September 27, 2017 Hope Scibal

A Tale of Two Teachers

How Dana Bost and Julie Yauger teach students how to write.

When asked how to teach students to become writers, Julie Yauger quickly responds “The only way to become a good writer is to write.” Dana Bost agrees, “Writing is a muscle. It needs exercise.”

They are two peas in a pod.

When I visited Dana’s class the first time, I was captivated by both her writing program and her style of teaching. I know my middle school self would have felt set free by a class where creativity and original thought were so encouraged.

New to the position of seventh grade homeroom and English teacher this year, Yauger has always loved literature, creative expression and drama. An English major with a concentration in writing from James Madison University, Yauger’s career began in the Childhood Education in the Arts Program at Wolf Trap Performing Arts Center before turning to education. Mom of Grymes students Landon ‘22 and Lorenzo ‘25, Yauger spent the second half of last year shadowing veteran teacher Dana Bost, observing – and absorbing – Bost’s teaching style and becoming enraptured by a curriculum that encourages young teenagers to put their complex thoughts on paper. “When I visited Dana’s class the first time, I was captivated by both her writing program and her style of teaching. I know my middle school self would have felt set free by a class where creativity and original thought were so encouraged. I could see that her students felt empowered and that they were truly enjoying the time they spent writing,” says Yauger of the experience shadowing Bost. This year, the two are working in tandem to teach Upper School English, with Yauger teaching 7th grade and Bost the 8th grade.

While Yauger may be new to the position, Bost is a Grymes legend, having spent nearly three decades at the helm of Upper School English and Drama at Grymes. Whether from years of experience or some special hocus pocus, she simply has a knack for getting students to express themselves on paper and on stage, helping them find their inner voice and let it out fearlessly. When asked to identify the tricks of her trade, Bost struggles to find the answer. “Maybe it’s that I’m honest and open with students? I relate to them not as an authoritarian adult telling them what they can and can’t do, but as a peer supporting them without judgment. Make no mistake, I’m the alpha dog in the classroom, but I relate to them on their level and I’m always asking them questions, encouraging them to go deeper,” says Bost. “ Students today aren’t used to sitting and pondering, and I give them the opportunity to do just that. I push them to discover what they think and to decide who they are. ”

One of the beautiful things about the Grymes program is that there’s space in our curriculum to allow for that kind of time, the time students need to sit and think. They use these quiet moments to absorb their surroundings and focus on their work.

Both Bost and Yauger agree that introspection — and time — are critical to good creative writing. “In order to really develop as writers, students need time to write, revise and reflect, and we give them ample time for this process,” says Yauger. “It’s not unusual to find find seventh and eighth graders lying in the grass outside or splayed across a bench writing in a notebook. We might give them a prompt – a mini lesson on narrative hooks or action verbs, or sometimes just a topic to consider – but more importantly, we give them time. That’s one of the beautiful things about the Grymes program. There’s space in our curriculum to allow for that kind of time, the time students need to sit and think. They use these quiet moments to absorb their surroundings and focus on their work.”

Once back in the classroom, students are encouraged to share and to listen to each other’s work as a part of a collaborative work shopping and editing process. “Peer editing requires that students listen with intent and learn how to offer constructive comments about each other’s writing. The students and the teacher revise together, which I think is a more more effective learning tool than simply receiving a paper with red ink corrections back,” says Yauger. “One of the hardest things to teach is active listening,” adds Bost. “I encourage them to watch the reader, take notes about words or phrases that stand out or observations that come to mind while the reader is sharing. And I do a lot of modeling on how to peer review through constructive comments.”

Video

Watch Grymes 7th and 8th Graders start the writing process at the Fralin Museum of Art

One of the first opportunities to practice writing work shopping – and flex the writing muscles — happens early in the school year with a trip to UVA’s Fralin Museum of Art every September. The field trip is the launching point for the Writer’s Eye Literary Competition, a prestigious creative writing competition that Grymes students have participated in (and received an astonishing amount of accolades from) for nearly thirty years. Following a guided tour of the museum’s collection, 7th and 8th graders are asked to select a piece of art and use it to develop an original piece of poetry or prose. “Using art as a launching point works well because you have a place to start, and from there the sky’s the limit,” says Julie. “After we return from our visit in the museum, synapses fire in English class as the students try to connect the dots in this puzzle,” says Bost. “The challenge asks us to join what we see with what we think. How does A influence B to render C. How does C use A?” Drawing inspiration from the art, students write their original piece and hone it through the workshop process in class until it becomes a piece the students are proud of.

My goal is not necessarily to turn students into writers, but into hard workers who live a thinking life

Writing competition aside, the focus on putting thoughts on paper and the process of refining and distilling an idea through work shopping is an incredibly effective way for young students to gain practice and confidence as writers. Yet, in Bost’s mind, turning students into writers isn’t necessarily the ultimate outcome. “My goal is not necessarily to turn students into writers, but into hard workers who live a thinking life,” states Bost. “I think the act of writing helps students process their thoughts; the words they put on paper are the purest distillation of what they think and believe,” says Yauger.

 

 

 

 

Grymes Memorial School is enrolling!
Click here to request information for your child.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Comment (1)

Comments are closed.