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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On Teaching Poetry

As I traditionally do in April, National Poetry Month, I’m  dedicating my space here at Moving Writers to talking about poetry for the next few weeks.

A couple of years ago, I made a decision to become a better teacher of poetry. I felt I was a good poetry teacher, but I had a handful of plans, tricks and tools that my poetry unit relied upon. I feel like I’ve stepped up my poetry game considerably, and I’d like to share some of that journey with you.

An important first step is deciding what your goals as a poetry teacher are. This is actually a big part of the challenge, because there’s a lot of aspects to teaching poetry. Do you want to teach analysis? Is appreciation of the craft your goal? Do you want them writing poetry? Do you want them performing poetry? Are you focusing on canonical poetry, or is it spoken word? I’ll be honest, I’m at various stages with all of these things, but it all comes to a single guiding principle for me, I want them to see how powerfully language can be used in the pursuit of poetry. As well, I want them to play with words, and experiment with poetic expression. Continue reading

InstaPoetry: a Unit of Writing Study with Resources

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Recently, I was wandering around a Target while my daughter was at Girl Scouts, and I was amazed to find six (six!) collections of poetry in the book section! Poetry! At Target! I was so moved that I took a picture and Tweeted,

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I suppose what moves me is that I don’t think it’s coincidental that we are at an unprecedented moment of social and political unrest and uprising (and renewal?) in this country and suddenly Rupi Kaur is a New York Times bestselling poet and collections of poetry are for sale to the masses at Target.

It seems poetry has gone mainstream, at least in part, because we constantly swim in a current of excess language. There seems to be some kind of universal agreement that it’s time to pare down. To distill talk until it’s just truth.

Poetry has been a bit out of vogue in education over the last few years. At least in Virginia, poetry is not longer found on state tests. So unless students take an AP or IB literature course, reading poetry has been largely erased from most classrooms. After all, why invest valuable instructional time on a cognitively challenging genre on which students won’t be tested?

Of course, we all know better. Of course, we must do better.

Rupi Kaur , r.h.sin, Amanda Lovelace, and the other poets whose collections can be purchased at airport newspaper stands write in sound bytes and Instagram posts. Their poems can often feel more like an inspirational coffee mug than classic verse. And while I don’t think that Cyrus Parker should replace Seamus Heaney, Instagram poets can open the gate for our students into a bigger world of reading and writing poetry.

So, why not create a unit of study around Instapoets — reading them, analyzing their writing, contemplating what makes them so popular, and then creating our own (hopefully viral) Instapoems.

A Unit Map:

Continue reading

Recommended Reading: Get Lit Rising

Pretty much every trip my family takes to the city finds us in a bookstore. Not a surprise, I know.

Recently, as I walked past the teen section, dragging my kids out of the children’s section, a book, of course, caught my eye.

IMG_4594I picked up Get Lit Rising, and flipped through it. And headed straight to the cash register.

Here’s why. In that first scan, I saw the structure of the book. A young writer shares their personal story. There’s a classic poem that they studied. There’s a poem that they wrote in response to that classic. Then, there are some prompts to encourage the reader to write, as well as a list of classic poems around the same themes as the classic featured.

I’ll admit, my overworked TeacherBrain shouted at me, “Jay! This book is a series of readymade lesson plans you don’t need to figure out! You must have it so we can take it easy for once!” I teach thematically, so having lists of poems related to various themes made it a worthwhile purchase as well. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Parents

Mentor TextParents by Julius Lester

Techniques: 

  • Poetic Form

Background: Last April, my co-worker Ashley and I went to see Penny Kittle speak. As is standard, we walked away inspired, full of ideas to try, and thoughts on how we could improve the program that we offer to our students. Penny is the best kind of presenter, openly sharing a plethora of great ideas.

One idea she shared wasn’t in the package she gave us, and I’ll admit to some minor Twitter badgering to get my hands on it. She shared Parents a found poem that Julius Lester created using a New York Times article. What initially hooked me was the use of the article, rearranging it to form a poem. As she shared, the poetic form changes the emphasis on certain words and phrases, and changes the impact of the words.

My initial use of the poem was as a mentor text while my students were creating zines related to social justice issues. It was with my Grade 12 class, a group used to my giving them something like this to work with, and I didn’t do a lot of direct teaching with this piece. I gave them the sheet featuring the article, pointed out what had been done, and set them to creating a version of their own.

 

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The visuals from the slopestyle final were inspiring as well. via The Toronto Star

A month or so later, in the second semester, I found myself using this piece again, with much greater effectiveness in my Grade 10 class. We were studying the Olympics as they happened, looking at how they highlighted elements of our course theme, Facing Adversity and Being a Hero. Pretty much whatever captivated a teacher came into the classroom. There was controversy about the women’s slopestyle event, which was held during heavy winds. The thing is, Canada medalled in that event, partly because the winds cancelled the qualifying rounds, giving Laurie Blouin more time to recover after a crash in training. We watched footage of the event, and all the crashes, and read an article about the controversy. The goal we had in mind was to use Parents as a mentor text, and turn that article, or another one, about hockey, because, well, Canada, into a poem. (Obviously, this is insanely adaptable to whatever you might be studying by giving them related articles!) I also made sure that they had copies of Swim Your Own Race, a poem we had already looked at as another example of poetic form.

 

With better planning, and well, better teaching on my part, it went so much better than the first use of this piece. 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

 

3 Ways I Approach Voice & Style with my AP Literature Class

I’d like to formally apologize to my college professors for my “I’m trying to sound smart” papers.

I remember cranking out papers in college that, when looking back, make me shudder with embarrassment. How many attempts at “smart sounding” papers did I diligently and dutifully write while holed up in my tiny room in my tiny apartment, typing away into the wee hours of the night? It’s hard to say. Words like thus and therefore littered my papers and dichotomy and paradoxically kept them company.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with any of these words. I was just trying on my “academic” and “formal” writing style in college—the descriptors my own students now parrot back to me—because I thought that was what I was supposed to do, or rather, how I was supposed to sound.  

You walk a fine line when teaching a course like AP Literature and Composition because, as I often say, it’s about the test, but it ain’t about the test. Helping students develop their aptitude for handling complex texts, exploring truths of human nature, and embarking on the quest of elegant and creative writing is challenging and deeply rewarding.

And what I’ve learned is that oftentimes my students have the tools for deep, insightful analysis, but clearly and creatively articulating them in writing is where they struggle. And rightly so. It’s a difficult skill to grasp and master.

I’ve also learned that every student who has aced the AP Literature exam is a student who has extraordinary control and command of language. My “fives” are the students who can bend language to their will and capture your attention in a mere 25-30 minutes of drafting.  

Here are a few strategies we use in my class to consistently build our voice and style in writing, so on test day, students feel comfortable and confident in their writer’s skin and focus on both the content and the quality of their writing.

Strategy: Student Blogs

Tricia’s post To Blog or Not to Blog: Blog! beautifully captures the benefits of student blogging. Consider this my ditto and what she said. Blogging gives students license to experiment with and exercise their own authentic voices, and, importantly, it gives them an audience for their voices.

My students write a monthly blog post about a contemporary poem. For the complete assignment, check it out here. Like any other literary analysis, they must discuss the content of the text, the choices of the writer, and what it all all means. The catch is: my students participate in a “blog share” with other AP Lit classes from all over the country. Each month they are responsible for posting their own work, reading the work of others, and commenting on posts from our cooperating classes in other states.

In short here’s what this assignment has afforded my students:

  • Choice in content and approach
  • Creative license in structure and format
  • The opportunity to read their work through the eyes of a living reader
  • Reflection on what works and what does work in their writing and the writing of others
  • Practice narrating ideas, analysis, and arguments in — gasp! —  their  own voices, the way they choose

Because blogging about poetry isn’t nearly as intimidating or daunting as drafting a “controlled analysis with significant insight” in 40 minutes, students see that dialing back the big words and ratcheting up the intention can have an impact on the personality and panache of their writing. 

For examples of student blogs, check out Chocolate Curls, The Inner Workings of Ally’s Mind, Chasing Daisies, and Poetic Thoughts With Matthew.

Giving students a platform to experiment and exercise their voices has been a) meaningful b) effective and c) really fun and rewarding to watch grow.

Strategy: Free Response Texts as Mini Mentors

I admit it. This is wacky. But it works.

My mentor, who taught AP Lang, used to say he wanted his students to “write the quiet beautiful essay about the quiet beautiful essay.” Here’s how I nudge students towards utilizing and transferring this skill…

I introduce free response texts as mentor texts in Notebook Time. Like any other mini mentor text we study, students read like readers and like writers—arguably, the foundation of AP Literature, and then analyze the passage or poem to determine how the writer created the effect he or she did through their craft.

Students then spend time in their notebooks answering an AP style prompt.

But there’s a catch.

As students develop their argument, I ask them to try out one of the writer’s moves in their own writing. So if students notice repetition, they use repetition in their response. If they notice strong connotative language, they assert their claims and evidence with strong connotative language. If students see rich and vivid imagery, they, too, attempt to describe the writer’s approach and their insights using rich and vivid imagery. Of course the upshot is students will have identified moves that they can both implement and discuss.  

It’s no easy task, but in a low stakes writing opportunity, students has have permission to play—and importantly, to wander outside the bounds of more traditional analytical writing.

My goal is to practice this skill enough, so that when it’s game day, my students are bringing these mature reading and writing skills to the exam. I want them to feel comfortable and confident with any passage or poem — knowing that they can read it, interpret it, and borrow from it to guide and inspire their own writing.

If you want to try it out, a good jumping off point comes from a popular, workable passage and prompt that, with a little adjustment of your students’ reading lens, could yield some pretty excellent writing: “Birthday Party” by Katherine Brush from the 2005 AP Literature .

Strategy: Mentor Texts from “the wild”

This is one of my favorite ways to get kids hip to voice. Just last week, I screenshot excerpts of emails from friends and colleagues who manage to breathe life into their professional emails and speak with style from their screen to mine. If you’re a member of Folger Library’s new teacher community Forsooth!, you already have a wealth of voice and style mentor texts at your fingertips in the emails from Dr. Peggy O’Brien, Education Director at Folger. She is so wicked smart and funny, her emails read like you’re hanging out with her.

If you don’t have a whizz bang emailer with strong personality and clear stylistic choices, try Twitter. It’s incredible what effect a (now) 280 character tweet can hold. But if you’re still swinging and missing, try out Amazon reviews. Trust me, some folks make art in their commentary on hygiene products/air compressors/baby gates/down comforters/wifi crockpots/eyeglass cases, and…you get the idea.

The power of this strategy is in question “How does it work?”

Invite students to read the mentors from the wild to determine how voice and style work—to examine what moves communicate the author’s personality and intention to the audience.

Of course, this strategy doesn’t have a clear through line to The Test, but it sure is fun. And it opens one more door for students into considering the impact of their writerly choices, their intention, and the impact of their voice on their writing.

The hope is, by developing and practicing this skill early and often, students are prepared for, yes the AP test, but writing beyond my AP Literature classroom, so one day, when their future selves are cranking out papers in their tiny rooms in their tiny apartments, they will be writing with intention and the goal of making effective, engaging writing.

For other tips and tricks for developing student voice, check out Meagan’s post 3 Moves Towards Better Teaching: Tone and Voice , my post called Voice Lessons: Helping Students Find Their Writerly Voice, and Kelly Pace’s guest post Do You Hear What I Hear?  Using Song Lyrics as Mentor Texts for Teaching Voice. 

How do you help students develop their voice and style? How do you see voice and style fitting into the AP English classroom? 

Leave a comment below, find me on Twitter @karlahilliard, or connect with us on Facebook!
-Karla

Mentor Text Wednesday: My Three Solaces

Mentor Text: My Three Solaces by Erin Fornoff

Writing Techniques:

  • Poetry
  • Brevity
  • Memoir

Background: As this post publishes, many of you are headed back into your classrooms after a break for the holidays. (Monday for me!)

It’s a new calendar year. This, combined with the holiday season, makes me reflective. The chaos of school before the break, the chaos of the holiday season, the cold weather – all of these things put me in a reflective spot.

As I look at a Twitter feed full of people sharing their resolutions, their #oneword and their hopes for 2018, I also see a flood of reflection, much like my own. We’re looking at where we’re going, and we’re reflecting on where we’ve been.

When this poem found its way into my Twitter feed, I earmarked it for future use. Initially, I saw it as a mentor piece for some memoir writing, but as I scoured my earmarked pieces for the first Mentor Text Wednesday of 2018, I saw a new purpose for this piece.

In those first classes of the new year, how many of us are going to have students write about their resolutions? Their One Word?

 

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A Solace for Jay – via Tumblr

Let me propose an alternative. What if they popped open their notebooks and wrote about the things that bring them solace? It could be as an act of reflection – 2017 was tough for many people. Looking at what brings us comfort is a good way to reflect on a tough year. 2018 will be a year that brings challenges as well. For our graduating students, there is much that will change, and a reminder of what brings them solace might be a good start for the year to come. 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