We Are Westridge
A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests
Senior Mentors 8th Grade Writers in "NovelRidge" Workshop
Muse '15 wrote her first novel, set in a land of kings and dragons, at 10. She has completed 10 novels in her time at the school amidst a full class load and performing with the Madrigals. When in her senior year with more free time than she'd expected, Muse thought back to the influence her fifth grade teacher, Mr. Correll, had had on the completion of her first book. Knowing the value of a good mentor, she decided to take on this role to young, aspiring writers by offering a month-long novel writing workshop: NovelRidge.
Muse chose to work with the 8th Grade in particular because she knew it to be a dynamic time. "Eighth graders are poised on the brink of high school and nothing is safe from the winds of change: friend groups, family dynamics, academic interests, passions," she shared. "I firmly believe that creating a novel is one of the most empowering things a young person can do. Writing a book is not just a creative exercise. To write a book is to say, 'This is who I am right now, this is what I love, and this is what I believe.' In NovelRidge, my ultimate goal was for girls to unapologetically take ownership of their identity. Hopefully, this affirmation of self will help them approach this time of uncertainty and change not as a landslide, but as the wondrous adventure it really is."
And so, NovelRidge was born. Muse contacted Middle School English teacher Carol van Zalingen to help her rally interested participants and six 8th Graders took on the challenge, each setting a word count goal that could be reached by May 31.
The framework for NovelRidge was contained by four simple, yet bold rules:
- EACH EIGHTH GRADER CHOOSES A WORD COUNT GOAL FOR THE END OF THE MONTH, FROM 10,000 TO 50,000.
- THEY MUST START FROM SCRATCH.
- OVER THE COURSE OF THE MONTH, THEY MUST NEVER DELETE ANYTHING THEY WRITE.
- AS THEY WRITE, THEY MUST NEVER LOOK BACK.
Most of NovelRidge happened in a collaborative, virtual classroom - a Google Drive folder where participants shared their novels and assignments and on a Web site, novelridge.squarespace.com, where the girls posted excerpts they'd written and received reactions from Muse and their peers. Outside the virtual classroom, the group met once a week over lunch to share work and participate in group writing exercises and were given the option to have one-on-one appointments with Muse as needed.
What transpired in a month was a whirlwind of creativity, depth, and self-discovery. "Through reading each other's stories, we lived through heartbreak, betrayal, kidnapping, and war together," Muse recollected. "I learned so much from the students and their stories, and I hope they learned something from me, too."
Taia '19, one of the writers, certainly did. Not only did she discover more about herself and how to write a novel, but she developed a practice of her writing. "NovelRidge was one of my favorite experiences at Westridge so far," Taia shared. "It pushed me to try and make the time to write every day. Thanks to Muse, the other girls and I have learned important things about character building, dialogue, and setting to create a compelling plot line."
In May, the workshop culminated with an event for the students and their parents. The workshop participants read excerpts from their writing and author and Westridge alumna Leslie Parry '97 (Church of Marvels, 2015) Skyped-in as special guest and gave the girls advice. After the adults left, the girls stayed on with Muse to play writing-related games, eat pizza, and complete their word-count goals for the month.
For Muse, there was some unexpected learned from this project. "Over-planning and over-structuring can really limit opportunities for personalized teaching," Muse said. "For instance, when I got to know the girls, I found out that quite a few of them were also passionate about theater and performance and realized that I could use theater as a bridge and started using theater exercises. If I had stuck to all my original teaching plans, I would have closed a lot of channels of communication between myself and the girls. It turned out that truly listening to what the girls had to say was the most important part of the process. Only by listening to them can I start a conversation, and I believe that education should be a conversation."
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