For the past 3 years, I’ve had the Portfolio Edition of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick lying unopened on a shelf in my basement, getting dusty. In fact, I’d forgotten about it completely until I was rooting around for something last Saturday and chanced upon it. So this week, I decided to pull it out and I brought it to school and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much excitement and eagerness to write in a room full of children. Ever.
I think it’s magic. Honest to goodness teaching magic. Every Grade 5 teacher needs this book, and needs the portfolio of illustrations to use as well, because it will get students writing in a way you wouldn’t have thought could happen. In only two days, I’ve got practically a whole story from every single kid in my class. The students who find it painful to write two sentences when you ask for five have created pages of story, without any planning or guidance or struggle. They’re just desperate to get the stories out and to read them to one another. And the best part? Better than the fact that I’ve got kids asking me, “When will we be writing today?” ? The best part is these stories are darn good. Some of the them are shockingly good. I think I’m just as eager as the students to find out what will happen next. I can only imagine how fantastic their work will be after I’ve actually taught them about creating tension, characterization and establishing setting. They’re doing so much of this already, purely by instinct, and that is tremendously exciting to watch.
Forgive the gushy teacher excitement, but I really needed a little magic 17 days before the end of a very long first term.
If you haven’t, check out The Mysteries of Harris Burdick Website for ideas on how to use the text in your classroom, and to read some examples of student-written stories inspired by the book (not to brag… but my kids’ stories could blow most of these out of the water).
I bow to your greatness, Chris Van Allsburg.