Too often student research papers are simply regurgitated encyclopedia entries. Fifth-grade teacher David Somoza and award-winning adventure/travel writer Peter Lourie will demonstrate how to use adventure writing to build connections between nonfiction and fiction and motivate students to write with imagination, curiosity, and a hunger to learn everything about their topic. Presenters will explore specific elements of adventure writing: learning the basics of the craft, conducting research, developing a storyline that integrates history and geography, and discovering connections through technology. The result is an adventure-based paper rooted in real places, supported by facts, and developed with detailed description from real locations.
Possible Breakout Sessions:
Title:Mapping an Adventure: Exercises in the Craft of Writing
Target audience: grades 3-12
Brief description: David Somoza and Peter Lourie will demonstrate how to develop adventure-writing skills in the classroom through craft lessons (setting, character, and scene development). This hands-on workshop will allow teachers to try some of these writing techniques, and they’ll leave with lesson ideas to implement within their own classrooms.
Title: Adventure Writing and Research in Your Own Curriculum
Target audience: 3rd – 12th
Brief description: Peter Lourie and David Somoza will help teachers begin to plan the implementation of their own research-based units through adventure writing projects. Presenters will offer strategies and clear examples to help teachers gain an understanding of how they can do this within their own classrooms.
David and Pete's presentation was very insightful in understanding the writing process and how it should be presented within the classroom. Pete raised interesting points throughout his portions of the presentation by talking about the writing process as an organic process. It is not a check list that can simply be worked through easily. It is a process that is revisited and intertwined within your thoughts and journey as you are exploring a new topic. Another enlightening idea that he presented was talking about revisions as rethinking. Revisions should not be seen as cosmetic work but rather digging deep into your writing and changing/rewriting your drafts. These ideas are powerful as many revising and editing processes within the classroom are surface level. This will allow students to appreciate and engage deeply into the writing process. As I continued to listen to David talk about how to take this amazing process and put it into action within classroom I gained some awesome ideas of using web quests and/or virtual field trips in order to allow students to experience the "journey" within the process. I also love such a simple idea of simply cutting apart a calendar and allowing it to be the basis for a student to develop a setting and/or destination to explore. It was very informative to hear how also to scaffold the research and process by using the internet, imagination, and also to experience it by writing about the adventure in first person. Creating the idea that writers are not simply just people writing stories on a piece of paper but rather explorers who have a responsibility to relay a personal experience within a real context in order to help people learn new factual information. Very motivating way to engage students within informative and research based writing.
Writing to Explore: Discovering Adventure in the Research Paper, 3-8 tackles a subject of potential dread for both teachers and students: the research paper. David Somoza didn’t like the dull reports his students were submitting, and talked to his friend Peter Lourie (who is both a teacher and nonfiction writer) to find out what the writing process is like for real-life nonfiction authors. He discovered that Peter totally immersed himself in the place he was studying: he looked at photos, watched videos, interviewed locals, and completed a variety of other online explorations that could be extremely exciting for students to try. With Lourie’s help, Somoza introduced the genre of adventure writing to students: solid research enhanced by a bit of fiction in the form of creative license and “history and geography woven in to make the papers complete.” Somoza’s fifth graders chose a place and researched it for months, then wrote about it as if they’d actually been there, complete with documentation of where they stayed and what they ate at nearby restaurants. The amount of practical internet research skills Somoza was able to teach his students in a completely authentic way is astounding. These two authors remind us that other words for research are study, discover, explore and investigate, so why should research papers be dull? The reproducible forms at the end of the book will take your students from “What’s an adventure paper?” to the final stages of publication and sharing. With such high-quality templates, guidelines, and sample reports for students to use, I know the Language Arts teachers I coach will be excited to experiment with this genre.
Burnt Hills Balston Lake Central Schools
Burnt Hills, NY
David grew up in southern New Mexico, the son of a writer and a painter. In college, David spent a year abroad in Spain, where he got his first taste of teaching. After moving back and finishing his degree in architecture at the University of New Mexico, David worked in the architecture field for three years before deciding to make a change. He got a job as a substitute teacher and enjoyed it so much that he returned to school to become a teacher. He taught during the day and took classes at night.
David taught for two years near Denver, Colorado, before moving overseas to teach at international schools. For three years he taught in Brazil, where he met his wife, Pam, who taught at the same school. Together they traveled throughout Brazil and fell in love with the beautiful country. Later they moved to Japan, where they taught at another international school and again had many great opportunities to travel.
Eventually they moved back to the States, finding a home in Vermont. There David taught fourth and fifth grade while Pam was home with their two boys. After several years they moved to New York to be closer to family. David then returned to school to complete his Masters degree at the University of New York in Albany.
Since 2003 David has been teaching fifth grade in Burnt Hills, New York; he and his family live in Saratoga Springs. David loves teaching all subjects, but most enjoys teaching writing. He says, "Working with kids is always unpredictable, and that's the best part. If you give the kids a few parameters but let them go off and explore on their own, you never know what they'll come up with. This is particularly true with writing. Every time they write there's a chance that they'll create something new and beautiful. Even after all these years of teaching, I'm still amazed by their insight, their perspective, their creative use of language, and the genuine passion that comes out in their essays. At times, I think they even surprise themselves. It's often through their writing that I get to know and understand my kids best."
Peter's adventure books come directly from his travel journals. In order to write a book about a place - its history, geography, people and culture - he likes to experience it for himself. As a child, he loved collecting rocks and wandering the countryside of Connecticut. When his parents split up, he, his identical twin brother Jim, and their younger sister Ann moved to Ontario, Canada.
In the fourth grade, deep into the Hardy Boys, Peter wanted to be a bush pilot in Canada's Northwest Territories. He also wanted to be an archaeologist, to travel the world to delve into ancient cultures. When he graduated from New York University with a bachelor's degree in Classics, Peter studied early human bones with Margaret Leakey in Kenya and observed Colobus monkeys on the coast of Tanzania. He was all set to become an anthropologist when suddenly, while surveying monkeys in the jungles of Ecuador, Peter heard the mysterious story of an Incan treasure.
In 1533, seven hundred and fifty tons of gold were buried in a strange and haunting cloud forest in the Andes Mountains. That gold, in fact, is still hidden in a dangerous chain of misty mountains only seventy miles from Quito, the capital of Ecuador. It was this fantastic story (audio) that made Peter drop his plans to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology. And for the next five years, he remained in Ecuador to research the story of the Inca gold. Finally he hired three guides (Segundo, Juan and Washington) from the small village of El Triunfo in the cloud forest. He climbed into the high jungle looking for the gold but came back not with riches but with a desire to write an article for Highlights Magazine ("Inca Treausre in the Cloud Forest") and a book (Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon: A Chronicle of an Incan Treasure).
So Peter began to write adventure-travel books about many places, rivers, and ancient cultures, both for children and for adults. His journeys have now taken him to remote parts of the world, including the jungles of Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, Panama, Peru, and Africa.
A number ofyears ago he realized a boyhood dream when he explored Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America, known also as "El Fin del Mundo," or the End of the World. This remote island is located at the southern tip of Patagonia and was named "Land of Fire" by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520. Only seven hundred miles from Antarctica, it is a wild and desolate place, filled with penguins, sea lions, and wild guanaco, a llama-like creature that the natives there depended on for food and clothing.
For Peter, research is another word for exploration! It is Peter's love of mystery and of what he will discover that compels him toward his next adventure. His book on an Arctic whale scientist working with the Inupiaq Eskimos on the North Slope of Alaska (Whaling Season: A Year in the Life of an Arctic Whale Scientist) took him on many trips to the North Slope where he also wrote about polar bears.
Peter holds a bachelor's degree in classics from New York University, and a master's in English Literature from the University of Maine, and an MFA in nonfiction creative writing from Columbia University. He has taught writing at Columbia College, the University of Vermont, and Middlebury College.
He now makes his living traveling, writing and photographing, and visiting schools to share his adventures with students and teachers.
My pick is David Somoza’s Writing to Explore (Stenhouse 2010), which is hands-down the best professional book I’ve read in some time. He, in collaboration with nonfiction author Peter Lourie, reimagines the same-old state report we all struggle with. Using Lourie’s work as a mentor text, he leads his students on an amazing multisensory journey, replacing the report with an adventure essay. Along the way, he helps his fourth graders learn to navigate consumer web sites as they work to figure out which planes or trains they’ll take, where they’ll sleep, and where they’ll eat (including what they pick from the menu). He provides scaffolding that guides but does not construct; one notable example is one in which students paste evocative inspirational images into a Word document, along with citations and captions.
If you, like me, have done too many boring, middle-grade state reports in your life, and if you have yearned for a spark of new energy in the way kids tackle research, and if you’ve worried that databases aren’t always the best route to interesting research-based writing for kids, and if, perchance, you even have adventure as a genre for middle-grade students (as we have four fourth graders here in Michigan), you need to get this book.
I picked up a copy at NCTE and have already loaned it out to a teaching team who was excited about its premise. You can, for a short time, read the entire text online, but I warn you: you may stay up until 3:30am to finish it and immediately order your own copy. When’s the last time you did that with a professional book?
Fair warning: for those of you out there who want to read books that prominently feature the librarian, you won’t find that here, although the ideas are just begging to be adopted by a teacher-librarian team. However, when I finished said book at 3:30am and wrote a frenzied email to the author asking this question, he kindly reported that he did work extensively with the librarian in his school to build foundational skills with students, but that time limitations precluded her from collaborating with him on this long-term project. My humble advice to you, if you are worried about that, is get over it and show how it can be done with a team.
To deny yourself this Valentine to your professional self would be sad indeed.
As my mother is fond of saying at the end of her email messages, “Here endeth the reading.”