Mentor Text Wednesday: Eulogy

Mentor Text: 10 Inspiring,Confusing and Humorous Eulogies of the Famous via The Atlantic

Writing Techniques:

  • Specific Form
  • Considering Audience

Background:

This is actually a post that should be subtitled “What I’ll Do Better Next Time”

My Grade 11 students are in their final weeks of classes, and we’ve been working on MultiGenre Projects based upon research that we’ve done. I’m actually blessed with a group of students who will willingly follow me down any path I choose to take us down, which is making it a pretty rewarding time.

Our first week back from Christmas break, our Grade 12 students write a provincial exam for four days, and they kind of become my focus. Luckily, I’ve got a lot of resources and experience, so I’ve been able to give good stuff to my Grade 11s. They’ve been writing a lot of MGP pieces, and I’ve got mentor texts and guides to support them.

I got my mind set on having them write eulogies. In the past, I’ve seen students write really great pieces eulogizing all kinds of random things, so I felt like it was a great fit for my 11s.

Teacher isn’t my primary function. I’m a dad too, with two awesome daughters, and the husband to an awesome lady, who happens to be an early years teacher. This often means chaos reigns supreme. Which sometimes means I’m sending the stuff I need for my first period to the printer as the bell goes.

Which made it pretty frustrating to discover that I didn’t actually have any material to teach eulogy writing.

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A eulogy scene from Arrow because I’m a geek via The Geektified Blog

I stubbornly pushed ahead, and we talked about what is in a eulogy that we needed to include in our pieces. We made a pretty good list, but I knew that I could do much better. Once I found a bit of prep time, I did some googling, and came across the link I’ve included, full of excerpts from notable eulogies.

How we can use this text:

Specific Form – A neat thing about teaching something like eulogy is that there is a specific nature to the form. The purpose for the piece impacts the writing, which in itself is a great lesson.

However, what can be seen from the variety of excerpts on the site I linked is that the purpose can be met in different ways. This is where a collection of mentor texts is valuable. There are pieces that are solemn, and pieces that are humorous. There are pieces where the writer knew the deceased very well, and those where they didn’t. The variety shows different ways to meet the requirements of the form.

And perhaps this is why I want to build  a set of mentor texts for eulogies. This is my favorite kind of writing task for a class of varying abilities and interests. They are given a form, one that specifies that certain things should be included, and meets a specific purpose. Yet there is a lot of freedom in this form, a variety of ways to meet the “requirements” that allows for our writers to explore and experiment. This, I feel, is where we can do the best for our writers – they have a structure to guide them, yet not one so rigid that they write like automatons.

Considering Audience – This form, as I’ve noted, serves a purpose. In doing so, it actually speaks to an audience. This means that we can give our writers a piece in which audience is a serious consideration, which is, I feel, a pretty important lesson. (Truth be told, I’m marking that provincial test I referred to this week, and there’s a question that always troubles students that this lesson addresses!)

It’s a conversation that encapsulates many elements of writing. Tone is important. One must be reverent, but if you’re eulogizing a comedian, shouldn’t humor be considered? If you’re a comedian eulogizing someone, do you use the humor people expect from you? Is a place to express anger? A eulogy is celebratory, but do you, as a writer, take a moment to highlight moments of imperfection?

And what is included? If you’re including an anecdote, how personal do you go? Do you tell the story only two of you know, or do you go for a larger inside joke, that everyone would get? Do you write something intensely personal, or do you write something for a much broader audience, as Reagan did in his eulogy for the Challenger astronauts?

My use of the eulogy was a bit different. I wanted the students to eulogize something in their research. As I moved around and talked to people, I was glad I persevered with this lesson. We had great talks about what it was from their research they wanted to present to their audience, as well as how they wanted to present it. The student discussing obesity eulogized the gym. Another discussing climate change and its effect on farmers eulogized the trustworthy weatherman. Once they figured out the subject of the eulogy, they considered the impact on an audience as they wrote.

So as for this being a post about what I should have done, I should have collected my mentor texts earlier. Had I had this link to share with them, many students might have moved ahead faster. I share this this week however, to highlight how useful mentor texts are. Having examples of the form, examples of how other handled various aspects of the piece for students to look at is important. Yes, our students can write well without mentor texts, but access to them makes a difference. It’ll be better next time in my room.

Flat out begging – do you have any good eulogies you use as mentor texts? I used them in the multigenre project, how have you used them in your classes?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy

-Jay

 

 

The Chanie Project

I’ve written about this before, but this year, Gord Downie, of The Tragically Hip fame has had an impact in my classroom.

Long story short, The Hip is largely considered to be Canada’s official band. Their songs, with Downie’s lyrics, are frequently poetic ruminations on our country and identity. In May of last year, Downie revealed that he had terminal brain cancer. The Hip embarked on what was expected to be their final tour.

During prime time of the Olympics, CBC, our national broadcaster chose instead to air the final show of that tour. With the nation gathered to watch, our Prime Minister in attendance, Downie took a moment to address issues related to First Nations people in our country, and the Truth & Reconciliation movement, aimed at acknowledging and healing the legacy of residential schools in Canada. The country listened.

SecretPath-BookAnd, shortly after that concert, Downie revealed that he had a solo album coming out, called Secret Path. In actuality, it was much more than an album. There would be a graphic novel, illustrated by Jeff Lemire, accompanying the novel, as well as a film, that would also be aired on CBC.

Secret Path tells the story of Chanie Wenjack. In 1966, Chanie fled the residential school that he had been taken to, and attempted to walk the hundreds of kilometers, or miles, to his home. He didn’t make it. Woefully unprepared for the journey ahead of him, he froze to death. It was his story that first called attention to the deeply flawed residential school system.

Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: The Tweet-o-graphic

Mentor Text: Women of Isis Infographic by Karishma Sheth & Thomas Alberty

Writing Techniques:

  • Editing
  • Purpose
  • Presentation

Background:

I’m a huge fan of The Best American Series. As a reader, and a teacher, I find them valuable beyond compare. There are a handful, such as poetry, non-required reading, short stories and science-fiction and fantasy, that have become annual purchases for me. Others I get when I see a good deal, since I don’t have the Best American Paycheck.

the-best-american-infographics-2015-bookOne I picked up a couple months ago was The Best American Infographics 2015. I hoped that it would be a great classroom resource, as well as a very interesting read. Of course, I haven’t had time to actually read it all yet.

However, since it’s a visual text, I did what many of us do, and flipped through it, looking for what popped. A lot of it does, which makes sense, as that is kind of the purpose of infographics, right?

One infographic, however, popped out and screamed “Take me to class tomorrow!” and that was the one I’m writing about today. In this infographic, the creators arranged a series of tweets from a single subject, in this case, a young woman’s tweets about joining ISIS. My students had just completed research, and we were looking at various pieces we could include in a multigenre project. Seeing an opportunity to show them a new research skill, as well as a different way to share information, I hopped on it. Continue reading

Resolutions

2016 is just about done.

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Calvin and Hobbes because it always fits.

That, as we all know, makes it resolution time. Even if we’re not publicly stating them, we’re making them.

Of course, as teachers, we did this already, back at the beginning of the school year, right? And, well, we’re sort of consistently making resolutions throughout the school year, as a natural part of our reflective process.

I think about resolutions at this time of year. I think about what I want the coming year to be for me personally. I think about some things I’d like to make more time for, or to do better. Professionally, my reality is that I have a few weeks before a new semester, and new courses. I’m setting goals and making plans for them already. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: The Unique Narrator

Mentor Text: The Book Thief by Markus Zusakand The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

Writing Techniques:

  • Point of View
  • Voice

Background:

 

December, as we all know well, is busy.

Really busy.

Which makes it one of the worst times to get engrossed in a book. But I did it anyway. See, I had won a signed copy of Mitch Albom’s The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, and in moving the stacks of books around the house to make room for holiday guests. And I opened it, and started reading.

Right away, I was hooked. See, what blew me away was that the narrator of much of the book is Music. Albom personified musical talent to narrate the story of musician Frankie Presto. As a music fan, this book, so clearly a love letter to music had me in its grasp until I finished reading it.

imageThen, I got back to shelving and organizing books, and came across my copy of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. I was struck by the similarities between Albom and Zusak’s books. Both feature an unconventional narrator, Music, and in Zusak’s book, Death. Both of these narrator’s told the main character’s story with such tone, showing care and concern for the subject, yet capable of delivering truths in a frank and harsh manner.

And then, I thought about what some of the things I’ve got planned for my students this year, and realized these books make wonderful mentor texts. Continue reading

The Poetry and Image Pairing

Sometimes, when we’re really, really lucky, many of our goals and passions weave together in wonderful ways.

In 2016, I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to exploring poetry more deeply, partly for my work with my students, but also, because of what poetry is, and how moving it can be. I also wanted to explore ways, in this current school year, to emphasize the six language arts in my classes, bringing the four that aren’t reading and writing into the mix more frequently. I also wanted to explore ways to generate critical thought, and encourage discussion and discourse in my classroom.

I didn’t realize that one lesson plan would enable me to hit many of these things in what has become a favorite activity of late.

Two of the courses I teach this semester are attached to outcomes related to another course, a Global Issues course. This means I’ve been incorporating a fair amount of social justice material into these courses, which is pretty much standard practice for me. A colleague and I I happened along the Teach This Poem lesson from poets.org for the week of September 19. (If you’re not aware, this part of the site offers a weekly lesson based around a poem. They’re fantastic!) The featured poem was “A Small Needful Fact” by Ross Gay, which deals with the death of Eric Garner.

The poem is powerful, but it was in doing the lesson that is offered to accompany the poem that we felt like we had struck gold. The students begin by looking at, and studying a visual, an image of a rabbit in a garden. There are guiding questions attached to help students “read” and interpret the visual. They then do a similar sort of thing with the poem. Then, we look at the connections between the two. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Reflecting On the Year’s End

Mentor Text: The Quietus Albums of The Year 2016

Writing Techniques:

  • Writing an Introduction
  • Reflective Writing

Background:

I sat to write this week’s post with an idea in mind. Alas, it seems impossible for me to operate a browser that has but one tab open, so I opened a couple of websites, and took a quick rip through my Twitter feed before I wrote.

And, as happened to so many of us I’m sure, I came across an idea that in the moment seemed more interesting than the one I was planning to use.

See, as December rolls ahead, the end of the year approaches. As a fan of pop culture, and ideas, I get excited because that means the unveiling of a multitude of best of lists. My magazine budget needs a shot in the arm as I grab extra things I don’t normally buy, all because they have some sort of ‘Best of 2016’ list. As well, pretty much everybody with access to the Internet releases their lists. I love them all, even if they make me mad.

A big part of what I love about these lists is that it’s a nice way to reflect on a year. Yes, they’re often crafted well before the year is done. Yes, they’re often biased. Yes, I don’t always have any idea what or who the things in people’s top 10s are, but the reflection is nice. Some of it is written very well too.

So, that made it pretty hard for me to ignore this tweet that popped into my feed.

Yeah, pretty hard for me to ignore that. So I read those paragraphs.

How we might use this text:

Writing an Introduction- My favorite introductions do more than simply explain what follows the introduction. That is actually something that this piece does rather briefly. We know the conceit, so we don’t need a big explanation.

What it does so well, however, is explain what is important about their list. They admit that much of what they include as the best of 2016 is actually music created in 2015. Though this introduction highlights the difficult nature of 2016, it doesn’t do what I think many other Best of 2016 lists will do, and consider this music a response to 2016.

This introduction is, quite simply, a love letter to music. The important (to me anyway) question is asked, “What purpose does music serve in these times? ” This, in my opinion is the focus of the introduction, not a canned packaging of the list to follow. It does so much more than set up a typical ranked list of music curated by the website’s writers, but it makes a case for listening to, engaging with and writing about music going forth.

I love the idea of giving a text like this our writers, and showing them that they can express their love of a piece of media with a level of importance that we know they feel.

Reflective Writing- I’ve alluded to this already, but much of this piece is actually about the year that’s wrapping up, in my mind, so much more than music.It reflects on the year we’ve had: “…before the events that have made this year such a strange, challenging, even traumatic one. The sparks that led to this being one of the best years for albums since we started The Quietus in 2008 ignited before Brexit and Trump, the murder of Jo Cox, the rise in British hate crimes, record-breaking increases in global temperatures, the slide of the pound, the growing sense that we’re teetering on the edge of something very grim indeed.”  This highlights some of the less than awesome things that 2016 has wrought upon us.

As the piece discusses, art is often created in response to the kinds of events of 2016. “In a world that is increasingly sinking into myopic nationalism and putting up borders, music is a vital, universal force that can unite people, open up the channels of understanding that exist even beyond language..” speaks to music’s role in our society. For music fans, this is important. It also acknowledges that, “This is not to say, of course, that we (as some foolishly and dangerously do) subscribe to the belief that a terrible period in history will produce great music.” which looks forward as well. I love that this statement reflects upon society, and our commentary on art, as well as the notion that the bad stuff that is happening is somehow a good thing.

I’m confident that this year’s crop of Best Of lists will inspire another post, but that’s likely going to be about curation and defending choices. Introduction and reflection were key in this piece. I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually looked at the list. All I know is the well laid out, well written truths in the introductory paragraphs were all I needed today.

What are some things you look forward to all year, like my Best Of lists? How do you get students to reflect on a year? Do you make your own Best Of lists?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy

-Jay

The Important Thing I Remembered This Week

The last few weeks have been insane. I had the usual chaos of report card time. My wife is an early years teacher, with reports due a week after mine. There were the meetings, marking, planning, teaching and normal joyful chaos of our work. We also have two wonderful children, that add so much to our lives, including more joyful chaos in the form of parenting.

And we’re following all that with the lead-in to holidays and winter break, with all that entails.

As I thought about my post this week, I was patting myself on the back for not missing any posts through that busy stretch. Was the wire in sight many times? Of course. The life of a teacher is a busy one, and coming up with another idea, outside of the regular school day is sometimes daunting.

Earlier this week, a cool thing happened, which, as I reflected, inspired this post.

I am a teacher supervisor for our division’s Aboriginal Education group. We do really cool things to learn about First Nations culture and issues. The coordinator is a lovely and passionate woman who gave me an opportunity to run with an activity. We had come across a great campaign aimed at supporting indigenous youth in Canada through the struggle that is the reality for many of them. (WE MATTER if you’re curious.) I thought it might be cool to have our kids watch some of the videos that have been created for the campaign, and then create sketchquotes using material from the video. (Sketchquotes are exactly what they sound like, visual pieces incorporating art and quotes.) I had actually just used the idea in one of my classes, as part of a multigenre project.

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Sinead, Meadow and Kolbie collaborated on a sketchquote that’s pretty much on message for where I am this week.

As I started doing this piece with kids this week, I was working with kids I didn’t know super well, who weren’t accustomed to me bringing in an idea I saw someone tweet about that I thought might be a fun way to explore or express ideas.

So I had to explain myself.

And I started talking about my heart a lot. I talked about how the videos touched my human heart, my compassion. I talked about how the power of words touched my English teacher’s heart. I talked about how creative work touched my artist’s heart.

And I talked about what I got to do, in that moment, to share ideas with young people, to discuss those ideas with them, to hear what they had to say, to be inspired by them, to help them create, to give them a chance to share their voices, and perhaps inspire or support others… well, that touched all the parts of my heart that exist.

The heart. That’s why we do this thing we do. When we get busy, when we have the stretches of job-related chaos that wear us down, tire us out, push us to the edge, we must remember the heart.

This is so vital to remember in our busiest times. In teaching, this human endeavor we’ve embarked upon, the heart can be forgotten in that crush of responsibility, in the shortness of breath as you make your way into the second half of the semester. Explaining why I wanted us to do what we were doing this brought me back to that. Perhaps I was already thinking of the heart when I sat Monday afternoon in a room with almost all of my favorite high school English teachers I’ve worked with in the past decade, talking about a test our students will all write.

And how we prepare them for that.

And what we want for them.

Heart.

Where do you find the heart in your work? What are your coping strategies for the busy times?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy, where I’m hopefully celebrating the heart.

–Jay

Mentor Text Wednesday: A Transcendent Review

Mentor Text: TV Review – The Walking Dead S05E09: What’s Happening and What’s Going On by Regina Lizik

Writing Techniques:

  • Writing Reviews

Background:

Sometimes, a mentor text sits in your files for a long time. You wait for a need for it, or a reason to pull it out. Sometimes, you’ve saved it knowing that someday, maybe, perhaps, you’ll have the perfect class to use it with, or it will be the catalyst for an amazing lesson you haven’t designed yet. You know it’s good, you just don’t know what you’re going to do with it quite yet.

Or, if you contribute to Mentor Text Wednesdays, you file it for future column fodder.

This week’s mentor text is one I’ve had sitting in the files for a while.

Often, when I write, I pop on a quasi-mindless show to watch. Time, as a dad, teacher and human, is often at a premium, so I view while I create. I knew I needed to write this week’s column, so I started looking at what I had queued up to watch. I noticed that I hadn’t watched any of this season’s Walking Dead after the premiere. I have reasons for that. I’m really of the mind that the writers of that show have lost their way. The character development and plotting has given way to, in my opinion, working solely to create water cooler moments… which aren’t strung together with all the stuff that made this show must see TV for me. I put on my old man grumbly pants, and mutter, “I haven’t cared about anyone’s fate on that show since they killed Tyreese.”

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Tyreese whom I miss. (image via web)

 

And then I remembered that I had an awesome mentor text about that very episode. Continue reading

#squadgoals or The Importance of Collaboration & Community

Frequently, I seem to find myself with a work related catchphrase, something I find myself repeating in classes, in meetings, and in PD opportunities. It becomes a key part of my philosophy for a time.

This year, I find myself harping on the fact that what we do, as teachers, is a human endeavour. When it comes to our work with our students, especially in the times we live in, this is readily apparent.

However, I feel like we sometimes lose this notion when it comes to our professional relationships. It is far too easy for us to exist in some sort of Fortress of Solitude, sometimes it’s out of our control, yet other times we do this to ourselves.

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Of course I’m going to use a nerdy picture to talk about teamwork. (Image via iCloud Wallpaper)

I’m thinking about this for a couple of reasons this week. Partly, it’s a reaction to what I’m seeing online. My social media feeds are clogged with people who are struggling, with people who are sharing, with people who are questioning… in short, there are a lot of people questioning their role in things, and seeking, or offering, a sense of community in our work.

This is important for me, because my online PLC has become very important to me. It was a great support, and sounding board when I felt that I lacked that in my “real world” professional life. I had changed schools, and although I worked next door to amazing teachers, we didn’t always work as a collaborative unit, as a team. Interacting online fulfilled that need for me. It led me to wonderful communities of educators, like the one here at Moving Writers. People share openly, ask questions and make suggestions, all things that move “the work” forward in ways that just aren’t there when you’re flying solo.

The other thing that’s happening is that my English department has changed. (It’s literally only four people, and I’m the only one who only teaches English.) There are two new people, and we’re currently teaching the same English courses. Our classrooms are right beside each other.

And we’re collaborating like mad! It’s so energizing and engaging! As I type this, we’ve in the midst of all three of us doing the same set of activities that we hashed out around a drama performance our students saw this week. The magic of like minds, sitting around a table, inspiring, challenging and supporting each other is my favorite part of teaching, outside of the actual work with the students. We’re each benefiting professionally, and the material that we’re able to put in front of our students is so much stronger.

So, I close this week thinking about our human endeavour. I work with great teachers who inspire and excite me. I interact with people online, and this happens there too. As this drops, a whole bunch of folks are gathering for NCTE, and my biggest regret about not being there isn’t the cool stuff I’d learn, but the cool people I’d learn it with.

So make a point of engaging in this human endeavour. Talk, face to face, or via some fancy futuristic electronic method. Share, ask, offer and grow. It is all win.

Who’s in your squad? What magical things have you cooked up with your colleagues?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy, and we can expand our PLNs!

-Jay