Classroom of the Month: Ms. Parks’ Eighth-Grade Students At Skyline Middle School in Harrisonburg, Virginia

Sandy Parks, librarian at Skyline Middle School in Harrisonburg, Virginia, discovered Six-Word Memoirs when she read our book for teens: I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous and Obscure. Parks saw an opportunity to create a lesson for the forty minutes when she meets with students during library time: “I needed a quick word-based activity, and I thought that Six-Word Memoirs would be just perfect.”

In February, Parks introduced Six-Word Memoirs to the eighth graders. “I started with the concept of what is a memoir—telling a section of your life,” explains Parks. After showing the students a video from and reading examples from I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets, Parks began the activity by revealing a Six-Word Memoir of her own, “Sometimes you just need Gryffindor socks.” Her backstory: “I was feeling a little demoralized about something I’d just heard about in the news…I talked to the kids about feeling powerless.” In order to conjure courage, she donned socks sporting logos for Gryffindor—the Hogwarts house known for bravery in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. By sharing something personal, “It opened up connections with them.” The short form of self-expression helped the kids learn that “whatever they were feeling, it was okay.”

Skyline Middle School has a large and very diverse student body, with about 950 students and nearly fifty languages spoken throughout the school; about one third of those students speak English as a second language. This student diversity led to many insightful Six-Word Memoirs from the students, many wrote more than one, including: “I crossed the border. That’s wassup”; “Bipolar but finds positivity and happiness”; “Got targeted for being LGBT again”; “Reading is my way of coping”; and a memoir that could easily define Skyline Middle School itself: “Different culture yet united as one.” Many of the students have been through so much in their lives, Parks believes they may also benefit from using Six-Word Memoirs as an outlet: “It was the perfect project for opening them up. Stuff that kids might not have told me, they put in writing to share.” She may expand the activity next year by sharing it with sixth grade students.

Six-Word Memoirs was more than just a fun activity during library time—it also helped students gain experience with language and vocabulary. “I was amazed by how much they loved it and the quality of the work that they gave me,” Parks explains. This librarian plans to preserve the results from this inaugural group of eighth graders: “I’m in the process of getting them into a form that I can publish. I’m going to print them and self-bind them here and put them into the library.” She also plans on sending copies to the high school so these brief and insightful memoirs can join the students on their next step in education. Sandy Parks and her exceptional eighth graders are a perfect example of the wide-reaching benefits of using Six-Word Memoirs in classrooms and, of course, school libraries. —Amanda Gaglione

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