Digital Age Teaching and Learning

Wood Ducks, Architecture, and Role-Modeling

Wood Ducks, Architecture, and Role-Modeling

Hi! Bart King here. I’m a longtime middle school teacher, and my writing career actually began during my first period 7th grade language arts class.

No doubt, you’re asking yourself “How is that possible?” (Look, just play along, okay?)

It was my second year teaching, and my students were engaged in a small group writing workshop. At that particular moment, things were going swimmingly—students were working exactly as I’d envisioned.

It was a teacher’s dream, and as I went around monitoring, I realized I had time to actually model the behavior that I wanted the students to do. So I joined one of the student writing groups and got to work. And before I knew it, the period was over—and I’d written something!

I tried to do this again during my subsequent classes, and it began to dawn on me that modeling writing was sending a strong, positive message to my students.

Not long after this, my wife and I moved to Portland (Oregon). I was curious about the civic history of the city, so I started researching specific buildings downtown. While this may sound as dry as brick dust, I found myself looking at our “built environment” in a completely new way. And my casual research eventually led to An Architectural Guidebook to Portland (Oregon State University Press).

That book became a terrific prop for me to pull out when students said things like “Why do we have to do this? We’ll never use it in the real world!” about their writing assignments.

Next, I pivoted to writing for kids. Like any teacher, I had reluctant readers…and I wanted to try to write books that appealed directly to them. (Also, like many middle school teachers, I have a useful superpower: I’m incredibly immature!)

My first kids’ book was The Big Book of Boy Stuff (2004). It was a goofy mash-up of an activity manual and Mad magazine that I wrote specifically to appeal to reluctant readers. More nonfiction titles followed, and my first novel, The Drake Equation (Disney Hyperion) is coming out this year. It’s a humorous adventure about a young birdwatcher named Noah Grow. While searching for a wood duck, Noah gets involved in a string of outrageous events, and he is swept up in a storm of intergalactic intrigue and middle-school mayhem.

Yet I’m always keenly aware of how my own writing got kick-started—by modeling behavior in my own classroom’s small group writing workshops. Perhaps there’s a more general moral that can be taken away from this for teachers of all disciplines? Just a thought.