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Student Voices Unleashed: Published Authors, Teacher Librarians, Untold Possibilities

By: Jessica Klinker, Director of Conference and Teacher Librarian at Franklin Heights High School

Admit it–You still get a little bit swoony when you get the chance to meet published authors, right? I know I do! It’s the same for our students; Having the opportunity to meet authors is akin to meeting someone famous. Just imagine, then, what might happen if our students had the opportunity to actually write a story with their favorite author and that story could end up published in a book? Thanks to The Top Secret YA Story Box Project, my students were given a chance to find out this school year.

Over 40 published authors participated in The Top Secret YA Story Box project by contributing short story beginnings, which ranged from a paragraph to 30 pages in length. This story starts to travel to schools throughout the country, where students eagerly unveil the surprise: They get to write the endings to the stories and their endings will not only be added to the Story Box as it continues its journey across the country, but they just might be the ones selected to be published at the end of the project! They could be listed as co-authors with someone like Brendan Kiely, Mindy McGinnis, Margaret Peterson Haddix, or Mike Mullin!

Hosting The Top Secret YA Story Box at our school yielded so many opportunities for collaborating with the ELA teacher, for experimenting with BreakoutEdu, and for encouraging students to dive deeply into literature and the craft of writing, as they were given permission to unleash their voices and channel their creativity to add their unique flair to the stories. Shelly Mann, my colleague in the English department, approached me in September explaining how the box was coming and said, “I would like your help in making this amazing.” (Yes, she is awesome and I am totally blessed to work with her!) Having caught the BreakoutEdu bug at last year’s OELMA conference, she and I decided to have a launch party event where the students completed a Breakout challenge in the library to unlock boxes, which held the Top Secret story beginnings. This collaboration allowed Shelly and me to flex our own creative superpowers, developing clues, building in library search skills and highlighting the library collection. We invited other teachers in the building to come to observe the Breakout Launch parties, which motivated more of them to partner with me throughout the year on other Breakout challenges. The students left the events brimming with eagerness to embark on this writing extravaganza.

This kicked off a three-week writing adventure that resulted in students being more attentive to structure, mechanics, voice, tone, style, and other aspects of writing than we’ve ever experienced before. Suddenly, they weren’t writing just for the teacher’s eyes, they were writing for their favorite authors — and the chance to be published! The students in my building even added their own top-secret contribution to the story box: stories of their own, that were not started by the published authors! Their confidence in their craft had grown and their voices had been unleashed!

You will have the opportunity to learn more about The Top Secret YA Story Box project, including hearing some students who participated reading their stories along with the published authors who wrote the beginnings, when you attend the 2018 OELMA Pre-conference event, Student Voices Unleashed: Published Authors, Teacher Librarians, Untold Possibilities, on Wednesday, October 24th, from 4:30 – 7:30 pm at the Doubletree Hotel in Worthington, Ohio. Kevin Cordi, the Story Box creator, will share more information about the project and OELMA librarians who participated will explain how the project prompted creative collaborations with colleagues. The evening will feature a keynote presentation by Brendan Kiely, as well as presentations and speed dating opportunities with Mindy McGinnis, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and Mike Mullin, all of whom contributed to the Story Box.

Watch for registration to open on the OELMA website in August and also look out for the opportunity to invite students to attend for a reduced rate and administrators to attend for free! Spark some excitement for how you can Unleash Student Voices for Untold Possibilities!