The 8th grade Memoirs Project is a year-long writing and reflection project. Each student works on an anthology of personal vignettes that they eventually share and read from at a ceremony at the end of the year. My students are given this FAQ sheet in the fall, and are asked to brainstorm a list of subjects they might like to write about:
They spend the first half of the year writing many many first drafts, responding to prompts, and trying out creative writing techniques like sensory details, circle endings, hyperbolic humor, and so on. I put together prompts and writing samples that give some direction, strike a nerve, and address some of the common writing problems I’ve seen in the past. Recently, I’ve asked students to compile their first drafts in a virtual portfolio, first with individual Google Sites pages, then through shared collections in Google Docs.
They then meet with me in the second trimester for individual conferences to discuss which of their rough drafts seem to have the most potential and resonate with one another. We also talk in those conference about possibilities of continuity and theme which might cohere and deepen their anthologies. Once each student has narrowed down which of their vignettes they want to concentrate on, I start providing more intensive feedback, often through posted comments in Google Docs.
The last trimester is spent going through multiple revisions of their culled vignettes and supplementing them with illustrations, an introduction, a concluding reflective essay on the writing process. Since Google Docs allows me to look through each document’s history, I can keep an eye on the kind and quality of revisions made over time.
After the final anthologies are due, the middle school celebrates with an evening ceremony of readings from these anthologies; family, friends, and faculty are invited. Last year, I put together this video to conclude that ceremony:
(You can see, at around 2:17, a glimpse of the revision process in Google Docs for one of the vignettes)
Afterwards, I write a letter to each of my students, congratulating their hard work, explaining my rationale for the grade I’ve given them for their anthology, reminiscing a bit about the year, and wishing them the best of luck.
It’s a lovely project; some students cherish their anthology as a memento of their Middle School years, and some students have reported that this project has made their writing a little more personable and vivid.