Eighth grade author Ben Heckman is teaching writing classesIt wasn’t all that long ago Farmington author Ben Heckman was a fourth grade student at Akin Road Elementary School. Really, it wasn’t. These days, the author of two books has taken to teaching the occasional writing class at his old school. That is, when his mom gets him out of class at Dodge Middle School.
By: Michelle Leonard, The Farmington Independent
It wasn’t all that long ago Farmington author Ben Heckman was a fourth grade student at Akin Road Elementary School.
Really, it wasn’t.
These days, the author of two books has taken to teaching the occasional writing class at his old school. That is, when his mom gets him out of class at Dodge Middle School.
An eighth grade student at DMS, Heckman is like any other kid in the hallways. He’s into video games, hanging out with friends, drinking massive amounts of caffeine and trying to stay up all night on sleep overs. He fares well enough in class –- surprisingly, this year writing isn’t on the top of his list of favorites, but he’s really getting into his history and geography classes. He plays guitar in a band and he’s got homework and a busy schedule, just like anyone else in his school.
The only difference is, on occasion, he teaches writing methods to grade school and middle school students around Minnesota.
Roll his teaching, his book writing and his love for music together and you’ve got a kid who can teach kids like no teacher can. Heckman isn’t only a peer. For many, he’s someone they can look up to.
Student turned teacher
Maybe Heckman’s teaching abilities come from his mom. Julie Heckman is a first grade teacher at ARES, and when Ben was first asked to share his experiences with a group of accelerated elementary-aged writers at Southwest Minnesota State University, she helped her son draw up his lesson plan. Eight or 10 lessons later, Heckman found himself back at Akin Road Elementary last Friday, teaching fourth graders.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Heckman walked students through concepts of creative writing. He spent most of his time on character development, breaking the classes down into smaller groups, handing out bags of costume items. When the groups opened those bags, he told them to have one student put everything on, while the rest of the group wrote a paragraph to describe who their character-in-a-bag might be.
He talked about other parts of storyline development, too. He touched on storyboards, timelines and writers boxes as a means of creating the plot and moving the story from beginning to end. Before he wrapped up his session, he read from his two books, “Velvet Black: The Incredible Tale of Four Rock Stars” and the new one released this year, “Velvet Black 2: Kidnapping in England.”
Heckman’s teaching style also includes periodic mini-jam sessions. Each time he sets students to work in their group, he lets them know time is up by playing riffs from some of his favorite songs.
“The guitar and my writing go, like, hand-in-hand,” he said.
A kid being a kid
Heckman has been playing guitar for about seven years. It was something his parents started him on because he was very competitive, but turned out to be a sore loser. Once he got started on guitar, things changed.
“I love to write songs. I love to write music. The competitive side has gone away. I love just to do stuff. It’s kind of like doing my best, rather than doing my best and leaving the rest behind me type of thing,” he said.
It’s a fancy way of saying he’s now learned to challenge himself. He tries to teach other lessons in his books. In his first book, he addresses the loneliness students feel when they move to a new school, and how cheating can backfire. He’s not shooting for inspirational. He’s just sharing what he’s learned in life.
He encourages kids to be persistent when they write. His first book came easily –- he doodled four guys and their characters just kind of came to life for him –- but not his second.
“My first draft took a while to get down because I hit so many walls. I couldn’t think at times, and I when I did think and I got it done, it was like this part doesn’t make sense with this part, this part doesn’t make sense with this part, and this part doesn’t flow well, so I had to just keep redoing it because it wasn’t perfect,” he said.
Sitting in the media center at Akin Road Elementary, Heckman claimed he is still just an ordinary kid. A kid who just happened to write two books and who has a band, Over Night Effect.
“I’m kind of a boring person besides this. All I do is play guitar, draw stuff, homework, video games. That’s my life right there,” he said.
Still, teaching at ARES had its cool part, too. After all, Heckman was in fourth grade there when he started writing his first book.