Thinking and Reading and Writing...Oh My!

December 02, 2011

NCTE was amazing and I've come back re-engerized and ready to shake things up in my classroom.  Much of what I hope to change is the way I teach writing -- more on that later.  For now, I'd like to share what happened in my English II class yesterday.  My favorite next-door-school neighbor and I have divided planning duties for our sophomores this year.  After the convention, we talked a lot about writing with our students and using modeling as a scaffold.  This is a lesson she adapted from a session she attended.  I had my doubts as to how my reluctant class would do with it, but I was amazed. 

We used the poem "Women Who Love Angels" by Judith Ortiz Cofer (who we got to see/hear/be amazed by at NCTE). 

They are thin

and rarely marry, living out

their long lives in spacious rooms, French doors

giving view to formal gardens

where aromatic flowers

grow in profusion.

They play their pianos

in the late afternoon

tilting their heads

at a gracious angle

as if listening

to notes pitched above

the human range.

Age makes them translucent;

each palpitation of their hearts

visible at temple or neck.

When they die, it's in their sleep,

Their spirits shaking gently loose

from a hostess too well bred

to protest.

Then, we had a template prepared for our students.  The goal was to imitate Cofer's poem by using a very few key words and phrases from the original to serve as a frame for the original thinking.  In this particular class, I have several fantasy gamers.  They are currently hooked on Elder Scrolls V:  Skyrim.  I was blown away by their poems.  Take some time to read these three. 

Nords Who Love Skyrim by Michael

They are strong
And never cower, fighting
Their enemies in cold snow, chariots
Taking their fallen to Shor's kingdom
Where mead is never ending.
They strike down their foes
In the morning til night,
Laughing and yelling
With glorious shouts
As if taking
Pleasure in the
Death that surrounds.
Every scar makes them more proud,
Rallying cries of their ancestors
Visible in the technique.
When they die it's to Sovngorde,
Their spirits revel in majesty
From a life too well led
To be silent.

Dragons Who Love Destruction by Mason

They are vicious
And rarely lose a battle
Their vicious teeth and claws tear through all
Slaying so-called "heroes"
Flying in the sky
Perched on mountains
They rest for energy
They get ready
In the early dawn
Rustling their wings
Preparing for their flight
As if angered
Breathe fire on villages
Just for fun
Fury makes them stronger
Each man they slay
Never really had a chance
When they die it's of their age
Their spirits never resting
But to cause havoc once again
Never to End.

People Who Love Nords by Damek

They are strong
And great warriors, living
Their life findin' a good fight, Imperial
Guards their door waiting for them
To come out without a fight to
Arrest them or get their bounty.
They swing swords and axes
In the mid-morning sun
Killing off thieves and
Possibly dragons and listening
As if someone from
The dark brotherhood were trying
To assassinate them.
Age makes them stronger;
Each kill they make only gives them
Some more experience
When they win, it's time for a feast,
Their spirits are high
Then it's time for another
Epic battle for justice
Against the dragons
That surround them.

Great, huh?  I sat down a wrote with them.  My poem is titled "Mothers Who Love Daughters," but I'll spare you.  Working with them was really cool.  One thing that all my favorite experts said in their sessions that I am taking to heart is, "Work with them."  "Don't ask them to do what you haven't done."   Writing in my class is going to look much different in the future.  Student choice is huge.  These three guys had no idea they weren't the only ones writing about this game until we began sharing at the end of class.  For one of them, I think it opened up a door to a possible new friendship. 

Anyway, just thought I'd share : ) 

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