Brandywine Heights gifted education ninth graders won first and second prizes at the Delaware Valley College Student Writing Conference recently.
“Not only did they get a cash prize but they will also get their work published in the DelVal literary journal,” said Mark Graham, PhD, who teaches gifted education and art at BHHS. “For ninth graders this is pretty sophisticated stuff, and I think it’s a testament to the higher level thinking skills kids are capable of.”
Christopher Unis and Gabe Sanders won first place for their analysis of a Ray Bradbury story “The Veldt.”
“It was a little bit of amazement but at the same time I was confident in our paper because we put a lot of time and work into the paper,” said Unis. “I was really excited to win.”
Jakob Banks and Rebecca Cobo won second place for their analysis of “The Lonesome Place” by Science Fiction writer August Derleth.
“I think winning anything at all shocked me,” said Cobo, explaining that even though people tell her she writes well, she doesn’t put her writing out there for review. “I was just really astounded and I got that huge boost of self confidence.”
Everyone in the class was recognized for their participation with a certificate.
““They have a sense of pride not only from only being able to write the paper but also delivering at an undergraduate writing conference,” said Graham. “They were so professional in the delivery of their papers.”
The class read and analyzed stories from the Joyce Carol Oats edited anthology of American Gothic Tales.
“My motto for the class is we swim, we don’t skim,” said Graham. “As a novelist, I’m interested in teaching them how to write like writers, to think as they’re composing like a writer thinks, not as a student simulating the act of writing.”
He prefers his students to think of writing as a creative act, “as a way to express yourself and to make meaning of your life, of the human condition, of your society and you can do that as easily with analytical paper as you could with a poem or a short story.”
Graham was also showing the students how to read academic literature, so they were reading the sort of papers that graduate students have to read. “They got it. It took a little while for them to adjust themselves to that level of abstraction.”
He wanted them to understand that they can enrich their thoughts about a work by reading someone else’s thoughts about a work, not just to get a biographical reference, said Graham. “They understand that they can use it to expand what they’re saying.”
“If you expect (students) to think more deeply, more abstractly, more philosophically, they will tend to rise to the level you set for them,” said Graham.
Graham also wanted them to learn the thought process of writing as writers. “Show them how can we incorporate all those complex ideas but then say it eloquently.”
The last thing he wanted to show them was how to make art.
The students shared what they learned.
“It was a different way to read,” said Ryan Tavares. Rather than skimming the surface of the story, they were looking for the underling message. “What the story was trying to say to us without actually coming out and saying it.”
“I think it makes it a lot easier to apply seemingly meaningless literature to our lives and we can find our meaning to stories,” said Unis.
Mitchell Freeby agreed.
“We can analyze it in a way we can relate it to our lives and it’s become a lot more interesting,” said Freeby.
Reading differently also helped them to write better, said Unis.
“Dr. Grant taught us a lot about how to write like ‘big kids’ like what comes after high school writing,” said Nick DeOliveira. “When we were writing these papers, he tore our writing to shreds (he said with a smile) but it was really helpful” because each time you can see the improvement over a two-week writing and editing process.
DeOliveira found analyzing stories fun. “You read it, and then you read it again and you find the things you missed the first time. It helps you to look at the big picture instead of just the story itself.”
“There is so much going on beneath the surface and I find it very exciting,” said Harry Mayrhofer.
Beyond looking for the theme and character development, instead you’re searching for something you’re interested in and then you can further your knowledge into what the author is trying to say, said Sanders.
“One story can be interrupted in so many different ways,” said Tavares. “That’s pretty interesting.”
The difference in their writing before starting the class to when they submitted their work to the contest was “pretty mind blowing,” said Freeby. “It was interesting being able to analyze a paper like a college student instead of like a high school student and just skimming the surface.”
“The fun thing was that we got to pick out every little detail, but we didn’t have to use all the details, we looked at a total of what we had. We chose what we had the most of and expanded that,” said Cobo. Not only looking at what was in the book, Cobo said they used outside sources and their own personal background knowledge into their analysis. For example, Cobo used her interest in psychology for her analysis of “The Lonesome Place” by Science Fiction writer August Derleth.
Cobo took what she learned in this class and applied it to what she does in her English class. “I can keep that style of thinking and incorporate my ideas.”