Friday, March 7, 2014

So much more

A piece of writing wriggled under their skin today.

I introduced the podcast, Episode 59 (Harriet Quimby) from The Memory Palace by Nate DiMaio, as a mentor text--this is how you might use narrative to persuade your reader, your listener, of something important.

As the final lines passed, the class was silent as stone:

Let’s just remember. 
Let’s remember the life she led there after as a traveling daredevil. A woman among men becoming the first woman to fly at night, to fly across the English Channel, the first person to fly the length of Mexico City--someone had to be. 
Let’s note her death: just two years later, 1912; a crash; Squantum, Massachusetts. She was flung from the cockpit simply because they hadn’t thought to put seat belts in planes yet. 
Let’s note the fall, and note the fear. 
But let’s remember her flying. 
Let’s just remember her flying.
Projected on the classroom screen, an outline of the podcast served as a visual. It listed the writer's purpose (to convince the reader/listener that taking risks, chasing your passion, makes for a full life) and it revealed a series of details and writer's tools present in the audio text. 

Their eyes followed what their ears absorbed as the writer, speaking in a soothing tone, walked us through the remarkable life of someone none of us had ever heard of, Harriet Quimby.

After the 3 minute and 45 second narrative concluded, I asked my students what they noticed--not so much in the narrative, but in the structure, the bones, of the narrative...and in the construction of the audio text. 

One noticed the power of the music. Another, drew much from the tone of speaker's voice. They noticed the use of repetition--"almost like poetry"--for stress and emphasis. One student shared that they enjoyed podcasts and suggested one to the class.

And as the final seconds of the class period clicked away, I thought that I left them with a good thought for the weekend--consider how you might share one of your drafts. Maybe you would like to follow this format, or maybe you would like to pursue something that sounds more like a reporter, more like an NPR production.

Instead, the bell rang, many wished me a good weekend so many often do, and one left me with a great thought for the weekend.

This one student broke away from the stream leading to the hallway. One student veered towards me and asked if they had to use one of their existing drafts for the podcast, could they write something new, "something deeper, better." 

I said yes, of course. And they continued, cutting off my response.

"After listening to that, some of us were just saying we want to do so much more with our writing."


  1. A hero I had not before either. March is women's history month. Thank you for introducing me to someone new. I know a Quimby here in NC. It is not a common name! I will have to inquire. Thank you for inspiring your students.

  2. Love those moments! As writing teachers, that's what we live for - moments when a student is inspired to go back in and develop, rethink, reword, revise a piece of their writing. Bravo!

  3. What an inspiring day in class! The excitement that lesson gave to your students is definitely a treasure!

  4. Sweet success. Love the moment captured and will have to go listen to the full podcast. Thank you Bryan for introducing me to so many new heroes this month. You remind me with this slice and so many others this week that we have the unsung among us and if we watch/listen we can catch glimpses of story everywhere.