Owen: Yeah. So first of all, nothing that I do is unique or anything. But one of the things I do is I think it's common to see a display in an English teacher's room of the writing process; from your brainstorming all the way through to your final draft. But one of the things that I do a little bit differently with it, for me in my room, it's a circle, not a line. So publishing and final draft feeds back into the pre-writing phase.
And we talk about how making your writing better is a cycle. So you receive feedback and then you go back to the first step of, "Okay, how could I make this better, based on this feedback? How could I move back through the drafting process in a way that is making it a stronger writing piece?" Some would argue that's what revision is. But that's sort of what I tell my students: revision is not just going through and making sure that you spell-check. It's going back through all the other phases and taking feedback and making it better and improving it constantly.
And part of that is I do that with my own writing in front of them. I write with them and writing right beside them was hugely influential in how I teach writing. But I do all of the assignments with them and in a way that they can see my process and they can see the way that I am moving through all those different stages and then moving back to them.
I also try to do a feedback days. It's so easy for students to get back that writing piece and see your comments or whatever, and then just throw out the trash and forget about it. So instead, I try to have a day where I give them back their writing and not only is there my traditional feedback on it, but I try to do things like, first of all, frame it as, "These are not things that you did wrong. They're just ways in which you can do better in the future." And then I try to give them a concrete, "Go back into your notes about this particular skill, about how we format dialogue. Reread those notes and then fix this section." Or, maybe it was that a certain section of their writing could be strengthened. I might give them some names of some of their peers who did really well at [the assignment]. And I'll say, "During our feedback session today, I want you to go and read that section from these students and then make your own better, improve your own."
And so the idea is that they have to act on that feedback in some way, right away, in order to make their own writing stronger, and then hopefully continue with that advice in the future. And I think that's key to doing everything is making sure that everything is always a cycle where there's not necessarily an ending point, but it's always a, "How are we going to make it better next time?"
So if I'm focusing my feedback on here are some of the ways in which you are really strong, and here are some of the things that you can improve for next time, then every kid is always improving. There is no kid who's just checking off all the boxes on the rubric good enough, you don't have to do any work. And it also means too that it's my practice to start with a strength and to list a few strengths from that piece, and then give one or two places where they can improve.
So even if the writing they gave me is a total mess and there's 10 bajillion things they could improve, I'm going to pick the two that I think are going to be their highest leverage places for improvement, and then ask them to practice those things, so that they're never overwhelmed. It's always, "Here's one or two ways that everyone in this room can get better, based on what I saw in this writing piece." So everyone's always getting better, but they're doing it from where they are, not from a place I expect everyone to be.
Noelle: Now, I'm very curious though, because in my reading and getting prepared, I found this fun fact that you enjoy Dungeons & Dragons. I didn't know that that still was a thing. So why do you enjoy it? Is it still a thing? In the 80s, there were kids that were in this Dungeons & Dragons Club at school.
Owen: Not only is it still a thing, but actually in the last couple of years, it's been growing in popularity again. There's been a resurgence. I never played it as a kid or as a teenager. My friends and I kind of wanted to when we were teenagers, but we didn't know anybody else who knew how to play. And there's often kind of a barrier of entry on these kinds of things, where if you don't have somebody who knows the ropes to help you out at first, there's a lot to wrap your mind around.
But then, oh gosh, maybe half a dozen years ago or so at this point, a friend of mine, she's played now for most of her life. And she offered to run a game that would be like a newbies game, where it would be her and another experienced friend of hers and then a bunch of us that she knew that had never played before, but were curious. She would run a game to sort of teach us how to play. And we're still playing that game now. That game is still ongoing. It's still going every Sunday.
For those listening who may also be Dungeons & Dragons nerds, I play a gnome druid, and I have played him now for, I think it's about five years. I played other games in other campaigns sense, but I always go back to that gnome druid. One of the nice things about D & D, is that it's not a board game where there's a winner and a loser. You're really just collectively telling a story with your friends. And the game mechanics, your different skills and your weapons and rolling the dice and all that stuff, those things make the story you're telling more interesting and random, because you can't just always say, "I did a thing and it's successful," there's luck involved and there's risk involved and it makes the story more compelling. And it also gives you some rails for the story, so that you have something to follow a little bit and to keep you on track.
But that's essentially what you're doing with a game of D & D, is just sitting around with your friends and playing make-believe and making up a story. It's collaborative storytelling and a collaborative gameplay in which everybody wins, because there is no winner and no loser. So in that way, this the Sunday game that we have, if I have to miss that game because I'm busy, I'm really sad about it. And in part, what I'm really sad about is the fact that I didn't get to just hang out with my friends for a couple of hours and make stuff up and have a good time. It's sort of like getting a childlike play date as an adult.
Noelle: One of the things I'm picking up Owen, is you're driven by communities. I mean, from the initial conversations we had with you thinking back to where you did your homework at different organizations and then Dungeons & Dragons, and ensuring that with students and understanding that they know their communities, I'm fascinated by that part of what I'm hearing from you. But I also wanted to know, is there anything that you need to just take care of yourself and focus on yourself? You can't have too many people telling you what to do or how to get it done.
Owen: First of all, absolutely, community is the core of my purpose in life and in this world, is to create and foster communities, both for myself and for other people. I'm a very creative person, but I think that most of the time, my creativity has to be aligned to my teaching; being creative in my lesson plans, and then the way that I'm going to implement things for my students. And so November is sort of an excuse, really, to focus that creativity on myself, on a writing project that I'm doing just for me.
And so when you talk about self-care, that's part of it for me, is giving myself those opportunities. For so much of my life, my energies are directed outward. They're directed to my students and to these nonprofits, where I'm working on building creativity and community with other people. And so being able to take some time to work on the things that are just for me, whether it's a writing project, or in the last few years I've been teaching myself ukulele, stuff like that, that allows me to take some of that energy and just direct it back at myself for a little bit. That is how I take care of myself. But you're 100% right that community is the center of what I do and what I feel. It's what I feel I have to offer to the world to make the world a better place, is this ability to build community for people.