Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Practicing Writing Context with Students

Since my 8th grade students and I wrote narrative drafts of a short scene yesterday, we started class today by breaking down my finished draft, Right Out of the Pot. I projected my draft on the wall and pointed out five things the students need to consider as they revise today:

  1. Evidence of my protagonist's core human value is present in the scene. While I did not write the word generosity, readers can glean generosity through my grandfather's actions and dialogue. Students should write their scene so that reader can see the core value at play. In the case of my grandfather's scene, generosity can be inferred through his dialogue: 
  2. A cultural and historical context is present. Students should consider opportunities to note clothing styles, language, music, food, furniture, et al. In my piece, I put saddle shoes on the Joanie because they among fashion trends for girls in the 1950s. The table was chrome. My grandfather used "doll" when referring to my grandmother. According to Google's Ngram Viewer the usage of "doll" peaked in the 1947 and 1948 and remained highly used in the 1950s. Perhaps my grandfather would have used that term of affection for his wife.
  3. Setting helps tell the story. Our stories should not have the feel of taking place nowhere at any time. We should, as readers, be able to look around and see the infrastructure of the place. Readers trust that if a story takes place in 1850's Ireland that some differences would exist from the story taking place in 1980's India.
  4. Revise for strong verbs. Make this a habit.
  5. Revise for sensory details and figurative language. Make this a habit too

The list is a rough rubric. This is not graded. This is a formative assessment for me to understand if they grasp context and if can they write with context. Can they make creative choices with words, sentence, and ideas to bring a snippet of a family member to life?

I pointed out that, as a writer, I had to blend information and facts with imagination and memory. Using my grandfather as an example, he passed away before I was born. I couldn't have heard how he spoke to my grandmom. I never actually saw him move. Some of these things I am going to have to imagine and invent.

 A student notebook at the start of class.
Students need to practice this concept. And they need to practice it without fear of a grade. Blending imagination with facts will be a very new concept for many even though they read examples of it all the time in their novels and textbooks! We are using writing to think, analyze, and reflect. We are using writing to create and recreate. And we are using writing to set ourselves up for an informative video next week that will need to have a script written and a  solid plan through storyboards.

Students will need to blend writing information and writing narrative next week. In either case, students will need to be able to blend their facts and memories with cultural and historical context. This is not an either/or proposition. It is an and/with skill. 

To see how some of my students managed today. Some use context better than others. I have a whole slew who need to rethink and revise for context, but that is ok. We need to practice writing and reading, and the best attitude I can take is an everyone improves philosophy. And they will.

Feel free to glance at the excerpts beneath each link, or click on some links to see the full blog posts: 

KitKat Scandal
My mother was telling me about the time when she wanted candy as a little girl. This wasn't any ordinary candy, it was a Kit Kat bar. At the time, Korea did not have any American candy. The only way to get any American candy was through the black market. The black market was always overpriced and was the illegal way to get things.

A Gold Necklace
Meher twisted around in her seat to look at all the people. They had finally made enough money to watch a new movie instead of those a week or two old. Living in Pakistan, they were not a rich family, but they were not as poor as the people who her mother gave a coin to on the street.

Stolen Dolls
"Speak of the devil," Lorraine muttered to her little brother, William. She quickly put her arms behind her back, trying to disguise what was in her hands.

Gjyshja I Madh ( Great Grand-Mother) and Lakror
The dough slaps against the counter. I ripped off a piece of dough and began to rolling it out in to thin sheets like paper. My vajzë (daughter) stood mesmerized by the quick and fluent smacking of the dough and the rolling pin. I ripped off another piece of dough and sat it on the old counter in the back of the restaurant.

She remembers her mother, pushing an object into her hand, telling her to run to the treeline before the soldiers came. As she ran, she could hear the threatening shouts of the soldiers. Whenever she looked back, she half expected to see all she had ever known to erupt in flames.

Ruined His Life
Everything hurt, my head swirled, my eyes burned. A white cloth was wrapped around me. I think I was in a hospital, maybe not. I couldn't tell. It happened today, I just hit me. I couldn't feel my legs, or my arms.

The Gurdwara
"Divyan, you have to, it's a show of respect to the Gurus and our religion," my mom would reply, trying not to sound exasperated. Eventually I'd take off my shoes, and we'd step inside. The temples in India are sometimes made of gold, but the ones here in the United States are just made to look that way.

Melanie's Childhood
Eleven-year-old Melanie jumped on her bike. She was about to start on her paper route for the day. Her mother was sleeping and probably wouldn't be up for hours. It wasn't even dawn yet but she could still see. She slung her the bag with the papers over her shoulder and glanced back at her house- if you could call it that. It was a shack. Run down and cheap. She hated it.

The Old Dairy Farm
If I could walk through the farm, 45 years ago, I would see cats milling around everywhere. In the hay loft, in the stalls, under the trucks purrs and meows coming from every direction. People would come by late at night and drop off kittens or cats would just wander onto the farm and stay. The barns would be alive with cats running around chasing rodents and walking around the cattle and horses. But, less than five minutes later, everything would be silent, except for the cows in the dairy barn.

The cold winter wind blew strong, carrying flurries of snow with it. I pulled my leather coat tighter around me and rubbed my arms, trying to warm up. Dark sea water splashed up against the dock, spraying salt into the air. The dreary port was crowded with people like me and my mom, refugees from the war. Sea birds cawed loudly overhead, blending with the high pitched sounds of bells ringing out.

The Artwork that Fed a Family
Most of the people wouldn't, or couldn't, pay my great-grandfather in money or yen and would instead give him food for his family, most commonly rice or okome. His paintings of birds and people and nature fed them.

My Grandfather's Love for his Family:

The man is intimidating. His cheekbones chiseled, his hair buzzed off, and his face so smooth every imperfection could be seen.

1 comment:

  1. These are just amazing seeds of good writing! Much for your students to be proud of!

    “The temples in India are sometimes made of gold, but the ones here in the United States are just made to look that way.” (this statement says so much in so little words!)

    “It was a shack. Run down and cheap.” (Sentence fragments in story – yes!)

    “cats milling” (evocative verb)

    “Sea birds cawed loudly overhead” (evocative verb/sound is onomatopoetic)