Saturday, October 5, 2013

American Literature Units Chosen by Students

This year I decided to ask my students to vote on the units they would study in American Literature.  A big thank you to all those who helped refine my list of topics and corresponding texts.

For those who are interested, here is the final list I gave my students to choose from.  Here's the raw data from voting results.

And here are the units I'm teaching this year:

  • Classroom and School Community (my unit to start off the year)
  • Witch Hunts (The Crucible as an anchor text with literature circles on books about Salem witch trials, modern adaptations, and 1950s McCarthyism)
  • Horror Stories (Edgar Allen Poe, I Am Legend, and possibly In Cold Blood)
  • Terrorism (Not sure yet; maybe literature circles with some YA texts like Ghosts of War, Sunrise Over Fallujah1, but also some non-YA texts like Manhunt)
  • Dark Times in America (Snow Falling on Cedars?  All the President's Men?  Other texts about times America was on the wrong side of history)
  • In my district, in 11th grade they write a pretty extensive research paper.  I may do this with the horror stories unit because I have a number of students who are really interested in serial killers2, or I may do this as a separate unit.
I'm still finishing up the school community unit, but from what I saw the first days, the unit selection earned me some street cred3, and in some ways it made my job easier - I wouldn't be able to cover all of American Literature in a year.  One of my colleagues says he rarely gets past transcendentalism.  This way I cover a wider breadth historically and have greater engagement from my students.

Next time, I think I may just give students a list of units.  I gravitated towards those results since I already had an idea of what I could do with them, and I think they are more engaging to the students as well rather than a list of historical eras.

1. Those these are more related to the War in Iraq than terrorism directly . . . Go back.
2. Yeah, it's a little creepy.  Go back.
3. Not street cred.  Some other type of cred.  But more than just regular ol' credibility.  Cred.  Go back.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Narrative Essay - Step Two: Rewrites

Last week Last month Eight months ago, I wrote a post about my new approach to narrative writing.  This is the follow-up.

After students have written writer's notebook entries for about a month, I ask them to go back, reread their entries, and choose around five they like or would want to revise.  Then I hand them a glue stick and a copy of the rewrite square to the right (here's the file if you want a copy).

This gives students a place to start and helps them identify what's good, rather than misspellings, grammar issues, or poor organization.  None of these things matter when creating the bedrock for mining.  Identifying what works is the vein of gold we're looking for.

When they've finished marking up this first one, I introduce Graves and Kittle's (2005) concept of the heartbeat (p. 10-1).  The heartbeat is the writer's wish for the piece or what they want the reader to take from it.  Often there's a line that embodies this.  I may ask students to look for the heartbeat in that first piece, or to go on and re-read their second selected entry, using the second rewrite square in the file above.

Here's an example straight from my writer's notebook:
[I met Noel at summer camp.]  She was the manager at the ranch office across the highway and pretty forward about where she saw our relationship going.  "I want you to play your guitar for me," where the first words she ever said to me.  Never having a girlfriend before, at 18 years old, I was more than happy to oblige, and follow it up with a 30-minute make-out session afterwards.

Weeks later, I left notes in the various pockets of her duffel bag, "I love you" written on each one.
The heartbeat is underlined.  What the piece is mostly about is in brackets.  The bolded words are words that I liked.  As we'll see in the next post, my heartbeat changed, as they sometimes do as one writes more.

Once students have done this with the five pieces, they choose one to rewrite.  They keep what they like, move the heartbeat around, and try to bring in more of what they liked in the original entry.  All this is still done in the writer's notebook.

In the next post, I'll showcase the narrative essay outline I used with students this past year.  There's nothing five-paragraphy about it.

Works Cited

Graves, D. H., & Kittle, P.  (2005).  Inside writing: How to teach the details of craft.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.