Autonomy in the Classroom: The Ultimate Motivator

An amazing thing has happened this month in my classroom.  As I sit here and write this, my students are sitting, deep in thought and typing, typing, typing on their iPads.  The only sounds I hear are the clicking of the keyboards, the creak of the tables and chairs, the soft music through the speakers and the occasional, “Mrs. Polen, I need some help” or, “Mrs. Polen, can you read this and tell me what you think?” Students are lying on the floor, some have their feet propped up on chairs, most have headphones in their ears; they are comfortable and in their favorite comfortable writing positions.  What are they doing, you may ask?  Simple:  Nanowrimo.  What is Nanowrimo?  Only the most fabulous, motivating and creative project out there for English teachers. Let me explain.Nanowrimo is an online writing community which uses the month of November as “National Novel Writing Month” (hence, the “Nanowrimo”).  They ask students to create an online profile on their website, choose a word count goal which determines how many words the students will write during the month of November (between 10,000 and 50,000 words) and provide a word count validator for students to upload their novel into in order to determine their progress in reaching that goal.  For the hard-working and dedicated students who do reach their goal, they receive a code which will entitle them to publish their novels for FREE!  Yes, free!  And it’s a high-quality paperback book which can then be sold on Amazon.  It’s amazing what opportunity this provides for the students and it’s also amazing how motivated my students become.  And bonus for the teacher, the website also provides well-developed lesson plans to ready the students for their month of writing through a high school curriculum workbook (also available for younger grades as well).  Truly, well thought out and well supported; this is a project I’ve done for the past three years and will continue to do so every year I am in the classroom.

What I love most about it is the autonomy it provides the students.  They take complete ownership of this project and look at me oddly when I tell them they can do what they want with it.  Here is a small list of the questions I receive when I first introduce this project:

*How long does this novel have to be?
*What does it have to be about?
*Can I write a book of poetry or short stories instead of a full novel?
*I can really get my book published?

I love the looks on their faces when I tell them they can write about anything they’d like, the length is up to them and yes, their book can get published if they meet their word-count goal. I also love that when I tell them the entire class period is theirs to write and they jump when the bell rings; they cannot believe they’ve been writing all period.  This shows me they’ve experience true “flow” that occurs when doing something creative.  To me, that is what education is about and I love being able to give them that gift. It also drives home the fact that students will perform beyond expectations if given a challenge which motivates them; November is the perfect reminder of that for me!

Want more information?  www.ywp.nanowrimo.org