Gary Schmidt wow MDI 8th Graders

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Buses from all over Mount Desert Island started arriving right before 9am on Friday, October 2, and over 100 MDI-RSS 8th graders gathered together in the gym at Camp Beech Cliff, ready to separate into groups of six and get their day started.

Though students from different schools might have recognized each other from sporting or other competitive events, this was the first time they all joined together as a group.

And what were they there for? To discuss with community facilitators, each other, and the author himself the in’s and out’s of the book Trouble, by Gary Schmidt, at the Island-wide 8th Grade Read.

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Island Readers & Writers paired up with MDI-RSS ELA teachers over the summer to create a phenomenal morning program for the students, and they were well-prepared by their teachers to provide deep conversation and ponder burning questions for Gary to answer during a presentation at the end of the morning.

According to MDI-RSS Curriculum Director Julie Meltzer, before the big day, ELA teachers “designed interactive activities related to the book, [such as]…students recorded playlists of music they thought characters would have listened to, and created Powerpoints to share information about the Khmer Rouge and Katahdin [two locations mentioned in the book] to help others understand facets of the book.”

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After being sorted into groups of six (with groups comprised of students from different schools), community facilitators led icebreaker activities so everybody could learn names and get to know each other a bit better.

Students then participated in a Gallery Walk, where they approached flipchart sheets adhered to the wall that listed five questions. Facilitators wrote down the students’ answers, then the group moved on to the next sheet. Since another group had likely been there before them, facilitators asked students if they agreed with the answers written before. Students enjoyed agreeing or disagreeing with the answers, and came up with numerous ways of thinking about the text, from many different perspectives.

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They also “voted with their feet” in a “Four Corners, Four Questions” activity. Meltzer read a statement over the PA system, and students had to move to the corner of the room that reflected their opinion about the statement, whether “Strongly Agree,” “Agree,” “Strongly Disagree,” and “Disagree.”

For some statements, certain corners were occupied by only one student. Since every group had the opportunity to defend their opinion, it was very impressive to see one student speak into a microphone and justify their beliefs, and watch as students from other groups changed their minds and moved over to the speaker’s corner.

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Groups reassembled for a book discussion, and facilitators gathered burning questions for Gary from the students, including (but not limited to): Will there be a sequel for Trouble? What happened after the end? Why did you write ‘Trouble’ with a capital ‘T’ every time?

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Gary answered their written questions, and then fielded questions live from the group before launching into a funny and profound presentation about the complexities of life, writing characters that are both ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ and how he finds inspiration for characters (including meeting a boy named Joseph in a juvenile detention facility who inspired him for his latest novel Orbiting Jupiter).

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After the presentation, every student was able to talk with Gary and have their book signed.

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It was an incredible morning! One teacher said that her students shared with her “how they enjoyed talking with the author and getting to know the other students.” Many students believed it was a powerful experience because it connected them with an author and also with their future high school class.

IRW is grateful to the ever-entertaining and talented Gary Schmidt, MDI-RSS teachers, and the 18 community facilitators who helped engage students in discussion and a love of reading.

We wrote a letter to the editor expressing thanks, which can be read here.

And, of course, we can’t wait for the next Island-wide Read, that brings all the great kids of MDI together!

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