Finding their voices
Seven hours earlier they wouldn’t have taken the risk, but by 3 p.m. on the second Saturday of March, dozens of youngsters lined up to read their freshly written work. Poems, skits, short stories and essays resounded through EOU’s McKenzie Theatre as teachers and peers listened to the many new works crafted at the 2019 Student Writers’ Workshop.
Nancy Knowles, an EOU English professor, has coordinated the event since 2005, and said about 150 students in grades 3 to 12 attend the event with their teachers or parents. Students choose from a range of age-appropriate workshops, then revise and edit their work before sharing at the Open Mic session.
“The goal is to make it fun,” Knowles said. “Writing in school is often more about assessment than the student’s individual voice, but every time we write we’re expressing ourselves.”
She said if students view writing as pleasurable they’re more likely to succeed in exams and required assignments throughout their education. In fact, she’s had multiple alumni of the Student Writers’ Workshop enroll in her EOU classes later in life.
Knowles volunteers her time to write grants and organize the day-long event, but said she hopes the positive experience influences attendees to pursue higher education at EOU.
Groups bus in to campus from places like Monument, Prairie City and Milton-Freewater for half-a-dozen lower level and three upper level workshops led by teachers. EOU student-teachers, those enrolled in the College of Education and in their final stage before graduating to classrooms of their own, often run three or four workshops at the event.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Knowles said. “They get to run the same
lesson four times and tweak it, testing it with different kids.”
Knowles recalled a favorite workshop where the teacher used a parachute, industrial fans, and fishbowl on an overhead projector to create an underwater experience for upper-level writers. She said the closing session remains the best part of the day, though.
“The Open Mic is always amazing,” she said. “You see these kids, in the course of a day, go from unsure to ‘I have something to say,’ and they’re standing there on stage in McKenzie with a microphone.”
She said she plans to develop an online anthology chronicling the students’ work, but she’s most passionate about fostering connections among young writers as they find their unique voices.