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

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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

Mentor Text Wednesday: Studying Structure & Genre Mixing with Nicola Yoon

yoon

Photo via The Guardian

Today’s Mentor Text Wednesday post comes from Amy Estersohn, a middle school English teacher in New York.  She blogs over at teachingtransition.wordpress.com and tweets @HMX_MSE.

Mentor Text: “We don’t make princesses in those colours” by Nicola Yoon in The Guardian

Writing Techniques:

  • Structure

  • Craft

  • Genre mixing

Background:

The Guardian is one of my favorite online magazines for its English take on the world and, of all things, for its sports analysis pieces.  Nicola Yoon is a well-known author in my classroom, and I enjoy collecting stories of race-based microaggressions, like the story here, to share with students for reflection.

I haven’t used this one in a classroom yet, but if I do tie it into a unit on fairness, I want to make sure I let the piece breathe before I dive into a mini lesson.

How We Might Use This Text:

Structure – Nicola Yoon sets her piece by establishing her character as a protective mother first.  It’s an unusual choice, as most writers might want to start off by describing the birthday party or even with the announcement that she’s the first black female to hit #1 on the New York Times Young Adult list.  Why does she make that choice?  Why does the “story” only start halfway through the piece?  What would your piece look like if you established and described the characters first?

Craft – I used Yoon’s last sentence and did some sentence mimicking in my own notebook:

Here’s another thing I know: It’s 2017 and teens shouldn’t cyberbully each other.  It’s time everybody knew that.  It’s past time.

Here’s another thing I know: It’s 2017 and racism is wrong.  It’s time everybody knew that.  It’s past time.

Here’s another thing I know: It’s 2017 and global warming is a major issue.  It’s time everybody knew that.  It’s past time.

Here’s another thing I know: It’s 2017 and there are no such things as girl books or guy books.  It’s time everybody knew that.  It’s past time.

By using Yoon’s words I was able to think about the how she uses repetition to make her voice stronger, and her tone balances between a gently admonishing “c’mon you guys” and an outraged “I can’t believe this still happens.”  The “it’s 2017” gives the call to action a sense of urgency because we’re all writing in the here and now.

Genre mixing – Is this piece memoir?  A call to action?  Both?  Neither?  I’d say it uses the techniques of a memoir to serve as a persuasive piece to agitate and inform a mostly white readership about the realities of living as a Person of Color. Another writer might say it’s a memoir with flecks of a call for justice, because there’s a focus on Yoon’s personal growth.  Whatever we decide to call it or not call it, it’s a good example of how pieces in the real world don’t always neatly conform to elements of a single genre.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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