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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Mentor Text Wednesday: Using Ekphrastic Poetry With Students With Disabilities

Today’s guest post is from Donnie Welch, a poet and teacher out of New York who runs writing workshops specifically for students with developmental disabilities! You can connect with him on Twitter @donniewelchpoet or through his website, www.DonnieWelchPoetry.com.

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Mentor Text:

Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell by Charles Simic

Writing Techniques:

Ekphrastic Poetry

List Poems

Student Boxes

Background:

Nature Jewlery Box

Student Work: “Nature Jewelry Box”

In my work with students with autism and developmental delays, art and sensory play are closely intertwined with reading and writing. I decided to combine those elements and start teaching ekphrastic poetry or poetry in direct response to art with some of my older students. A great source of ekphrastic poetry is Charles Simic’s Dime Store Alchemy. Here, the former poet laureate is writing in response to the singular collage boxes of Joesph Cornell. The book also contains a middle section with photographs of some of Cornell’s work that students can use a reference.

How we used it:

Ekphrastic Poetry:

The photos in Dime-Store Alchemy are a great tool! Just as Simic wrote in response to Cornell’s work I offer my students the same opportunity.

In using the Cornell boxes, I set up an anticipation/guessing game that also offers some tactile, sensory input. I have every student reach into a box filled with various sensory items (ie: cotton balls, cloth, confetti, etc.) and pull out a picture of one of the Cornell works from Dime-Store Alchemy I’ve hidden amongst the sensory material. Then I have a copies of all the pictures in the center of the table. Each student has to describe the box they received and the other poets use the pictures on the table to make a guess as to which box is being described.

This is fun memory and abstraction practice for students. They can use logic to reason out one of the boxes (the one that they’re holding) and then work with their peers to figure out the answer based on the clues the student speaking is giving them. Not necessarily every box is pulled out, though all the boxes from the book are on the table, so cleverness alone won’t solve the problem, they have to actually listen to their peer and, in turn, their peer has to communicate clear and accurate clues building on everyone’s imagery skills as they get more and more specific with descriptions.

After everyone’s box has been revealed, we move into writing. The students write about the box they’ve chosen. They all shared some details with their peers and now they turn inward to do a writing project with the confidence that they can in fact write about this piece of art because they already talked about it. I keep the prompt open ended and move around the workshop to offer suggestions if students feel lost. Prompting things like: a story about something happening in the box, someone entering or leaving the box, how it would feel to live in the box, and similar prompts depending on what I know about each individual student’s interests.

Box Fox

Student work: “Box Fox”

List Poems:

Simic’s book is full of list poems. This is a new format for many students, but one that allows them to engage all their senses. Using “Matchbox with a Fly in it” as a source for inspiration, students create list poems of their own based on observations of the photographs of Cornell’s boxes in Dime Store Alchemy.

I invite them to engage all their senses, imagining what it might sound, look, or smell like inside the box. One student even took the initiative to taste the paper the image was printed on, though reported it was pretty bland. This kind of sensory exploration and abstraction is important work for all writers and the list poem’s structure offers a comfortable form to express observations without worrying about a complex structure or delving into figurative language.

Student Boxes:

After all the writing lessons, students try their hand at making their own Cornell style boxes. (You can see examples of their work throughout this post!) The process usually takes a couple of sessions and involves planning and debate before the actual construction since each workshop has to work together to make one box.

While this is a fun exercise, it’s also an important practice in connecting the two forms.

Ink Box

Student Work: “Ink Box”

In actually taking the extra step to make a piece of art after writing poetry, the students gain a tangible appreciation for the way physical art and poetry can go hand-in-hand. The students undergo a hands-on learning process. While it’s one thing to look at a piece of art and appreciate the amount of work that went into it, it’s another thing entirely to do the work yourself!

This kind of understanding helps students take the perspective of Joesph Cornell and, by extension, Charles Simic. It also goes a long way in helping bridge the ideas of the poetry and the artwork in Dime Store Alchemy.

How could you envision using these pieces with your own students? What other forms of writing have been particularly effective in working with students with disabilities? Leave a comment below, connect with Donnie on Twitter (@donniewelchpoet), or join the conversation on Facebook

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

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

Mentor Text Wednesday: A MAD Fold-In Poem

Mentor Text: A MAD Fold-In Poem by Daniel Scott Tysdal

Techniques:

  • Poetic Form
  • Writing Rough Drafts
  • Analysis
  • Visual Presentation

Background – If you read this column regularly, you know that I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. I’ve actually made it a professional goal to explore poetry in my classroom with more intent the last couple of years. This means that my Twitter feed is almost saturated with poetry, a stream of sharing from poets and poetry journals. An especially rich feed lately has been that of poet Kaveh Akbar, who regularly posts images or links of poems that move him.

In December, he tweeted a handful of poems from what was then the new issue of Poetry. I did what I do on Twitter, and slapped my personal curation hashtag on them, and made a mental note to peruse that list later. I happened to be at a bookstore that carried Poetry, and bought it, recalling that Kaveh had tweeted some good pieces from it.

Then, I started reading, and flagging poems. One of those poems I’ve already played with in my classroom, and I’d like to share today. My geeky little heart pounded a bit faster when I came across Daniel Scott Tysdal’s poem “A MAD Fold-In Poem.” I remember the MAD Magazine fold-in so fondly. For those who’ve never seen one, the inside rear cover of MAD Magazine often featured this piece, where an image and phrase would form a different, related image and phrase when the page was folded, touching the A and B arrows together. I loved the art, and I loved the bit of satire that this often carried. Sometimes, it read like the punchline of a joke, but more often, the folding revealed some sort of hidden side to the issue being featured in the larger image.

Tysdal’s poem uses this conceit. As you read it, before any folding, you’ve got a poem. The poem ends with a colon, as if more poem is promised. When you follow the instructions, and fold the page, connecting A to B, another line appears, finishing the poem.

What a fun little device to explore. I knew that in January, we’d be exploring social justice issues in two of my courses, creating multigenre projects and zines. This poem was a perfect fit for those.

How We Might Use This Text:

Poetic Form – A funny thing about poetry as a form is that many students have a very set, preconceived notion of the conventions of poetry. They are prepared to rhyme, focus on rhythm, write in strictly numbered stanzas… almost as if they’ve been taught poetry using a checklist.

As a result, I feel compelled to expose them to poems that don’t adhere to such conventions. It seems very important to show them that the conventions are there to be played with. This is a great mentor text for that. The line lengths vary, and lie on the page unjustified. Until they see the MAD fold-in conceit, students are challenged by this. They look for reasons for this poem’s disregard for conventional spacing and left justification. I encourage them to consider why Tysdal made these choices.

The MAD reference went over my students’ head, which was nice. It allowed them to explore the impact of the folding without knowledge that there would be any such impact. After the chorus of “Cool!” and figuring out the fold, the reasons for the justification were made clear. Then, as frequently happens when we write poetry, the focus shifted to word choice.

This form makes word choice very important. The words that start and end many lines of this poem matter. As well, the words that get “lost” in the fold matter too, as they need to build to the line revealed in the fold, but they need to fit in the hiding place behind the fold. Lines can’t be too long, and where they lie must be staggered on the page.

 

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Kenzie working on her first draft

Writing Rough Drafts – The stress upon the layout of this poem actually pushes us to a drafting process. A specific part of my instruction to my writers when we began this was to start in their notebooks. We took a page and folded it. Most of them began with the line(s) that they wanted to be shown upon folding. We folded our notebook pages, and placed the words that made up that line left and right of that fold. Those pages were unfolded, and they filled in poems around that line. The words that began and ended their lines were already chosen. Words could be moved around in this draft based upon whether or not they were best suited for to begin or end a line. Writing this first draft also gave us an idea of what the poem would look like visually.

 

I also like that they would need to consider the space between the words that remain after the folding. Are they words from every line in the poem, or are there gaps. Are these gaps there for a purpose, to create a pause to slow the reader, and make them think?

Visual Presentation – The visual aspect of this poem loomed large for my writers. They needed to figure out how to set this poem up. We had a number of minilessons talking about the skills involved in achieving the right look. We talked about justification, and the appropriate tech tools to achieve the impact. I was showing them how to find gridlines and rulers to aid in layout.

I like using readily available programs, so this became a tutorial on some features in PowerPoint. To achieve the spacing we wanted, I suggested adding each line as a separate line, allowing for easier shifting of words to the right or left of the guidelines where the fold would create that final line. I love the idea of them having those skills to draw upon as they write other pieces, and need to use the placement of lines and words for impact.

Analysis – I gave my students a bit more instruction than, “Hey look at these! See how they work? Write one!” We discussed the form, and impact, and then I connected it to the work we were doing. I encouraged them to find a quote within the material we were looking at in our research, and reaction to, global issues and social justice topics. This quote was to be what the fold would reveal.

We had great discussions about how we could do this. The poem could leads to the quote as a final line, building context. What if the poem deconstructed the quote. If the quote were a lie, or questionable statement, then the poem could question, or challenge the quote. This proved popular, and allowed many of my writers an access point to their writing. We also had a great discussion about how this changed the impact of the fold-in, almost as if the truth behind the quote were hidden, and then revealed – such a symbolic gesture.

These global issues related projects were semester ending pieces, but as we wrote them, I could see other analytical uses for these poems. Much like The Golden Shovel, they could be used as a means of literary analysis and expression. Instead of the words from the existing source ending each line like The Golden Shovel, they could alternate between beginning and end of lines.

This poem encourages a lot of the things I think matter in a writing task. There is an opportunity to play, and be creative. There is a structure that exists, which can be used to support writers who need to have that comfort. It makes word choice matter. It can be simple, and challenging. It can be used as a tool to explore ideas. They are very cool when they’re completed, which makes the writer proud. If that happens, it’s pretty much a win, right?

What have you taken to class lately almost immediately after discovering it? Did it work out as well as you’d hoped? 

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

-Jay

 

Mentor Text Wednesday: Two Timberlakes

Mentor Text: The Selling of Two Timberlakes by Hanif Abdurraqib (via Pacific Standard)

Techniques:

  • Contrast and Comparison
  • Criticism and Analysis
  • Organization
  • Making Connections
  • Using Narrative to Make a Point

 

Background – Full disclosure. It’s taking a lot of self-control to stop me from turning Mentor Text Wednesdays into a Hanif Abdurraqib fan column. I discovered him as a poet first, via FreezeRay Poetry, a journal that focuses on pop culture inspired writing. I read what he shared via Twitter, and snapped up his collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us right away, returning a week later to buy the other copy in the store for a friend. His collection of poetry, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much was one of my Christmas book gifts. He’s a powerhouse of a writer, combining identity, race and pop culture in such a way that you are inspired and heartbroken in one fell swoop.

 

This essay happened into my Twitter feed without my knowing it was Hanif’s writing. It was one of those beautiful moments when the subject caught my attention, and when I clicked through, I discovered I was about to read some new work by one of my favorite writers. I love when that happens.

One of the amazing things about Hanif’s work is how he writes about music. He writes about what he loves so passionately, you want to love it too. (Seriously. I am so not Carly Rae Jepsen’s kind of audience, but he’s got me curious.) He’s not afraid to be honest, and say what he actually thinks, but so articulately, and respectfully, making his writing perfect mentor text material for writing about music. When he writes about music, you feel like you’re part of a dialogue, that someone is working to help you understand why he feels the way he does, yet cares what you think, and wants to hear it. I kind of hope my students feel this, and work to answer him back in a manner approaching the way he writes. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Revisiting ‘Superman and Me’

Mentor Text

Superman and Me by Sherman Alexie

Writing Techniques:

  • Reflective Writing
  • A Deliberate Shift
  • Making Connections

Background: 

A funny thing about teaching is how we revisit things. Sometimes, it’s because we teach the same texts or units of studies, the same courses. We revisit things because we need to refresh or remix them.

This week, I pulled out my collection of teaching notebooks. I was looking for a sheet I knew I had tucked into one of them, one day, long, long ago. That sheet was going to be the bones upon which my awesome team and I built a new unit for our Grade 9s. I didn’t find it, and we’re just going to build off of something else instead.

I did, however, come across this week’s mentor text, which was actually the first thing I really used as a mentor text in the manner we talk about here. We read it as a class, we discussed it, and used it as inspiration for a piece of writing. I had a fist pump moment, because in a pretty tumultuous week, I had figured out a really good mentor text to share with folks.

This is a good piece that I’ve seen shared a number of places, so I wanted to do due diligence, and make sure that it hadn’t been shared by the Moving Writers team.

And I discovered that it had been.

By me. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Dead Game

Mentor Text: Dead Game by Andrew Vachss

Writing Techniques:

  • Using Story to Explore an Issue
  • Foreshadowing
  • Personification
  • Focusing a Narrative

Background:

I pulled this story out in my class this week, not as a mentor text, but as a tool to help us discuss our writing variables. There is a question on my Grade 12s’ upcoming provincial assessment that asks them to explain the writing variables they’ve chosen for their writing task. They need to explain how their central idea, form, purpose, audience and context are connected. In past years, students have faced some challenges in answering this question. My hope was that in discussing this story, we could look at Vachss’ variables, and discuss what the connections are, hopefully seeing how we could do the same.

And then I remembered how much I love giving this story to students, and watching them react to it. As we discussed it, we also talked about how a piece such as this one could be a good mentor text for them as they wrote their assessment. They’re asked to write a piece that explores a central theme, and this piece could certainly allow them to do this.

vachss

Best Author Photo Ever via nndb.com

I used to read a lot of Vachss. He’s a very visceral writer, and pulls elements from his work as a lawyer in his work. It can be a tough read. He’s also an advocate for the “bully breeds” of dogs, and firmly believes that dogs are only a danger when they are trained to be. We talk about this belief as we talk about the story.

 

Though it may impact my ability to use this story to talk about the writing variables in the future, I plan to use this piece as a mentor text. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Poets Respond

Mentor Texts: The Poetry of Poets Respond, via Rattle Magazine

Writing Techniques:

  • Responding to current events
  • Finding Inspiration
  • Poetic Form

Background:

This post has been at the back of my mind for a while now. It’s not the first time I’ve written here about how our classrooms are places that we have to deal with the troubling things that our world puts in front of us. I openly advocate having poets and poetry journals in your social media feed. I do, and it’s a rich resource. One of my favorite follows is @RattleMag. There are many wonderful poems and poets peppered throughout my feed as a result of this follow, but there’s a wonderful strategy there that I want to mine as well.

 

Once a week, they publish a poem under the banner Poets Respond. The intention is that a poet is able to respond to events in the world within the past week. This is a concession to the “age of information” on their part, as they have a lengthy period of time between issues. I love their selection criteria, “Our only criterion for selection is the quality of the poem; all opinions and reactions are welcome.”

 

I stand by my opinion that poetry, and other forms of writing are important ways for our students to work through their opinions and ideas about things that are challenging. Poets Respond is what this looks like in practice outside of a classroom, in the “real world” where our writers live. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesdays: Let’s Rank The Things We Love

Mentor Texts: All 115 of Taylor Swift’s Songs, Ranked by Rob Sheffield

School Days and Parisian Nightsuits: Every ‘Freaks and Geeks’ Episode, Ranked by Jennifer Wood

Writing Techniques:

  • Criticism
  • Considering Appropriate Length
  • Recognizing good writing

Background:

 

Freaks and Geeks.jpg

Love this minimalist Freaks and Geeks poster via Etsy

One of this week’s mentor texts was a total must read for me based upon the subject material. My Grade 12 classes study Freaks and Geeks as part of our look at Identity, Individuality and Independence. It’s a wonderful text, giving us lots to ponder, and explore, while being entertaining and engaging. There’s a reason you’ve seen it on so many lists of the shows you must watch.

 

The other was a must read for me as well, but because of the writer, not the subject material. I am a huge fan of Rob Sheffield’s writing, having devoured his memoirs and beautiful book on David Bowie in the last year or so. He’s a music fan, and writes about it so unabashedly that I will gladly read any of his writing about music. This is significant, because I am not a Taylor Swift fan. I do enjoy her songs as performed by others, and I’m listening to Ryan Adams’ wonderful full album covering of 1989, but her music doesn’t do it for me.

I’ve long been fascinated by these epic rankings of the creative works of people. Every special edition that Rolling Stone publishes featuring an artist I love has one of these features. I read the lists fanatically, in my head reordering my own personal list. I’ve never actually taken the time to put pen to paper, but I’ve solidified a few Top 10 lists while killing time.

We live in a pop culture saturated world, as well as a world which is constantly ascribing value to things. Top 10 lists are standard fare, and there are those among us who may still apply Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 to our appreciation of music. If you’re a fan of anything, you are expected to be able to name the favorites – songs, albums, episodes, seasons, games, levels, novels, scenes, comics, artists, or whatever it may be. Continue reading