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

Mentor Text Wednesday: Say Something Nice

Mentor Texts:

The Say Something Nice series at Birth.Movies.Death

Writing Techniques:

  • Criticism
  • Counterargument
  • Tone and Voice

Background – Our students consume a fair amount of pop culture. They’re able to budget their time in such a way that they’re consuming media at an insane pace, binge watching like mad, and watching everything Netflix has to offer in their favorite genre.

So, it stands to reason that they watch a lot of crap.

When we’re talking about these things, at some point during the bashing, I make a point of pointing out that the things we hate the most are someone else’s absolute favorites, and vice versa. It kind of blows their minds, but it highlights a point I really want them to think about as consumers of media, as participants in work with texts of all kinds – there is good in the bad.

As a fan of pop culture, and as a teacher of literature, it’s second nature for me to note the positive aspects in things. I’m either justifying my investment in entertainment, financially, my time, or looking for the teachable moments in a piece. It’s a practice I enjoy personally, but it’s also a thing I think is important for my students to adopt as well. I want them looking for golden lines, magic moments and things that they enjoy, even if the text they’re in stinks. Continue reading

O Captain, My Captain

I love showing Dead Poets Society to Grade 12 students.

Dead-Poets-Society---movie-poster-7162

Image via creoflick.net

There’s something special about that movie and that group. They’re not much longer for my building, and will soon be sallying forth to “Carpe diem.”

But, if I must be honest, I’ve always applied the Stink of English class to it by attaching an academic piece to it, often an essay. The film is rich, with lots to discuss and debate, much for students to ponder as they respond in writing. It works for this, and it’s a good piece to give them the “freedom” of an essay response to say what the movie inspires them to say.

And I kind of hate that I’ve done that. My DPS lesson plan was becoming as stolid and devoid of passion as the introduction to poetry Keating has the boys rip out of their books.

So, this year, I revamped things. There was to be no formal response. In actuality, I wasn’t even going to be able to watch the film with them, because I would be away at PD. They watched. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Songs In A Discordant Voice

Mentor Texts: Another Nightmare in America – Cory Branan (listen here)

American Tune – AJJ (listen here)

Writing Techniques:

  • Voice
  • Adopting a persona
  • Writing a protest piece

Background – I’m a music fan. I use music in many ways in my classroom. It matters in my life so it features in my work.

As I was waiting for my vinyl copy of Cory Branan’s fine new album Adios to arrive, I was reading some writing about it. As an English teacher, and fan of the craft of songwriting, I was especially enthralled by a song-by-song breakdown of the album that was featured on NoiseTrade’s website. Branan is one of the finest songwriters working today, and a chance to see him explain where the songs on this album came from was exciting. (Also, on NoiseTrade, you can get a sampler of three songs from the album, including this one. It’s like Costco. Try these, than buy the megapack!)

As I read, there was a link to this video of Branan performing a solo version of the album’s protest song, “Another Nightmare in America.”

As Branan speaks about assuming the voice of a racist cop, a position quite removed from his own life, I knew this would be a great mentor text. In some ways, Branan uses this exercise to express his feelings, whilst also working to attempt to understand that point of view. (This is to say nothing of having a writer give insight into his craft. We should be training our writers to seek this type of thing out!)

Songs sung in character are not new. Heck, as a Springsteen fan, I’ve already used them in the classroom. However, Branan’s song reminded me of another that I’ve brought into the classroom as a protest piece, “American Tune” by AJJ. (formerly known as Andrew Jackson Jihad) I paired them as mentor texts this week because each obviously speaks in the voice of a less than savory character, but also because they speak of things that are quite current and relevant in the world our writers live in. Continue reading

Snake Man & The Nature of Time

When I was at Teachers College, we had a professor, Rick MacDonald. He was the chair of the high school program, as well as the Social Studies department. Everybody wound up in his courses at one point or another.

Ours was a small teachers college, made progressively smaller by the fact that I was a member of the last class admitted, and graduated from it. This meant that we had this really cool vibe happening, where about halfway through the program, your professors started treating you more as a colleague than a student. I think it was even more so for my class, as we would be the last.

Rick was a taskmaster. He was that kind of teacher that you feared. You were never late, you avoided skipping, and you made sure you did your best work for him. A super serious dude.

Which made it all the more impactful when he switched to colleague mode. He did it with a story.

He told us about his first year of teaching. He acknowledged his organization, his intense long term planning, and how he began his career that way. His first year was planned out. The whole year. Every single class. When he told us that, we weren’t surprised.

Then, he told us, about three weeks into the school year, the travelling reptile show came to the school for an afternoon. That van of snakes and lizards gave everyone the afternoon out of class, and threw his plans off for the rest of the year.

So Rick gave us a piece of advice that I’ve used throughout my career, and have passed on to many teachers,

“You can’t plan for Snake Man.” Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: BuzzFeed Poetics

Mentor Text:Which Famous Musician Who Died at the Age of 27 are you?  A BuzzFeed Quiz by Eirean Bradley

Writing Techniques:

  • Poetic form
  • Theme
  • Social commentary
  • Presenting research

Background: I decided to use popular culture as the anchor for the Lit course I’m currently teaching. It’s been going quite well. In my prep work for the course, I searched online for as much pop culture related poetry as I could find. I found this poem, which I’ve already used as the basis for a Poetry and Image Pairing, or a PIP, as we call them in class. However, it had gone into my folder for other purposes as well, a possible mentor text.

I like using mentor texts that are a bit different, and thereby may engage my writers. This piece, based around the ubiquitous BuzzFeed quiz caught my attention, as it allows us to not only play with poetry, but to mess around with something that they’ve no doubt seen online. There’s a nice bit of subversion of this inspiration in the poem that would be a wonderful thing for our writers to pick up on, and use in their writing. Continue reading