Mentor Text Wednesday: The Poetry of Small Moments

Mentor Text: The Taco Boat by Al Ortolani

Writing Techniques:

  • Idea Generation
  • Memoir
  • Poetic Form
  • Voice

Background:

In  Twitter edchats, I’ve been part of discussions about what should be part of a teacher’s Twitter feed. One of my go-to recommendations is always poetry. Following poets, literary magazines and other sites that focus on poetry. The wealth of poetry this puts into your feed is good for your soul as a human, and a vital resource as an English teacher. My screens feed me poetry daily.

I’m a huge fan of poetry as a mentor text, as the texts I’ve shared on Mentor Text Wednesday would attest. Often, it is my Twitter feed that puts these poems in front of me, such as this week’s poem. Al Ortolani’s The Taco Boat was one of those poems that you read and instantly know has a place in your classroom.

Whaaaaat

The poem, as retweeted by Rattle magaizine, in which it appears

Continue reading

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Behind The Scenes: Considering The Big Picture

On Monday, Allison wrote about the nightmare of the blank planner.

I started this week with that nightmare as a reality for one of my classes. I knew exactly where I’d be starting with my Grade 11s and my Grade 12s, but I was kind of blanking on what my Grade 9s would be starting with. It kind of freaked me out.

And it kind of seemed like the right thing to do.

I have the luxury of working in a smaller school. Aside from a few changes, my 11s and 12s are groups of students that I know well, and have built a culture with. There are some programming pieces that I’ve used in those courses that are a perfect fit for them.

Those 9s though, I don’t know them yet, and I can’t decide what things I’ve got in the bag of tricks are going to work best for them. It’s a different situation for me – usually, I don’t see Grade 9 students until second semester, and by then, I have a sense of who they are. This year, I’ve got them in my classroom on the first day. I have an opening piece all figured out, personalizing our notebooks. I’ll be scrambling, trying to get some quick reads on who my new students are.

But here’s the thing. I’m actually pretty confident about things, because I’ve thought about what the Big Picture is in the course. I’m not sure exactly what the path will look like, nor have I figured out exactly what we’re going to do, but I know where I’d like us to be at the end of it. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Memoir on Wax

Mentor Text: Coat of Many Colours by Dolly Parton

Writing Techniques:

  • Memoir
  • Symbolism
  • Allusion
  • Revision

Background:

Somewhere along the way, I’m not sure when, the woman I love fell for Dolly Parton. I know it wasn’t a childhood thing, because that’s not really what her folks listened to. But she’s a fan. And I get it, Dolly is an amazing songwriter, and just comes across as such a genuine person. As teachers, her support if literacy is something we admire greatly.

IMG_4140So, for the past few months, as I dig in record crates for myself. I’ve kept an eye out for some Dolly records for her. While we were in Nova Scotia, I found myself in one of those awesome, and terrifying, small used bookstores. You know, the ones that seem to have a little bit of everything crammed into a space that’s about half the size it should be. And I came across a copy of Dolly’s 1971 album, Coat of Many Colours.

Now, we’re home, and as we settle back into routines, my wife is doing stuff around the house, and I’m looking for inspiration to write. That Dolly album has been our soundtrack for the last few days, as stuff gets done around the house, and I find this week’s inspiration. Continue reading

A Writing Classroom in Troubled Times

Some of you are in the classroom right now. I’m just over two weeks out from those first days with students.

It seems, however, that we are teaching in troubled times. Perhaps it is our easy and instant access to media and information, our 24 hour news cycle that makes us much more aware of this.

I’m writing this with a heavy heart. There’s not much that I can open on my phone that doesn’t seem to put the terrible things that are happening in the world in front of me, and it weighs heavy. I have a family, a 6 year old and 4 year old who I’m responsible for, two beautiful little girls that I’m going to have to explain these terrible things to at some point.

And, I’ll be in my English classroom in a few short weeks, with Grade 9, 11 and 12 students who will want to talk about these terrible things. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Revision

Mentor Texts:

Poetry In Action from The New York Times Book Review

E.B. White on Why He Wrote Charlotte’s Web, Plus His Rare Illustrated Manuscripts via brainpickings.org

Strategies Used:

  • Revision

Background:

Aside from noting a few things that popped into my Twitter feed, I haven’t done very much work this summer. July is largely mine. However, the idea that I’d start to meander back into teacher mode in August was always there. I’d do some planning, and resume my regular writing here.

So, imagine my joy as August began, and a clear choice for my first mentor text post of this school year rolled across my Twitter feed. I’m sure a lot of you saw it, as it was retweeted by various members of the Moving Writers community. The New York Times Book Review published an awesome mentor text set – poets’ annotated drafts of their work. I was really excited by this.

I was also reminded of something I had seen long ago at a workshop – an early draft of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I remembered loving the idea of showing my writers that draft of White’s, and my excitement around this Times post was much the same.

This was a readymade mentor text set to facilitate the discussion around revision! Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Sing Me A Story

Mentor Text: Wheat Kings by The Tragically Hip

Strategies Used:

  • Poetic Narrative
  • Symbolism

Background:

Waiting for the last day on Friday means I’m in my classroom, wrapping up this year, cleaning up, prepping for next year… that kind of thing.

It means a pretty much constant stream of music is playing. I’ve been testing out the albums that I feel are going to be the albums of the summer for me, diving deep into a couple of new gems, and just letting shuffle bring me what it will.

A couple of artists loomed large in my classroom this year. One of these artists was The Tragically Hip, fronted by Gord Downie. One of my first Mentor Text Wednesdays of the year was about one of his poems, and he was the catalyst for what we called The Chanie Project, as Secret Path, his album, and the accompanying graphic novel, were core texts as we talked about the legacy of residential schools in Canada.

As I was pondering a text for this final MTW of the school year, I felt compelled to pull a good Canadian text in. It is Canada’s 150th year as a country this year, which is being celebrated with great fanfare. There’s a sticky note protruding from my copy of The Handmaid’s Tale marking a passage that I will feature at some point, but The Hip came on. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Ted Wilson Reviews The World

Mentor Text: Ted Wilson Reviews The World  by Ted Wilson (posted and collected at Electric Literature, The Rumpus.net and I Am Ted Wilson

Writing Techniques:

  • Writing Reviews
  • Humour
  • Satire

Background:
Perhaps the thing I love most about the Internet is the delightfully random nature of what it manages to put in front of me. This weeks mentor text set is an example of that.

Electric Literature has been a Twitter fave of mine for a while. It’s a great lit journal that regularly posts great pieces, from poetry to criticism, I’ve had a lot of wonderful reading roll across my feed. I’m not sure how I’ve only just now noticed “Ted Wilson Reviews The World.”

“In 2009 I began reviewing the world, one item per week. So far I’ve reviewed hundreds of things!” is what I saw when I first clicked the link in the tweet. And I began reading the review posted on June 9th, for Windex.

And I laughed. Continue reading

The Final Thoughts

It’s June.

I know that some of you are already done for the year. I know that many, like myself, are in the homestretch.

Next week is our last week of classes, followed by exams. So, naturally, I’ve been discussing with my students the nature of their final.

finals-finals-everywhere

Via makeameme.org

My team and I have had a number of conversations, evolving what the final looks like in our English classes. I’m a very vocal advocate for having a team that communicates and plans together, because it allows for so much rich discussion and growth, resulting in classes that are engaging for students and teachers alike. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: A New Text for an Old Idea

Mentor Text: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Writing Techniques:

 

  • Writing biography
  • Focusing presentation of research

Background:

It’s almost June! That means the last couple weeks of school for me, and in Grade 10, it means we’re launching into the Rebel Project. It’s one of my favorite projects to do, so much learning and creation happening.

I’ve written here about using mentor texts for students as they write the profiles of their chosen rebels. Every year, I check to see if there are any fresh mentor texts to add to the pile.

This year, the delightfully random things that happen when I get to Googling brought me to some of the images that have made their way online from Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, a book that has been wonderfully overfunded on Kickstarter. The Rebel Project features both a visual aspect and a written aspect, both of which are highlighted in this project.

This book will be a collection of profiles of 100 powerful women. It appeals to me for many reasons. As a father of two daughters, I love the idea of sharing the stories of powerful women with my daughters. As a teacher, I want the young women I teach to see this too. The young men as well.

I also adore the “gimmick” here. The profiles are written like stories for kids. Once I order a copy, and it shows up in November, I’ll be reading these with my girls. I love the idea of this as a mentor text for my students for our Rebel Projects as well, giving us a fresh way to write about the subjects of our research.

How We Might Use These Texts:

Writing Biography – My students will be looking at these texts after we’ve researched. They’ll be using a research scaffold to focus their research.My goal is that these pieces are well written, and are more than information dumps.

With these mentor texts being written in the form they are, as stories for children, I feel like my writers will be inspired to really consider how they want to present the story. These pieces have a narrative flow. Look at this one about Serena Williams.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this one is that it’s not directly about Serena Williams. It uses Raul, the taco stand owner, as the observer, the person who sees the Williams sisters grow and learn, work to excel at tennis. For the project my students are doing, this could be an important mentor text, as it highlights the impact on the community, which is one of the criteria for their subject selection.

Because they are writing a more narrative piece in nature, one that is intended for a younger audience, I feel like our writers would be inspired to focus on the story of their subject as opposed to the facts. These pieces are lean and focused, they aren’t embellished with words that the writer doesn’t really know.

Simple writing, focusing on story, with a clear audience. A powerful mentor text.

Focusing Presentation of Research – Somewhere along the line, educators have allowed students to develop an unshakeable belief that informational research based writing should be be long, drawn out boring pieces that are a soul crushing burden to write, and a momentous exercise in monotony for us to mark.

So, isn’t this structure a breath of fresh air. Let other courses have biographic profile pieces that nobody likes. Let’s do stuff like this. In my context, this mentor text will be used in a project that focuses their research. I give them a research scaffold that guides their research. These mentor texts, and their structure, focuses how that research is presented.

They are relatively brief. There isn’t room for the page or so where our writers try to compress every single event in the person’s life into the essay, no matter how mundane or irrelevant. The piece is about what makes them special. Those are the pertinent facts which must be shared.

Also, as I’ve already alluded, the narrative format of the piece should serve as a guide to help them choose the material from their research that contributed to a narrative. That may mean a specific planning step, and a good discussion about what that narrative is, but it certainly saves us all from the creation and assessing of the paragraphs about the subject’s elementary school days, which, as remarkable as the person grew up to be, were quite unremarkable, all things considered.

My team and I got really excited about these mentor texts as we were meeting and discussing the things we’re planning to run out the year. They’re doing the Rebel Project for the first time, and will be putting their spins on it. These texts will help them do that. They’ll allow me to inject some new life into a project I love. They connect to other work we’re doing in other courses, which is exciting.

What mentor texts do you use for biographical writing? What other applications for these texts do you see? Do you actively look for ways to inject new life into old standbys in your classroom?

As always, connect with me on Twitter, @doodlinmunkyboy, or feel free to comment below to connect.

-Jay

 

 

 

Upon Reflection…

This time of the year is a maddeningly reflective time of year.

Though I have just over a month left before I dial up Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ and tear out of the parking lot, I feel deep in reflection mode.

I’ve already met with my principal about my year-end reflection. My team and I met to plan the tasks and assessments that will run out the year of our common courses. We had our school planning day, and the new member of our team was there. She’s a former student of mine, and the daughter of a beloved former principal. We’re finding out what our schedules will look like next year, and have been discussing what elements of this year will carry over, and how we’ll tweak things. I’m getting ready to start a project that I love with my Grade 10 class, and I’m looking at how we do it this year, to make it the best iteration of the project. And, well, the last few weeks have been crazy, personally, and professionally, so I’ve been catching up on the stack of marking.

reflections_photography_17

Image via 121clicks.com

Reflection is such a vital part of what we do. We need to look at what we’ve done, and decide whether it merits doing again, and likely, how it can be done better. A cool part of sharing so openly, here on Moving Writers, and via Twitter, is that I actually get a lot of feedback on things, which adds a really cool element to the reflection. I have an amazing team that I work with, and great students who I can discuss things with, and a solid community online to help me work better. Continue reading