No Benchwarmers Allowed: Student Sportswriters

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It’s pretty common to use sports as a means to get kids out of their seats and on their feet. But what if we flipped that thinking? What if there was a way to use sports as a way to engage students in writing and literature that they normally wouldn’t look at twice. That is what Jeff Mann at Belzer Middle School is trying to do with his program No Benchwarmers Allowed.

Empowered young people.

What is the project and their goals?

 No Benchwarmers Allowed is a unique, hands on literacy project that will connect middle school students’ love of sports to reading and writing. This project will create two key components that no middle school has ever offered:

  1. Create the first nationally available sports magazine written entirely by middle school students,
  2. Create and offer the first middle school language arts class that will teach the traditional standards in a non-traditional and engaging way using sports literature and sports writing.

In short, sports will be “the bait” that lures students to becoming better readers and writers. What’s exciting about this project is Jeff’s clear knowledge of his students interests and passions, and how he planned on using a near universal love of sports to get them excited about reading.

What did they accomplish?

In August, the sports class was created and put into place. Once established, the planning for the curriculum was ongoing throughout the year. Meanwhile, the writing and reading for the course was adjusted to not only fit the students interests but also to help have completed writings from which to select for the magazine.

According to Jeff, the students displayed a clear interest in writing and reading more than they would have in other traditional language arts classes.

Students began submitting pieces from about October and they concluded the writing portion at the end of March. This left April for selection, editing, ideas, and publication of the journal.  The journal was a big success, despite some timing hiccups that prevented publishing by the original date. But they were distributed by the principal throughout the school and a number of other educators were asking about how they could get involved.

In the end No Benchwarmers Allowed made students work harder than they thought they were going to have to, the writing took much more time than any of them anticipated, and the final product came out much better that they’d had hoped.

What challenges did they come up against?

 While most students took a sports centered approach, there were still some outliers and the teachers needed to make adjustments to keep those students engaged as well.

Some of the larger challenges dealt with the publishing of the sports magazine, but with the premier issue out, and now armed with the knowledge of how it works timing wise – they ae much better prepared to tackle this in the new year.

Another idea for improvement would be to bring in more professional sports writers in order to demonstrate how a love of sports and a love of the written word can find a great synthesis between the two. Hopefully, this exciting program will continue to turn out great products in the form on their magazine as well as to keep the students plugged into books.

Further Reading

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