An ancient alchemy

One day at dismissal while I was monitoring the hallway, i.e., preventing a stampede, a fifth-grade girl approached me:

Mrs. Haley, I have been working on a story. I was wondering if you could give me some tips?

Of course! Is this an assignment for class?

No, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while…

Even better. Have you written any of this story yet?

Yes, a little, but I’m stuck. C. told me how you helped him last year and he said youre the one to ask…

And so it was arranged that the student would come to meet me in the morning, story in hand.

She brought a friend. Another fifth-grade girl.

I began to sense that this was either a business conference or a council of wizards… maybe both.

The student read her story (a fantasy) and explained that she needed help with where to go next.

We discussed the strengths of her introduction and how to create a hook. The friend’s eyes glistened.

I asked several questions about the characters and their problem-solving adventure (i.e., plot). The story-writer answered aloud, expanding her own thinking. When I made a suggestion or two, both girls’ faces took on an otherworldly light.

Most of all, my young apprentices (I really didn’t say ‘my young apprentices’ — I only thought it as I spoke), if you’re going to have magic in this story, you have to stick to the rules you put in place or you’ll lose your readers. Does that make sense?

Oh yes, said the friend, nodding sagely. It still has to be believable.

And off they went, leaving me marveling in their wake about codes and spells and the power of one’s own mind to imagine the unimaginable, of idea-dust drifting through the atmosphere to settle upon whomever it chooses for bringing forth the story that wants to be told.

For, in a time and place when writing workshop is out of vogue and crafting responses to texts is essentially all the writing the present educational Powers That Be can imagine, what could be more magical than a child desiring to write a story for the sheer pleasure of it?

Nothing, I think. Nothing. It’s an ancient alchemy.

Go forth, young crafters.

Your stories await.

So do I.

So do we all.

John Steinbeck on Storytelling. Jill Clardy. CC BY-SA 2.0


Special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge…supporting student writers starts with supporting teacher writers.

16 thoughts on “An ancient alchemy

  1. I love this post for so many reasons. The content, the words you choose, the way you capture the interactions, the weaving of time… and especially, that they came to you and that a child who is writing is so celebrated. Will you share this post with her? I bet she’d love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s my favorite part of this also – for kids naturally love to tell stories, and they they really do want to write until school (all too often) squeezes the love out of them.


  2. The magic of the love of writing is alive and well here, and what’s so telling to me is that they knew to come to you for the blessing! You conjured for them all the sparkles and the magic, threw the wakening writers’ dust over them and became their thought partner with the rule of believability, and off they ran to figure out the rest of the story and to write it down to be enjoyed by others. There is no better way to spend a morning than encouraging writers while preventing stampedes! You ARE magic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I live for these magical moments, Kim, I really do. When they occur, the sense of dystopia dissipates somewhat. I would do this work exclusively if I could, for kids love telling stories and they love writing them, if they’re allowed and encouraged…. thank you for your words!


  3. Mmm, by the time you wrote, “I began to sense that this was either a business conference or a council of wizards” I was completely engrossed, possibly because that was the point when the magic of writing workshop began. I love that another student pointed this child in your direction; I love that she brought a friend; I love that the idea-dust drifted this way on this day – we will always need the stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fran, these are the best moments in a teacher’s life, and it says so much about the kind of teacher you are that this young writer brought her words to you. Yet as magical as her story is, there’s a dark cloud in your post: the paragraph about the system only being interested in writing that responds to texts, 😑 This is heart-wrenching. We will lose so much if teachers don’t fight back against this harmful paradigm,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, Glenda, you caught it: my mourning the loss of writing workshop in grades 2-5. The best way to get kids (anyone, really) to fall in love with the craft is writing about their own lives and seeing how this connects with and impacts others… it’s vitally important. Granted, this young writer was working on a fantasy but she’s generating something from within her own heart. What could matter more? Why should we be destined to only respond to others’ words and ideas, instead of celebrating our own? And to be confident in the expressing? I will stop here before this comment becomes an essay… just know how grateful I am for you.


    • You remind me of the final line of William Ward’s poem: “The great teacher inspires.” I strive to inspire despite, shall we say, educational straitjackets.. .and certainly not always successfully. But the kids know I write, and that I love writing; passion is contagious… that part. It’s a joy to watch the spark leaping in their eyes when they get the first real taste of their writing power. And that goes for their teachers, too… I used to facilitate writing workshops for teachers before curricular changes did away with writing workshops for kinds in grades 2-5. That’s another story for another day, one which I almost have no heart for telling, But – above all – thank you for YOUR words.


  5. Fran, what a great post; I love it! I love how the student said ”you’re the one to ask.” I love how you weave in the sense of magic, fantasy, and adventure by using the following words: council of wizards, friend’s eyes glistened, both girls’ faces took on an otherworldly light, my young apprentices, magic, codes and spells, go forth, young crafters… How exciting that the girls sought you out for writing help based on another student’s recommendation! That is sad and horrible that children can only write about texts and not be able to use their imagination to create their own stories and have writing workshops. Luckily, this student found a way around the rules of text writing and came to you. You inspired her and how exciting she’ll be back for more workshopping and most likely, by word of mouth you’ll have other writers come to you for inspiration. Thank you for sharing your inspiration and joy. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are always such an encourager – it is the response that fuels the writer. Something for teachers to remember. Thank you so much for the gift of YOUR words! The student tells me she’s excited with the way the story is coming along and plans to share more with me soon – can’t wait.


  6. Fran, it was late last night when I read your blog but the comment never sent since the screen froze.It is good to wake up this morning to your blog (and be able to see clearly). it is a super feeling to have children respect your teaching ability. The beauty of writing is the creativity involved. You offer content support while inspiring children to create using their imagination. Writing to text is important but so is creative writing. I wish you well in continuing your quest to continue to inspire students.

    Liked by 1 person

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