Sunday, October 22, 2023

Getting outside with Write Out 2023

Red Butte Canyon. Photo by me
Every year in mid-October the National Writing Project and the National Park Service sponsor Write Out, ​​”a free two-week celebration of writing, making, and sharing inspired by the great outdoors.” This is the last day of Write Out which ran from October 8-22 this year.

Back when I was in high school I would have done anything to get outside, but it’s strange now to think about how many years have gone by since I did that as a teacher. Over the past couple of years I’ve rediscovered the joys of writing and reading outdoors. For all the bad that came out of the Covid pandemic (and there are too many to mention here), one of the good things was the imperative to take students outside. Because we had to socially distance during Covid, we found lots of spaces around our small, urban campus to hold classes outdoors. At first learning outside was for their and my own safety, but it’s one of the things that I’ve held onto the past couple of years.

For example my photography students focused on the concept of negative space, which is the empty space around the main subject. It can be something as simple as the sky, a blank wall, a blurred background, or a consistent color. The more you look at photography, art, print design, display advertising, and public service announcements, the more you see the power of placing text in the negative space of an image.

So ostensibly to photograph negative space (but really it was about getting outside on a golden autumn day), we took a field trip up to Red Butte Canyon in Salt Lake City. We chose the Six Word Story prompt that Ranger Cindy describes on the Write Out website.

Six Word Story by Isaac.
Red Butte is just a mile or so from our school, and before long as we turned to look behind us the city disappeared behind the narrow canyon. I’m no stranger to leveraging digital tools in my teaching, but anytime I take classes outside now I think my students and I share a little bit of that same feeling that we had in the canyon – the screens and distractions are left behind while we photograph, read books, and write with pens on paper.

And just last week my senior English class went outside on the National Day on Writing. It was a Friday afternoon where a number of students had checked out for fall sports and other activities, so the students were already a little antsy. I decided to take a page from the NCTE suggested activities for the day and cover the sidewalk with powerful words.

Kudos to NWP and NCTE for reminding me to take it outside.