A high-powered, star-powered writing curriculum for students to find their voice
by Mitchell Krugel
Teachers were crying.
Teachers attending the NJEA Expo in November that stopped to check out the groundbreaking, game-changing learning opportunity on display at Write Brain World couldn’t fight back tears of oh boy. The feeling oozing from this World that somebody, finally, gets the disconnect in reading and writing curriculum had NJ Teachers overcome with you-gotta-see-this excitement and bringing colleagues back to the exhibit two, three and four times.
At the center of this World is a Barbara Streisand disciple, complete with the hair, the fast-talking New York vernacular and the star power. This funny girl is Meredith Scott Lynn. You might know her better as Anne Milbauer, the character she has played on the daytime drama “Days of Our Lives” since 2012. Or from a myriad of movie and TV credits that range from “Legally Blonde,” “Forces of Nature ” and “A Night at the Roxbury” to “American Horror Story,’ “CSI,” “Weeds,” “Desperate Housewives” and “How I Met Your Mother.”
Lynn’s latest gig provides an ELA curriculum aligned with core standards that enables students to write and publish their own hardcover children’s books. Write Brain Books comes in classroom and after-school options and is designed to promote writing, handwriting, project-based literacy, flexible thinking, perspective and get students form primary grades through high school to invest in a process they usually find to be a chore.
“The main purpose of Write Brain is to create a curriculum that offers a process to build self-esteem, academic confidence and personal confidence,” reasons Lynn, who is also a writer, producer, director and, most of all, a storyteller. “We just wanted to create an opportunity in the classroom for young people of all ages to find their voice, to journal, to express, to hear their voice and know what they have to say matters.”
The inspiration for Write Brain came to Lynn when she was trying to read a story to her 10-month-old niece, Lila. The book Lila wanted had illustrations but no words, so Auntie Meredith quickly created a colorful story inspired by the images on the page, kind of like voicing over a character in “Kung Fu Panda,” which Lynn did for a 2008 short.
Seeing the wordless pages with lines to craft a unique story set Scott on the mission to create a book-writing adventure that has become an education innovation. A little studying on the subject led to the conclusion that wordless books had not been available for kids in more than 50 years.
So she took her brainstorm to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where ha friend’s father was the dean of the Illustration School. Wielding a sample book she put together at Kinko’s, Scott made her presentation, and a month later she had 22 illustrators submitting books that met her requisite of facilitating 10 story points.
Here was confirmation that so many students have a story to tell.
“I am what you would call a super connector. If I meet you in an airport, we’re likely to be friends for life. If I talk to someone for 30 seconds, it’s a meaningful connection,” Auntie Meredith explains. “I’m fascinated with the level of disconnect I see out there. Everybody is always looking down at a device. Middle schoolers spend an average of 74 hours a week looking at a device. I hear from teachers how they don’t like teaching off the device. What is that doing to our brains? What is that doing to our ability to see the whole picture?”
Inherent in the Write Brain philosophy is balancing the “technivities” overwhelming kids with an opportunity for self-expression that build self-esteem. How much curriculum out there motivates more than one way of thinking? And how much need is there for curriculum that allows and empowers kids to think for themselves?
Think of the value of curriculum that enjoins students to work together to create voices for five different characters in story? Think of how this could change the conversation from one where self-worth is not just measured by test scores?
“This is exactly what kids will need to do if they want to go to college and work in a group, manage a Starbucks, be part of a family, run an office or be an entrepreneur,” Lynn analyzes. “There’s very little you can do without having some skills for communication, collaboration and connecting with other people.”
Write Brain can be purchased for elementary through high school students who can publish in softcover or hardcover programs. Each program includes lesson plans, worksheets and teacher resources for a classroom unit of study on creative writing. Schools in 35 states have purchased Write Brain for more than 30,000 students since it was launched in 2014, and it has proven to be a great resource for English language learners and home-schoolers.
The lessons can be tailored over a number of days or weeks, and it supports teachers to work through the entire writing cycle: collaborating, drafting, revising, editing, and “publishing.” The lessons are designed to be used sequentially, but each part can easily be adapted, shortened or lengthened.
In the end, through Write Brain’s Book Builder, students have a published book with their own title, dedication and story they type in. And they have practiced creative writing, handwriting, vocabulary, reading comprehension, use of descriptive language, outlining, sequencing and plotting a storyline, sentence structure, grammar and punctuation and proofreading and editing, just to name a few skills. Scott also points out how the program facilitates the benefits of handwriting and keyboarding and meets the needs of every type of learner.
Books can be published in bulk so parents, grandparents and other family members can purchase them. Some schools have even purchased copies to give to a children’s ward a t a hospital where they have gone to read their stories to patients. Theoretically, a student could have a library of at least 12 books they have authored by the time they graduate high school.
One of Write Brain’s great residual values is its ability to provide an indicator of success that can’t be measured on a standardized test. In essence Write Brain unlocks the passion and imagination of the right brain balancing against the left brain traits of analytics and facts that make testing so prevalent.
“A big part of this program is that it creates courage,” Lynn confides. “Children’s books shape how kids think. Kids read books before bedtime and ream about what they have read. Imagine going to sleep and dreaming about book you have written? It’s experiential learning from the inside out. And when you learn from the inside out, it lives forever.”