Novel Ideas:

  Language Arts Classes for the College Bound


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Welcome Cammie Biss Fleming

Posted on June 15, 2018 at 8:10 AM Comments comments (0)

During the spring semester of 2017, I had the idea to develop and offer a course that helps students prepare for the writing portions of standardized tests, like the SAT, ACT, TSI, and AP exams, and the essays required for the common application. This idea came after a discussion with a good friend regarding the positives and negatives of a program that her son participated in the previous summer. One of the limitations of the program, in her mind, was the lack of one-on-one interaction and feedback with the instructor. So I set about researching different programs and the different kinds of writing required on the exams, along with the different expectations for those writing samples, based on the testing agency's published rubrics. The resulting class, Writing for College Apps, is published on REACH Math and Science Academy's course schedule and listed as in our course offerings. I am excited about the potential for this class and its ability to help students achieve their dreams and goals. However, with the demands of family life and the other classes I teach, developing this class has consistently been pushed to the back burner.

Enter Cammie Fleming. I first met Cammie two years ago as a homeschooling mom, interested in courses at REACH. At that time, I was unaware  of her hidden super powers. When my own twelve-year-old, who hates writing (we'll skip talking about the irony of a language arts teacher's son hating writing, for now) enrolled in one of her writing classes, her super power was revealed. She is a gifted teacher who is able to connect with students on a personal level and draw their very best out of them. Let me introduce you to Cammie.
Cammie Fleming is an eclectic educator with extensive experience in the field of education, including classroom teaching, teacher training, professional development, curriculum development, and school administration. After eye-opening stints in the Harvard Development and Admissions Offices, Cammie developed and operated her own professional practices in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she worked with students in the areas of Education Mentorship and Admissions Prep, guiding them in streamlining their preparedness for select prep schools, colleges, and universities. Here is a list of just a few of the prestigious institutions that Cammie's students have gained admissions: 

  • Harvard
  • Princeton
  • West Point
  • the Naval Academy
  • Villanova
  • Greenwich Academy
  • Phillips Exeter Academy
  • Brunswick Academy

Additionally, she has worked as the private tutor for many of Washington D.C.’s political elite, providing assistance in essay refinement, test prep, extracurricular management, and youth life-coaching.

After 9/11, Cammie’s family relocated from NYC to the Austin area. Currently, Cammie owns and operates Bee Write Author Training, which offers young authors a casual studio setting for author mentorship, skill discovery, invigorating teamwork, and enthusiastic camaraderie. Bee Write teaches the basics of writing, while allowing budding writers a safe space to observe and participate in the process, without assessment, measurement, or critique. Bee Write Author Training was conceived through Cammie's graduate degree in Education from Harvard University in School Administration/Education Policy.  Her particular focus continues to be on the redevelopment of the teaching profession. It is in the spirit of redeveloping education that she continues to create new teaching models, centered on positivity and personal giftedness. Cammie incorporates these original models in Bee Write Studios, in private tutoring, and in educating her own five, homeschooled children.

Cammie's personality, professionalism, and commitment to education make her the perfect facilitator for the Writing for College Apps course.  Novel Ideas is excited to partner with Cammie and Bee Write Author Training to develop and offer Writing for College Applications as well as other classes. I can't wait to see what incredible things happen for our students this school year and in the years to come. Please join me in welcoming Cammie to our classrooms. Your students will benefit from her expertise, just as my own twelve-year-old has.

My Kid Hates English

Posted on May 2, 2016 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

As a language arts teacher, I don't get droves of kids lined up to take classes from me because they LOVE writing or can't wait to diagram a sentence.  Most of the time, my students are in my class to satisfy some requirement.  That's a hard thing to overcome for a teacher who loves writing and literature so much it has become her life's work.  I will admit, here and now, that, in my first years of teaching, I couldn't understand why the students in my classes didn't devour books like me and liked writing even less.  It was actually quite shocking.  I can't remember a time that I didn't love reading.

I remember trips to the public library resulting in bags full of Dr. Seuss books, which I begged to be read to me over and over again.  I remember a series of anthologies that held wonderful renditions of fairy tales gracing the bookshelves in our home,  I even remember the first book I ever checked out from the library all by myself and read.  It was a book about Greek Mythology that featured a picture of the severed head of Medusa prominently on the cover.  I was hooked on mythology from that point on.  It wasn't long after that that I discovered Raold Dahl and his wonderful novels about Charlie:  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.  I had fabulous teachers along the way who fed my reading addiction.  Mrs. Lawson was my fifth grade teacher.  Every afternoon after lunch, she would dim the lights in the classroom and read a chapter from a book.  The one I remember most was The Lion's Paw, about two orphans who escape from an orphanage in Florida aboard a sailboat.  I borrowed the book from her after she finished reading it to the class and read it cover to cover two more times before I reluctantly returned it to her. Then there was Mr. Westfall, my freshman English teacher.  Every Friday was silent reading day, and my favorite day of school for that reason.  He had a classroom library filled with novels.  In his class, I met Madeline L'Engle and read A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  L'Engle still ranks among my favorite authors. Then there was Sunny Schork, my senior English teacher, who introduced me to classic literature like Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Dickens' Great Expectations, Shelley's Frankenstein, Shakespeare's MacBeth.

Growing up, I was surrounded by books and people who loved to read.  My father and grandfather were both voracious readers.  At the dinner table, during a card game, or anytime we found ourselves together, one of their first questions was always, "What are you reading these days?" As I moved into high school and adulthood, whenever they came across a book that they thought I would like, they would hand it to me with a, "Here.  Read this." From them, I learned about J. R. R. Tolkein, C. S. Lewis, Gore Vidal,  Larry McMurtry, Stephen King, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and many, many others. Whenever we were together, we would talk about the latest books we had read, what we liked about them, our favorite characters, and why they captured our attention and drew us in. As a teacher, now, I know they were teaching me to respond to literature and begin to analyze it, even though they never asked me to write a single word down on a sheet of paper.  Books and reading were ways for us to bond, and it was fun.  What I didn't know then, that I know now, is that my dad and grandpa were modelling what it meant, to use an educational catch phrase, to be a lifelong learner.  If either one of them wanted to learn something, they both found a book and read it.  

Unlike reading, I don't have as vivid memories of my developing love of writing, but I do know that my mother was my first writing coach.  Mrs. Lawson, again, challenged her 5th graders to write about a group that they belonged to and how that group had influenced them.  After I received the assignment, I was distraught because I didn't see myself as part of any group--I wasn't a girl scout and was not athletic.  As I was lamenting this fact to my mother, she didn't tell me what to write about; she simply started asking probing questions, like "What's the definition of a group?" "What does a group do?" "How do you join a group?" I remember realizing, at some point in our conversation, that a family is a group and that I did, indeed, belong to a group.  And I chose to write about my family.  After brainstorming a topic, we talked through some of the ways a family is like any other group someone can be a member of.  When I sat down to write, I was confident and could generate the ideas that I needed to develop the essay.  Through out the writing process, she never told me that I did anything wrong.  She never picked up a red pen once.  What she did do, was read what I had written to me, pausing frequently so we could discuss what I had written.  If something "sounded" funny as she read it, she would stop reading and ask me what I thought of it, and then we would talk about how best to make it sound better.  My ten-year-old self didn't know that she was teaching me the entire writing process through that one assignment--invention, drafting, editing, revising, publishing.  And I am sure she didn't know that she was engaging me in metacognition--thinking about writing--like the writing teacher me knows.

So that first year of teaching, I was shocked and dismayed that my students expressed such reluctance to write and groaned at reading anything longer than a magazine article.   I wanted to know why and started asking them why.  They were blunt and honest.  Here are some of the things that they said:

  • I don't get to pick what I want to read.
  • Everything I write is wrong, so why try?
  • I always have to write a book report about everything I read.  Why can't we just talk about it.
  • I never know what to write.
  • The topics are boring
Those are the most popular ones.  I was dismayed that the students in my classes had had so few, positive experiences in an English class, let alone with reading and writing outside of a school environment.  I still feel bad when a parent confides that they have a hard time getting their homeschooled child to read or write for them or when one of my students tells me that they aren't fond of reading or writing.  If you have heard your kid say "I hate writing," "I hate reading," "I hate English," or any combination of the three, this series of posts is dedicated to you, the parent of a kid who hates language.  If you are one of those parents, comment here, so that I can address your concerns in this series.