Holly Van Houten
Students will receive instruction from Holly Van Houten, who has decades of experience preparing young writers with the skills they need to succeed. In addition to teaching Literature and Writing at The HuckleBerry Center for Creative Learning, in Valencia, California since 2009, Holly taught in the USC Freshman Writing Department for 10 years, while completing her Ph.D. coursework in English and American Literature. Holly has also taught in the English departments at Pepperdine University, California State University, Northridge, and California State University, Long Beach. She has helped young scholars become confident writers for over 30 years and has successfully prepared students of all abilities for college-level writing.
Writing Adventures in Storybook Land
Series: The Writer’s Path to Critical Thinking
This class is designed to encourage a love of reading and writing in our youngest students. We will be looking at several classic storybooks (including Caldecott winners) and completing a variety of creative, expository and descriptive writing projects designed to spark your child’s imagination and encourage critical thinking skills! This is a class that will delight even the most reluctant writers. They will laugh and have fun reading these clever picture books in class and the books will help inspire their own creative writing. The earlier students become comfortable writing the better! This class gives young students a chance to participate in some really fun, hands-on, creative, expository and descriptive writing tasks, while serving as a captive audience for one another. Kids will love these storybooks, but I guarantee their favorite part of the class will be reading aloud what they’ve written and enjoying the writing of their classmates. These students will be PROUD of their writing and eager to share! I’ve seen it again and again – there’s nothing so encouraging to young emergent writers as seeing that they’ve entertained others with their creations! This will be a noisy, boisterous and fun class, as we learn how to get our ideas down on paper.
In the Fall Quarter, this class will focus on a variety of uniquely beautiful picture books, and, as we prepare to write about them, we will explore science, art, social studies and language arts through that book. For example, when we read Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, we’ll look at all the problem-solving Mr. and Mrs. Mallard must do as they navigate the busy streets of Boston. We’ll research the many famous places they visit, including Beacon Hill, the Public Garden, Louisburg Square, Charles Street, and the Charles River, and learn about some famous Bostonians, such as Ben Franklin and Paul Revere. We’ll create postcards for these destinations, focusing on details as McCloskey does in his illustrations. We’ll learn about ducks and the sounds they make and expand our science focus to the birdsongs of a variety of flying friends, ultimately creating our own Symphony of Birds. Some of the other Classics and Caldecott winners we’ll be using during the fall quarter are Max’s Words, Little Red Writing, and Grandfather’s Journey. We’ll close out the Fall quarter by reading The Giving Tree, which will allow us to consider generosity and gratitude, just in time for Thanksgiving!
During the Winter Quarter, this class will focus on a variety of uniquely beautiful picture books, and, as we prepare to write about them, we will explore science, art, social studies and language arts through that book. For example, when we read The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, we’ll learn about Spanish Matadors and Bullfighting. We will listen to examples of the music traditionally played at bullfights, known as paso doble, and even learn a few Spanish words related to the story. For our writing focus, students will learn the definition of allegory, and we’ll discuss the “lessons” that allegories try to convey. For example, we’ll consider why the 5 men who take Ferdinand jump to the wrong conclusions about him, and we’ll explore how critical thinkers look for evidence to support their conclusions. We will also consider what the story teaches readers about how Ferdinand stays true to himself and the things he loves. To emphasize this message, we’ll be making individualized “Happiness Pastures” that reflect each student’s personality. Some of the other Classics and Caldecott winners we’ll be using during the fall quarter are Me… Jane (Goodall), by Patrick McDonnell, Blackout, by John Rocco, Mirette on the High Wire, by Emily Arnold McCulley and Voices in the Park, by Anthony Brown.
During the Spring Quarter, when we read Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, by Simms Taback, we will focus on the benefits of recycling and conservation. We will look at how re-using items is something cultures have done throughout history, and we’ll even learn the Yiddish folk song which inspired the storybook. When the cloth from Joseph’s overcoat can no longer be recycled into a useful bit of clothing, he uses it to inspire the storybook, so we will also make our own books, inspired by old socks we will re-purpose into sock puppets. These will be the characters that populate our own original storybooks. Some of the other Classics and Caldecott winners we’ll be using during the fall quarter are Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, I Wanna Iguana, by Karen Kaufman Orloff, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka, and The Diary of a Worm, by Doreen Cronin.
We will also review sentence structure basics, parts of speech, vocabulary and spelling to build students’ confidence in their own writing. Our main focus for the Fall Quarter will be Parts of Speech; for the Winter Quarter we will learn all about Adjectives; and during the Spring Quarter, our focus will be on Verbs. Students will draft paragraphs in class, finish them at home and then have a chance to share their writing with their classmates.
Students will definitely do a lot of writing in this course but writing only improves with regular practice! There will be weekly homework assignments, in addition to our in- class work, to provide students with lots of opportunities to hone their skills. The workshop structure of this course will provide students with an audience to make their writing more meaningful. Students share their writing in class so that they can learn about the reactions their writing elicits from others and receive helpful feedback.
Our classes will take place each week through live, interactive, and engaging online sessions, and we will utilize a variety of tools to enhance our classroom discussions and encourage collaboration. The Zoom video platform will allow us to meet like a regular classroom for lecture and discussion purposes as we immerse ourselves in wonderful literature and learn the process of writing thoughtful paragraphs. The class will also utilize Google Classroom for vocabulary and other assignments. This is also where parents can access weekly descriptions of our activities in each class and all homework assigned.