The Food Memory Narrative

If you’re anything like me, those few short weeks between fall and winter breaks are nothing short of an anxiety inducing shopping/baking/grading/wrapping/tying-up-loose-ends extravaganza. Each year, the time sandwiched between breaks seems like too little or not quite enough.

But a few years ago, I cooked up a new dish called Food Lit. Food Lit was inspired by the Navajo Kentuckians, one of the best sessions I’ve ever attended at NCTE . To offer you the Happy Meal version of this session, teachers in two regions educated their students on “good food.” Students learned about topics such as food insecurity, obesity rates, and food integrity. Students grew gardens, educated their communities, and even prepared meals with food they harvested. Some even studied food and nature-centric literature like Mark Twain’s “The Bee.”

After attending this session, I began cultivating an inquiry into food in my own classroom and savoring the delicacy of “between breaks” learning.

One assignment that fires up my students’ brains is the food memory narrative task. You can read more about what we’ve been up to in Food Lit here and from years past, here and here.

Food is such an important, driving force in our lives. We share and create some of our most important stories surrounded by food. It comforts us, nourishes us, and heals us. So far, I haven’t met a student who didn’t have one special dish or fond food memory to look back on.

That’s what the food memory narrative is about.

I first ask students to examine these mentor texts:

Savoring Memories of Sunday Dinner from NPR

Memories of Meals Past from The New York Times

Jeruselem: A Love Letter to Food from NPR 

I remind them that they are reading (and listening) to expand their understanding of “good food” but also to read as writers who are sharing their connections to a special dish.

This year, I asked students to share their mentor text noticings in a Google Form. Here’s some of what they came up with:

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What I’ve found is that food is an easy sell with students – it is relatable, its appeal universal, and my students enjoy reflecting on their “memories of meals past.” Here’s an example of how one student made this writing her own:

But the cherry on top? Our Food Lit Family Dinner, the day everyone brings in their favorite, most meaningful dish to share with the class.

Some of the biggest hits this year? Pizelles (or as one student called them: “cookie waffles”), King’s cake (somebody gifted me the baby), “brookies” (a delightful brownie/cookie duo), pepperoni rolls (a unique West Virginia snack and my contribution), tried and true homemade mac and cheese (what’s not to love), and West Indian curry (which you can read about below).

For me, this assignment does at least two things: it encourages a different bite of the narrative apple, and most importantly it continues to build and strengthen classroom culture. And that’s one recipe that can’t go wrong.

What works for you in your classrooms in the weeks between breaks? What activities inspire student writing and build classroom culture? I’d love to hear from you! 

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

-Karla

 

Reader Mail: Teaching Writers to Use Copious, Persuasive Evidence

We recently received this email from Angela in South Dakota:

I am writing about a podcast interview that you did with Talks with Teachers. You had mentioned you did a unit on using text evidence, and it hit me at my heart as my students struggle with providing relevant evidence in their writing. I searched your blog tags and did not find any resources. Would you be able to share some advice or do a blog post on ways to help students who struggle with this?

So far I have had them do some self-review and peer review on their own writing. They are just starting to see that they aren’t being effective in their use after the fact. I wish they would be more productive during writing to self-check and self-review their work. I know some of that is age and disability getting in the way.

One of my big goals for my SpEd students is to be able to have an opinion but also be able to give reasons so text evidence is important!

I’m going to make a bold statement: evidence is the biggest weakness in student writing. Copious, persuasive evidence and unique, compelling voice are the two elements of writing that have most distinctly separated my student writers from the pros.

Yes, text evidence. But also so much more.

Evidence is anything a writer uses to support the purpose of her piece of writing.

“Whoa, Rebekah”, you’re thinking. “That’s pretty broad.”

You’re right. It is. Intentionally so. Students are traditionally taught that evidence can be 1) quotes from a text and/or 2) research. Consequently, we get to teach finding-and-using evidence twice: when we teach literary analysis and when we teach research writing. And students practice this skill only a few times per school year, depending on how many literary analysis or research papers they write.

No writer gets better at using a technique without constant practice.

But, when we broaden the definition of evidence, when we teach that evidence is critical in every genre of writing, students suddenly have an opportunity to practice thoroughly incorporating evidence into every single thing they write.

When you think about it, evidence is really at the heart of so many of the problems we see in student writing:

  • When we feel a student hasn’t actually proven her claim, it’s because she doesn’t have sufficient evidence.
  • When we ask a student to elaborate in his memoir, we are really asking him to add evidence in the form of concrete details and figurative language that will allow the reader the experience this memory alongside the writer.
  • When a critic lacks evidence, she might be missing the connections and comparisons a reader needs to understand the writer’s stance.

How do we teach this broad understanding of evidence?

These days, I teach about the evidence writers use in each genre study of our year. When we study poetry, we look for poets’ evidence. When we study memoir, we search for memoirists’ evidence. Ditto commentary, review, analytical writing.

But a few years ago, when I first noticed this big gap in all student writing, I taught a technique study solely on evidence.In March of that year, I realized that in every writing genre of the year, students had lacked in the ability to support the purpose of their writing. In this study, students could write in any genre they wanted, and using oodles of compelling evidence was the only requirement.Here’s how the unit went:
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Mentor Text Wednesday: Carol Sherman-Jones’ “A Lesson Not Learned”

MentorTextWednesday

Mentor Text: Sherman-Jones, Carol. “A Lesson Not Learned.” I Thought My Father Was God. Ed. Paul Auster. New York: Picador, 2001. 52-53. Print.

Writing Workshop Genre: Memoir

Background: When asked which mentor text had the biggest impact on their thinking and writing in our memoir genre study, most students credited “A Lesson Not Learned” by Carol Sherman-Jones. In the words of one student, “It taught me to always pay attention and to be unpredictable as a writer.”

We studied this mentor text late in the unit, after students had been exposed to the basic traits of a memoir–vivid description, scene, summary, remembered feelings, and present perspective–through several other mentor texts.

My students were well into drafting but struggling to communicate the autobiographical significance or “so what” of their stories.  They struggled to dig deeper, to look past the obvious, to connect the dots of their experiences. And the students who had discovered the meaning were tacking it on the end of their essay rather than weaving it into the story.

How I Used It: So I pulled out Sherman-Jones’s startling memoir, which can be used to teach students about many different aspects of memoir writing (and good writing in general).

First, I shared this brilliant quote by Patricia Hampl with students: The first commandment of fiction–Show Don’t Tell–is not part of the memoirist’s faith. Memoirists must show and tell.

This quote provided a lens through which to analyze how SJ presented the autobiographical significance of her story.

We read it twice: once, to get a sense of what it was about. Twice to look for places where S-J foreshadows her message through show and tell.

Students were really moved by the ending, which they felt came as a bit of a surprise. But after a second and third draft reading, they noticed how hard some of the lines and structures of the memoir were working to help S-J convey her message from the very beginning–lines like “I lost everything,” the title, and the progression of scenes, each loss becoming more significant, her trust in her father the ultimate loss.

Afterwards, students returned to their own writing, eager to discover and communicate a “so what” as powerful as Sherman-Jones’.

As I mentioned before, S-J’s memoir offers numerous additional possibilities for writing instruction:

  • Using one word and short sentences effectively
  • Well-placed, sparse, meaningful dialogue
  • Balancing show and tell
  • Evoking surprise in the reader
  • Powerful leads
  • Effective narrative transitions

What else could you teach with this text? Leave a comment with your ideas, contribute a favorite mentor text to our Mentor Text Dropbox Project, or join Mentor Text Wednesday by grabbing our MTW button below & contributing an idea on your blog!

~Allison