Here I am in the midst of a school year like never before and less than a month to go before having to present to my cohorts in Bangkok. Everything seems to hit at once this year and this spring was downright brutal. Within a two-week time frame the school was buried with student-led conferences, progress reports, science fair and for me, I was deep into spring play preparations, which was rapidly approaching. I already knew that I would have to abandon any idea of creating a project in my specialty area of art. Those classes had already given way to music and performing arts for the show. It was time to jump on to somebody else’s coetails (betcha’ haven’t heard that one before!). Fortunately for me my lovely wife Diana is also in the program and happily agreed to join forces with me for our final. We bounced several ideas off each other, including working with our friend Chuck in Portland who is a web and graphic designer as well as with our friend and high school teacher Debra in California. Unfortunately neither of these ideas would come to fruition due to the time we had left allotted and with the ship rapidly sinking we were sure to be going down with it. Then out of nowhere a life preserver was thrown! A life preserver in the form of author Mary Dodson Wade.
Mary Dodson Wade contacted our tiny school in the middle of Sumatra and asked if we would be interested in having her visit and speak to our students. It turns out that her husband is an engineer who happened to be presenting a workshop in our neck of the jungle and Mary frequently accompanies his on his business travels. This seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up for our middle school students, regardless of all the happenings. It also presented Diana and I with a direction for our project.
Mary Dodson Wade has been writing for a number of years now with her first book being published in 1984. Since then she has written over 50 titles, most of which are biographies focusing on important characters in American and Texas history. Although Diana wasn’t planning on teaching biographies until later in the year, this seemed worth pushing forward for.
Mary presented to our middle school students on March 8th and 9th. Unfortunately I was tied down with elementary play rehearsals, but thanks to technology I was able to watch her presentation later. Mary gave a lovely overview of the process she goes through in the writing of her biographies. Where the ideas first come from, the thorough research she puts into each subject, finding the tiniest, yet intriguing little details. What was nice to hear her talk about and really emphasize with the kids was the importance of checking the authenticity of their sources. We have talked so much about citing sources and checking the validity of where the information actually comes from throughout this CoETaIL program and to see this real world connection was great. Mary continued by discussing the actual writing process to our kids. Making sure they understood that they not only needed to include the pertinent parts that make the person important in history, but also the ones that are going to really relate to their target audience, which in our case is K-2 students. She then discussed the many drafting processes her stories would go through, much to the chagrin of our students. Yet again here we were getting a real work connection and answer to that age-old middle school question “Why are we doing this?”
Mary’s visit was brief, but nonetheless set us on our way! The students were eager to get started on their own biographies and Diana and I were anxious to let them get started as the clock was still ticking! Now time to incorporate technology!