Memoir Study Remix: Lessons Learned

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my team and I decided we needed to revisit and remix our memoir study. In that post, I talked about what we did in regards to the lowest moment experienced by the subject of the memoir. This week, I’ll share what we did with the lessons learned from these memoirs.

One of the main reasons that I like having students study memoir is that there is teaching inherent in this pursuit. The sharing of a life is full full of the lessons that were learned in that life. Sometimes, as we’re all aware, the lessons are overt, while other times, there are lessons in there that must be uncovered. Most powerful of all, I think, are the lessons that a reader finds based upon their own experiences, and what they bring to the “conversation.” When we’ve studied memoir together, this is often what our conversation is based upon.

However, my Grade 12s aren’t necessarily reading the same memoirs. My goal is to have us all reading memoir (and biography) and looking for the common elements. There are often pockets of readers working with the same text, but it’s not something I can guarantee, as I work very hard to flood them with memoir choices.

As they read, I asked them to keep notes, specifically noting things they felt were lessons that could be learned from the memoir. We have a conversation about what these lessons could be – the things that are obvious, the things the author intends for us to learn as well as the things that we discover ourselves. I’ll be honest, the size of my school, and some of the decisions we make regarding class composition helps in these conversations. Most of my students have been in my class before, and we’ve done similar activities in previous courses.

This list is awesome on its own, and in the past, the “important” lessons were chosen by the students, and featured in the essays that I’ve worked to avoid this year. Without the essay, we were left looking for ways for students to share their findings. I’ve always enjoyed the “container” creation in multigenre projects, and the symbolic nature of those containers.

This became the task, to submit the lessons learned from the memoir in a container that was representative, if not symbolic, of the book they read. We talked about this, and as I mentioned, our previous courses gave us common texts to reference. We discussed how we might put the lessons from Fahrenheit 451 in a hollowed out book, a lighter or an air vent. As they were working, I was able to talk to a number of students about ideas, talking through lists of things featured in their book that could be used as possible containers. (One student and I talked for a while about whether or not he’d be able to get an actual police car into the classroom, life lessons in the trunk.)

imageThe cool part of a project like this is the creative surprises that you find in your hand-in bin. Some students made envelopes that were shaped like police cars or motorcycles, important vehicles in the memoirs they read. A student reading Lone Survivor found a military MRE, which he opened, adding the lessons learned from that book. The readers of Tuesdays With Morrie presented me with a calendar that had the lessons written on each Tuesday, as well as a cassette case, holding all the lessons Morrie passed on to Mitch in the conversations he recorded. One of my favorites came from Natasha, who read a memoir of a young woman who had been abducted, and tortured, before escaping. All the lessons were written on scraps of paper, all bundled up in a “bloody” rag. Kind of a startling discovery in the grading pile.

There are frequently students who self identify as “non-creative” and find elements of this challenging, specifically the creation of a container. These are the students who I make a point of seeking out for individual chats. There are also those who have ideas that aren’t necessarily feasible, like bringing a police car to class. One of the key takeaways from reading Intention recently was that intention can trump execution. If a student can talk through what they might do, and why it would be relevant or symbolic, then they’re going to be assessed in a similar fashion to those who created something, because we focus on the idea, having a good chat about the relevance or symbolic nature of what they could do.

I really like this project, and how it has made the notion of the lessons learned from their memoir reading more than simply a few paragraphs with an essay. They get to share all the lessons learned, and we get to explore key symbols of the memoir as we do it. It feels like a win.

What have you revisited and revamped lately? What do you want to remix and refresh? How else could students share the lessons learned in their memoir reading? What’s a recent win you want to share?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

-Jay

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