Mentor Text Wednesday: What Were Giraffes?

Mentor Text: What Were Giraffes? by Amaan Hyder

Techniques:

  • Descriptive writing
  • Social commentary
  • Tone
  • Poetic form

Background: As I said last week, my Twitter feed has become a pretty important source of poetry for me. I follow poets, teachers and poetry journals, and they all dump lots of great poems onto my screen. (Sometimes it feels like too many, which is a pretty good problem to have.) I’m regularly dropping poems into my analog notebooks, and filling up the poetry folder on my drive.

This has given me a resource that has been indispensable as a poetry teacher, one I can tap whenever I need to. Things are organized in various schemes, but I’m generally able to find something to use for the purposes I have in mind.

As I also said last week, I try to make it so that poetry is a frequent part of regular business in my classroom. What’s really cool about this is that it enables me to build a culture around our different approaches to poetry. We’re writing for various purposes and we’re analyzing consistently. That’s awesome, because it allows us a chance to grow as poets and readers of poetry.

WWGIt’s also cool, because it allows me an opportunity to use poems for different purposes, like I did with the poem I’m sharing this week. Kaveh Akbar, a fine poet himself, is a great follow for poetry teachers, because of the poems he shares. (He is on a bit of a hiatus from Twitter right now.) He popped this one into my feed in March, and I took it straight to my classroom.  Continue reading

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On Teaching Poetry

As I traditionally do in April, National Poetry Month, I’m  dedicating my space here at Moving Writers to talking about poetry for the next few weeks.

A couple of years ago, I made a decision to become a better teacher of poetry. I felt I was a good poetry teacher, but I had a handful of plans, tricks and tools that my poetry unit relied upon. I feel like I’ve stepped up my poetry game considerably, and I’d like to share some of that journey with you.

An important first step is deciding what your goals as a poetry teacher are. This is actually a big part of the challenge, because there’s a lot of aspects to teaching poetry. Do you want to teach analysis? Is appreciation of the craft your goal? Do you want them writing poetry? Do you want them performing poetry? Are you focusing on canonical poetry, or is it spoken word? I’ll be honest, I’m at various stages with all of these things, but it all comes to a single guiding principle for me, I want them to see how powerfully language can be used in the pursuit of poetry. As well, I want them to play with words, and experiment with poetic expression. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Possible Subtitles

Mentor Text: Possible Subtitles by Mari Andrew

Subtitles

Techniques:

  • Memoir
  • Analyzing Rhetoric
  • Explaining a quote
  • Pre-writing

Background: If you’re a member of the Moving Writers community, then the work of Mari Andrew is familiar. We’re all big fans, and have been using her work in our classrooms. We’re all probably buying her book this week too. There is something so powerful and real in the honesty and openness that she puts into the pieces that she shares on Twitter and Instagram. They’re wonderfully accessible and inspiring for students, making them some of our favorite Mentor Texts.

Last week, I stole a few phone moments while I waited for my family. As is generally the case when a Mari Andrew post comes across my screen, I flagged it for future use. As I often do, I retweeted the post. (Usually under my #nowherenearmynotebook tag.) As I wrote an accompanying tweet, I realized how versatile this particular image was.

That’s the very best thing about a mentor text, or really anything that we can bring into our classroom – the ability to use it in more than one way with your students. A really good mentor text is versatile, and can be used in a variety of ways. Mari Andrew’s pieces are like that. I’ve used many of them as prompts for memoir writing, but I’ve also used them to explore vocabulary, or as inspirations for other writing pieces. I love using her pieces, because there is a simplicity and accessibility in her work. As I work to encourage students to express themselves visually, her work is an example of how it can look, and that it doesn’t need to be perfect, and that honesty is actually more important than skill. It’s nice putting a piece of art in front of a student, and having confidence they can easily do a version of their own. Continue reading

Success Through Structure

In January, during Moving Writers’ series on testing, I wrote about structuring a class when there’s that external test to consider. I really like having a structure. It’s nice to have touchstones and routines to ground things so you can go and explore the things that come up as you go.

I’m currently teaching a creative writing course. We’re almost done, as I’m only teaching them for a term, but the structure has been key to the successes we’ve had. I tweeted a piece earlier this week, and it got a lot of likes and retweets. Rebekah suggested it become a post, so here we are.

At the outset of the course, I had, of course, a plan in my notebook for the structure. However, knowing that there were students who had chosen the course to grow as writers, I made sure that we had an open discussion about goals. I asked what forms we wanted to work on, and how much freedom we wanted. In a great moment of serendipity, their input aligned quite closely with what I had on paper. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: A Love Letter to Saga

Mentor Text: A Love Letter to Saga by Laura Sackton (via BookRiot)

Strategies:

  • Lit appreciation
  • Media Appreciation
  • Review
  • Criticism

 

Background: Teaching English the way so many of us do winds up highlighting so many great dichotomies that exist in that practice. Write with passion, yet realize that you must do this within constraints sometimes. Read poetry with your heart, but be ready to subject it to an autopsy.

Enjoy and appreciate literature, even though we’re going to attach academic tasks to the reading.

That’s the one that hits me the hardest, and it’s where I see this week’s offering of a mentor text being a good resource. Having students write to a beloved text should prove to be an engaging act of literary appreciation.

 

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Book One of Saga via amazon.com

As you likely already know, Book Riot is a great source for writing about all kinds of books. I especially enjoy their features on genres such as sci-fi and comics. This specific piece reminded me of a particular series, Saga, which I haven’t read in a while, and now need to carve out some time for.

 

It is the way that this piece is written, as a love letter to that comic, that makes it such a great mentor text. Continue reading

Recommended Reading: Get Lit Rising

Pretty much every trip my family takes to the city finds us in a bookstore. Not a surprise, I know.

Recently, as I walked past the teen section, dragging my kids out of the children’s section, a book, of course, caught my eye.

IMG_4594I picked up Get Lit Rising, and flipped through it. And headed straight to the cash register.

Here’s why. In that first scan, I saw the structure of the book. A young writer shares their personal story. There’s a classic poem that they studied. There’s a poem that they wrote in response to that classic. Then, there are some prompts to encourage the reader to write, as well as a list of classic poems around the same themes as the classic featured.

I’ll admit, my overworked TeacherBrain shouted at me, “Jay! This book is a series of readymade lesson plans you don’t need to figure out! You must have it so we can take it easy for once!” I teach thematically, so having lists of poems related to various themes made it a worthwhile purchase as well. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Parents

Mentor TextParents by Julius Lester

Techniques: 

  • Poetic Form

Background: Last April, my co-worker Ashley and I went to see Penny Kittle speak. As is standard, we walked away inspired, full of ideas to try, and thoughts on how we could improve the program that we offer to our students. Penny is the best kind of presenter, openly sharing a plethora of great ideas.

One idea she shared wasn’t in the package she gave us, and I’ll admit to some minor Twitter badgering to get my hands on it. She shared Parents a found poem that Julius Lester created using a New York Times article. What initially hooked me was the use of the article, rearranging it to form a poem. As she shared, the poetic form changes the emphasis on certain words and phrases, and changes the impact of the words.

My initial use of the poem was as a mentor text while my students were creating zines related to social justice issues. It was with my Grade 12 class, a group used to my giving them something like this to work with, and I didn’t do a lot of direct teaching with this piece. I gave them the sheet featuring the article, pointed out what had been done, and set them to creating a version of their own.

 

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The visuals from the slopestyle final were inspiring as well. via The Toronto Star

A month or so later, in the second semester, I found myself using this piece again, with much greater effectiveness in my Grade 10 class. We were studying the Olympics as they happened, looking at how they highlighted elements of our course theme, Facing Adversity and Being a Hero. Pretty much whatever captivated a teacher came into the classroom. There was controversy about the women’s slopestyle event, which was held during heavy winds. The thing is, Canada medalled in that event, partly because the winds cancelled the qualifying rounds, giving Laurie Blouin more time to recover after a crash in training. We watched footage of the event, and all the crashes, and read an article about the controversy. The goal we had in mind was to use Parents as a mentor text, and turn that article, or another one, about hockey, because, well, Canada, into a poem. (Obviously, this is insanely adaptable to whatever you might be studying by giving them related articles!) I also made sure that they had copies of Swim Your Own Race, a poem we had already looked at as another example of poetic form.

 

With better planning, and well, better teaching on my part, it went so much better than the first use of this piece. Continue reading

Memoir Remix: Writing

The remix of our Memoir Study focused initially on  the reading of memoir. Writing needed a touchup too. Last April, long after we were finished the semester we taught our Grade 12s, the students who studied memoir, in, my colleague Ashley and I were driving to the city to see Penny Kittle. An hour in a car with another English teacher is always productive.

We got talking about the writing of memoir. I have traditionally had students write a wide variety of smaller pieces, responding to various prompts. The intention was always that they compile the pieces they liked best into a single memoir piece, but for some reason, I was never able to make that happen. Ashley told me about a strategy she had played with from a workshop where students wrote on note cards, writing various aspects of a memoir piece, which they then arranged to create a draft from which they’d write their memoir piece.

You know that cool thing that happens when you get two solid collaborators together, and elements of what each suggested become defining aspects of a cool new thing? It happened that day. We loved the idea of writing a lot of different things. We loved the idea of writing on note cards, giving students a manageable space in which to capture thoughts that could be expanded upon later. Memoir Cards became the new thing.

In September, when we got our new Grade 12s in our classrooms, we began. Ashley and I began sharing the prompts that we used with our students. Some prompts were the ones we already had, typical memoir writing things around names, places, memories and such things. The practice of writing only on note cards seemed to revive these prompts. In quickwrite mode, the note cards gave me what I like best – this was a writing task that looked easily manageable for a reluctant writer, and a limit of sorts to challenge, and focus, those who find writing easier. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Swim Your Own Race

Mentor Text: Swim Your Own Race by Mbali Vilakazi

Techniques:

  • Form
  • Purposeful Use of Figurative Language
  • Exploring Clichéd Sports Metaphor
  • Using Contrast

Background:

I love the Winter Olympics. I’m setting my alarm to get up in the morning before school to watch sports that I normally dismiss. The excitement is so infectious. Especially fun this time is watching events with my oldest, this being the first games she’s really aware of.

The games also coincide with our new semester. As my coworker Alicia and I were talking plans, talking Olympics, we realized that we had a perfect subject to explore within our Grade10 theme of Facing Adversity and Being a Hero – the Olympics. The next couple of weeks are going to be focused on Olympic adversity and heroism.

 

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Image via howtheyplay.com

One of the first activities we did in this was one of my favorites, the Poetry and Image Pairing, or PIP. As is the case whenever  I’m putting together a PIP, I opened Google and looked for “Olympic Poetry.” After I learned that there was a time that poetry was an actual Olympic event, I came across NPR’s Olympic Poetry contest results from 2012’s Summer Games. The winning poem, “Swim Your Own Race.” gave me my poem. This beautiful poem, by South African Mbali Vilakazi, was written about swimmer Natalie du Toit. After losing a leg, du Toit continued to swim, not just as a para-athlete, but also qualifying for the Olympics.in 2008. This kind of story is what makes Olympic viewing so damned compelling, and if we’re using the Olympics to explore a theme of facing adversity, well, what a perfect story for that! Continue reading

Memoir Remix: The Last of the Reading Work

A nice thing about sharing our remix of our Memoir Study here at Moving Writers has been that it’s been very much a reflective act for me. We’ve just wrapped the semester, and some elements of our memoir work came in as the semester ended.

What’s funny about what I’m sharing this time is that this post feels almost like an obligation. See, the pieces I’ve already shared, as well as the forthcoming post about writing memoir, are cool. In my head, I call this kind of stuff “showcase projects” – you know, the ones that make people curious, the ones you can show off easily. The ones that make other projects feel less interesting.

That being said, the final two pieces that I’ll share from our work while reading memoirs are ones that matter to me. When we sat down and discussed the things we wanted students to  explore in reading a memoir, these were definitely things that we felt mattered. Continue reading