Mentor Text Wednesday: Ambiguity Over the Confederate Flag

Mentor Text: Ambiguity Over the Confederate Flag by Frank X. Walker

Techniques:

  • Poetic form
  • Editing and Revision
  • Critical Thinking

Background – Originally, I didn’t save the mentor text I’m sharing today because of its mentor text potential. Knowing I was going to be pursuing anti-racist work in my teaching this year, I saved this amazing poem for its potential as a thought provoking text to pair with a image for my favorite PIP (Poetry and Image Pairing) lesson. (A great lesson that I’ve shared here.) Paired with an image of Bree Newsome on the flagpole, taking down the Confederate flag, it had the impact that I thought it would.

However, as we discussed the poem in class, I realized that it had amazing mentor text potential as well.

Actually, it works as a next step for a mentor text that I’ve used before. I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts, about The Breakfast Club, and Frank Turner, Linda Christensen’s wonderful book Rhythm and Resistance. It is a collection of lessons to teach poetry and social justice together. It is a treasure trove of ideas, and has some amazing mentor text lessons that I’ve used to explore social justice, as well as other areas.

One of those lessons is a wonderful lesson on double voice poetry. Alone, or in pairs, using a poem, known as ‘Two Women’ that was written by a working class Chilean woman in response to the class struggles she faced. The lesson (here you go!) asks the students to use two contrasting voices, representing two points of view, as they write. In doing so, they look at two sides of an issue.

As we were discussing ‘Ambiguity Over the Confederate Flag’ last week, I realized that Walker’s poem is a logical next step. Where ‘Two Women’ presents the two sides of an issue alongside each other, ‘Ambiguity Over the Confederate Flag’ not only presents two sides, but can be read in such a way that presents a third person explanation of the issue, almost as if reporting on the issue. It’s a fantastic next step in this lesson.

How we might use this text:

Poetic Form – I like giving students this kind of poem. I love watching them work out how to read it. Is it to be read as two poems, side by side, a column at a time? Is it meant to be read line by line?

I especially love that the answer to those questions, in this case, is yes.

As much as I try to have my writers writing poetry that isn’t necessarily constrained by form, I do love giving them something like this, where form is vital to the poem. They have to arrange their poems in two columns, and those two columns have to work in tandem to create lines that communicate that third point of view. This will present a challenge for students, but a challenge that I think they’ll handle well, especially if seen as a next step after ‘Two Women.’

Editing and Revision – Perhaps to mitigate the challenge of writing a piece using Walker’s poem’s structure, this could be presented as a challenge in editing and revision. If they’ve done a piece inspired by ‘Two Women,’ then the challenge can change. Instead of writing a whole new poem, I would ask them to rework their existing poem to present not only the two sides they have already written, but to reflect that third person POV as well.

It’s funny, but until I typed this, I never really thought of mentor texts being applied later in the writing process.

Critical Thinking – One of my favorite things about having students write “in a voice,” is that they have to consider the views and mindset of the owner of the voice they’re using. That’s why I fell in love with the ‘Two Women’ inspired lesson in Christensen’s book. This is, I feel, even more resonant when students are either working with a co-writer to present contrasting voices, or a writer is writing both sides.

I feel that the third perspective this mentor text would encourage adds a lot to this. In using the third person voice, it makes the writer a reporter of sorts, explaining the issue, or key takeaway. There can be a bit of analysis that is free from the bias that exists on each side that they’re presenting.

I love a writing exercise that pushes student thinking. In taking two opposing sides, and making them coordinate to communicate the issue at hand, student thinking can be pushed nicely in this activity.

In a challenging year, my realization that I had not only a piece to share here, but that I had discovered a mentor text that elevated a lesson and made me consider new uses for a mentor text felt like a very special moment. As I find myself feeling as if I’m just getting by some days, the energy that comes from this kind of realization is the kind of fuel I need. I hope, in passing my ideas along, I’ve shared something that you can use as well.

Do you have any mentor text sets that build upon each other? Other than providing a model for writing, how else have you used mentor texts? What mentor texts do you use to have students assume another voice, or perspective?

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

-Jay

2 Comments

  1. Boom. This got used in my “Of Mice and Men” literature exploration unit. This was timely as we just finished the fourth chapter where each member of the “weaker-thans” (my students words) makes someone “less than them” feel powerless.

    As a poetry neophyte, I am always apprehensive to tackle new text in front of the class. But we explored together and they had lots to say and lots to ask. Some of which I could answer and lots that I couldn’t.

    We are now going to work on split poems in our notebooks contrasting two characters from the novel. they are freaked out (so am I), but hopefully we will grow.

  2. I think you’ve mixed up your links? The link that says “lesson” goes to the poem. Is that what you intended?

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