Carrie Eneix and I worked on a long-term project with ninth grade students referenced in the following posts:
- Poetry uses the Left Brain: Creative Writing, and Research?
- Writer’s Workshop: Effective Peer Feedback.
To briefly summarize the process, here were the stages:
- Introducing research in creative writing in conjunction with The Secret Life of Bees
- A creative writing assignment incorporating research with a focus to either, A. use an animal or creature as a metaphor or B. to write as a member of a “self-selected” community
- A writer’s workshop to share work and receive feedback
- Performance of the final work in front of the class
While this assignment was inherently about “creative writing,” it met many of the Core Curriculum Standards while also engaging students enough to create some of the very best writing and research I have seen in a classroom. Some of her students’ work literally gave me chills. I would love to post it here, but alas, I am not able. I do have many of them recorded and can show them to any interested teacher in the district.
Here is a list of all of the standards addressed by the three-week unit:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 (Substandards A-E). Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1–3 up to and including grades 9–10 here.)
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas…
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
From going through this process, I think I learned how assessing and teaching the skills in the standards can be a rich, creative experience. It also confirmed for me that students are willing to do amazing work and put in the hard hours if the task is worthwhile and engaging to them; the concepts of rigor and relevance really are entwined.
Overall, I would say working with Eneix and her students was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences I have had thus far as a coach. Eneix was willing to take a number of risks in the classroom with me- which is not an easy thing to do. In addition, because I was in her classroom for a longer period of time, I felt I really got to know her style and her students; it became a true “co-teaching” experience.
Susan Turley wanted to do an extended looking lesson for her AP classes focusing on the theme of the “unknown.” To this end, we used the Extended Looking Learning Targets and Reflection and paired them with this image:
After we went through the extended looking process, we immediately transferred the skills to text the next day using the following poem:
From Space to Time
on a day when
we were dark
and not so full of
what did we find?
everything, when we closed
had never been open.
once, we thought we
loved each other
who can reverse
we stepped out
into some new
step of distance
and not in love.
Taken from Poetry Foundation:
Carolyn M. Rodgers, “From Space to Time” from The Heart As Ever Green (Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1978).
Copyright © 1978 by Carolyn M. Rodgers.
Here is the worksheet we used to guide through the extended looking process after students had read the poem.
The students began with seven minutes to fill out the “observation” part of the chart. In the seven minutes, they wrote down observations from the poem about the following independently:
- Context (are there stated characters, setting, dialogue, action, audience?)
- Surface features (sentence structure, punctuation, word usage)
- Literary devices (simile, metaphor and imagery)
Afterward, they worked in small groups to come up with their “meaningful connections,” “questions,” “theme statements” and “supporting evidence of theme.”
Susan and I will be reflecting on the learning targets and extended looking process for text later this week.
“Learning can be transformed into understanding only with intrinsic motivation. Learners must make an internal shift; they must choose to invest themselves to truly learn and understand. This need for creative engagement applies to all fields… In the arts, teachers specialize in creating environments that encourage learners to set aside the usual rules of school and invest themselves intrinsically. It requires an act of courage.”
–Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner, taken from Caren Truske’s 2013 CAWP Fall Conference presentation
Caren Truske is a chemistry teacher and member of Project Aspire (an arts integration based inquiry group) who had her her students work displayed at the Columbus Arts Festival this year. She presented at the Columbus Area Writing Project fall conference and modeled for teachers some of the techniques she used to engage and motivate her students in the thinking and research processes for science. Caren was a member of my CAWP cohort two years ago.
Here is a summary of her process with students:
- Product: Research, create and present a written and visual interpretation of the important aspects of an element from the periodic table.
- Students research an element of the periodic table and then “mind map” the phrases and terms associated with it on paper
- Students use the mind maps and their research to create different forms of short poetry or other creative writing
- Students create a visual representation of their element using a “stamping” process where they first create a Styrofoam stamp and then use it to create a reverse image
- Presentation: These projects were displayed at the Columbus Arts Festival
In her presentation, we used the same process without research, and I worked with one of her students. He “mind-mapped” music, so I mapped poetry on the same paper. As we did this, we circled and connected our common words. Then, she gave us some short form poetry examples to use as a model. The student and I both had the word “rhythm,” so I used an acrostic poem (a form I usually don’t like) to write about that:
Repetition of sounds- thumping and
Humming with the beat
You find your own
Tapping, rapping on the table
We practiced another poetry form with the same topic, and then created our stamps to go with either work and made the final product of writing and visual combined.
Truske asked me how I would imagine this in the ELA classroom. I think that the “stamping” process would be a good way to introduce symbolism of abstract concepts to students. I think that the mind-mapping free association is a good way to start that process, too. In addition, I think short poetry forms are a great way to address content issues and use formative assessment. For example, I could see teachers asking students to write:
- a haiku about claims
- a definition poem about “connotative meaning”
- a senryu describing the theme in a story
Truske said any teacher can ask to have their students work displayed at the Columbus Arts Festival.
She referenced the work on Tony Wagner in her presentation, so here are some links to his work:
When one thinks of creative writing, he or she might imagine it as a “right-brained” activity with little room for the analytical aspect of the mind.
While this is sometimes the dominating perception, it is far from the reality. To expose students to the true nature of the professional writer’s craft, there will almost always be some discussion of how “left-brained” activities, like research, come into play.
I watched Carrie Eneix’s class have a discussion over The Secret Life of Bees a few weeks ago, and we planned a unit of study that began with students being exposed to the type of research Sue Monk Kidd did for the book and analyzing examples from the text. It was inspired by the following quote by Kidd describing how she went from knowing “not much at all” about bees to writing a book where they are a primary focus.
“I began my bee education by reading lots of books… I discovered bees were a symbol of the soul, of death and rebirth. I will never forget coming up with medieval references which associated the Queen Mary with the queen bee… Books couldn’t tell me everything I needed to know about bees, so I visited an apiary in South Carolina. Inside the honey house, I sketched all the honey-making equipment, trying to get a handle on how they worked… I experienced when the hive was lifted. I became lost in a whirring of bees. So many, I could hardly see. The scent of honey drifted up, the bee hum swelled…”
Taken from “A Conversation with Sue Monk Kidd” in the introductory materials for The Secret Life of Bees.
Here were the learning targets for the lesson:
- I understand how authors’ use short and sustained periods of research for a variety of purposes.
- I can identify the types of purposes (to add specificity, develop metaphors, and enhance imagery) for which an author might use research.
- I can utilize purposeful research in a variety of mediums to meet specific purposes in my own writing.
The first two were targets of the specific lesson for the first day, and the third was a long-term goal by the end of the project.
On the introductory day, students were given three categories for which an author might do research. Here are the slides we discussed for those:
After we discussed the types, then we looked at passages from the text and analyzed them in two ways:
- What research might Sue Monk Kidd have done to gather the information (book, video, primary source etc.)?
- For what purpose (to add specificity, develop metaphor or enhance imagery)?
Here are some examples of those:
Students wrote from where the research might have come and to what end it was used, and we discussed each one. This entire concept is new to most students, and there was no definitive answer, so this was something with which they struggled. However, they were provided with other models and examples later in the unit which I will talk about in an additional post.
On this same day, they were given their assignment. It was the following:
- A short narrative (250 words or less) or poem (approximately 25-50 lines) that focuses on a “self-selected” community that becomes a “family” or provides a sense of belonging to its members to positive or negative ends. This is not a personal narrative, so choose one that will provide a venue for research.
- Examples/possible options: a tribe (at any point in history), gangs, immigrant communities, fraternal orders (Freemasons for example), religious communities (such as Amish or Mennonite), communes, cults etc.
- A short narrative (250 words or less) or a poem (approximately 25-50 lines) that is based upon an insect/animal as a metaphor for some larger idea and is built on the real-world aspects of that creature to develop the metaphor.
- Examples/possible options: butterflies, a type of fish, lion, polar bear etc.- really any living creature but humans
Ultimately, students would be presenting these pieces of writing to the class. More to come on this later.
Here are the resources we used for the lesson:
I want to begin with a quote from Susan Turley today that I loved, “You should never do a project to please me- always to please yourself, but I’ll just tell you some things I like.”
Her students are getting ready to start their first Thematic Studies projects where they will incorporate non-fiction, analysis of The Lord of the Flies, and public speaking skills. The brainstorming brought about a lot of really interesting questions to explore for the projects.
If you can’t read them, these are some of my favorites:
- What elements can deteriorate one’s sense of humanity?
- What makes an individual able to rise above the social constructs others cannot?
- What role does ritual play in society?
- How does society create false realities?
Here are some six word memoirs written by Mandy Fetty’s students.
This is the official six word memoir website and here is the teen version. This NPR story has a gallery of visual six word memoirs on the left which could be used as a visual for students. You can also order the books if you like your sources in hard copy.
Tim Starkey’s ninth grade class read a story without an ending that got a man’s house burned down and his children kidnapped called “The Lady or the Tiger?” by Frank Stockton. I also found this video on Youtube of someone reading the story, just in case you don’t have the gripping narrative skills he demonstrated for his students.
In Leslie Harris’ class, students read a compelling poem called My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke and then analyzed the poem to see whether it was about an abusive father or a loving dance. I heard many students having genuine debate on the issue and citing evidence to support the claims they made.