal is reading. Consequently, my office became a branch of the school library where students began checking out books from my personal collection.

One of our discoveries was Ellen Potter’s book SLOB and I shared with them my correspondence with the author herself. As I got to know Ellen and then her friend and sometime writing partner Anne Mazer (author of the Abby Hayes, Sister Magic Series and my personal fav – Salamander Room), I continued to update my students on my conversations. At the same time, I shared my students’ reactions with Ellen and Anne. I also offered to try some of the writing activities from SPILLING INK with my students.

Naturally, when Ellen and Anne sent me a couple of ARC’s of their new book SPILLING INK, I immediately shared it with my sixth graders. Despite having heard about my emails with the authors, seeing the actual book and knowing that the authors sent it to us transformed Anne and Ellen from just names on the cover of a book. Here were authors that had an interest in them and wanted to know what these students thought about their book. I discussed the possibility of trying out the activities from SPILLING INK with the classroom teacher, Mrs. Debbie, who enthusiastically embraced the challenge. Nearly overnight, the teacher had organized journals for each student. She copied the Official Writer’s Permission Slip (Ch. 1) for everyone and began to introduce lessons to the classroom.

Debbie began by having children write on all types of paper from scraps to napkins to sticky notes to illustrate the point Anne makes about not needing fancy equipment (p.2). She then had them attach the pieces of paper to their journal. In an effort to tie the writing activities into the curriculum, she helped them relate Anne’s comments about “writer’s gold” and dreams in Chapter 3 Inspirations with a lesson they were doing about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” and then write their own dreams. She was amazed at how enthusiastically her students embraced the writing activities. According to Debbie, “My students are beginning to see that they are writers even the ones that didn’t believe that they were writers.”

For both Debbie and I, it has been exciting especially to see our English Language Learners who struggle to write finally overcome their fear of writing. SPILLING INK’s “give yourself permission to write anything” writing activities have given them the freedom to write without the fear of making mistakes or worrying about being graded. In the past, writing caused many of them to become anxious and nervous. Students worried about making mistakes or needing to write to a specific standard. Debbie indicated that they are now interested in writing and even ask when they will be doing more of the writing exercises from the book. Marissa, age 11, recently shared “When I heard my teacher say that we were going to do the activities I was mad but not anymore. Now when she tells us ‘get your journals out’ I take it out like there’s no tomorrow.”

As I have watched Debbie read portions of the book out loud to her students, I notice that there is a sense that the class has a personal connection to the writers. Anne recommends this or Ellen suggests that. Even the classroom teacher has embraced the humor and dramatic style of the book into her presentation of the lessons providing more motivation. Jeniffer, age 11, said “The most enjoyable thing was how my teacher read it. I enjoyed Spilling Ink.”

Tomorrow – An interview with the authors of SPILLING INK and their reactions to the writing workshops at our school.

The Contest
Ellen and Anne have graciously offered up a signed ARC of SPILLING INK as a giveaway. In order to win the signed copy, you need to do the following…

Try out one of the following dares listed below (you are on an honor system here) and tell us about it in the comment section.

Dare #1 Baking Characters From Scratch – Think of six qualities for a character and write a recipe for him or her using the model above. For example, 5 cups of cocky attitude, sifted; 2 cups of loyalty to friends; 2 tablespoons of insecurity about big feet, etc. (Ch. 4, p. 23)

Dare #2 Heart’s Desire – Make a list of all the things you want. Pick one of the items from your list and write a short scene in which you try out one of those ideas. What happens? (Ch. 4. P. 29)

Dare #3 Descriptions: Describe the color yellow to someone who cannot see. Get creative. (Ch. 13, p.134)

Note: All Dares and page references are taken directly from the Advanced Readers' Copy of Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter.

You have until Wednesday, February 17, 2010 to enter. Please leave an email address or your twitter name so that we can notify you if you win.

Have fun and until Thursday,


  1. Heart's Desire was a blast! Thanks for the great review a must have for my classroom!

  2. Oh thank you for sponsoring this giveaway. I'd love to enter this for my 5th grader's classroom. Awesome contest, Aly!!!


  3. (Please don't enter me in the contest, as I already plan on buying this book and would love for others to have a chance to win!)

    I just wanted to comment that I LOVED this post!! Not only do I love that there is a funny, engaging book out there, encouraging young people to write, but I love how you have been sharing with your students how easy it is to communicate with authors (I was always too afraid to send fan letters to my favorite authors when I was young... they seemed too magical to read my lowly letters - wish I had sent them, now that I look back!), and I love how you share your favorite books with them!

    I'm so glad the students at your school have you to encourage them! They will always remember that :)

  4. I am definitely going to buy this book and share my with my son! And what an inspiring post!

  5. 看看blog調整心情,又要來繼續工作,大家加油........................................

  6. A teacher friend of mine would LOVE this book! Thanks for the contest! @layasteinberg