How do we concurrently 1. teach students how stories work (or how anything works for that matter) 2. use technology to best demonstrate concepts 3. have students practice and grow their own knowledge?
One idea: mind mapping.
There are multiple available apps, etc. for this technique. We had Inspiration in our district, but not sure if we renewed the license or not. No matter. I know we have other similar apps on our PCs for work. Mind mapping is simply brainstorming, sketching ideas in a hierarchal visual mode, and revisable in real time. For anyone who’s done a cocktail napkin sketch, written a grocery list, or planned an essay, you’ve done a form of mind mapping. It’s finding your way, setting a course, and looking at the big picture.
All mind maps begin with a main concept or idea that the rest of the map revolves around, so choosing that idea or topic is the first step. Begin by creating an image or writing a word that represents that first main idea.
From that main idea, create branches (as many as needed), that each represent a single word that relates to the main topic. It’s helpful to use different colors and images to differentiate the branches and sub-topics.
Then, create sub-branches that stem from the main branches to further expand on ideas and concepts. These sub-branches will also contain words that elaborate on the topic of the branch it stems from. This helps develop and elaborate on the overall theme of the mind map. Including images and sketches can also be helpful in brainstorming and creating the sub-branch topics.
Mind maps can be created on paper but are more easily and fluidly created on a computer with mind mapping software such as Inspiration Software®’s Inspiration® 9.
The five-paragraph essay is likened to learning the foundations of structure and organization critical to being able to write other organized pieces. There may be merit to this, however learning how to write something no one reads anymore may only serve to rust and crumble authenticity.
Might I offer some suggestions, or additions to the five-paragraph essay, especially for secondary students?
Consider these sites/links as mentor texts as well as powerful places to publish essays. Use examples of the essays written here and challenge students to compare their essays to these.
Some close reading/close writing ideas:
Read for anecdotes: these may be strewn throughout the piece, or used in the beginning to provide humanity and context.
Read for truth (personal truths), opinions (things that strive to persuade) and facts (quantifiable data)
Read for thesis (claims)– but more importantly, read for ‘what question the writer is ‘answering’ — identify what prompted the piece, and what happened before and what might happen after is critical to consider the context of any essay.
Identify where the author broke away from the standard “five paragraph essay” and where she may have taken some key pieces for organization — how does it begin? How is it concluded? What points are made in the middle?
In the conclusions: analyze how the conclusion stacks up with leaving the reader with the desired outcome, whatever that may be. Does the conclusion provide wisdom, more questions, a summation of ideas? How? Why or why not?
These sites allow for curation and dialogue. Challenge students to find pieces that bounce against one another, the claims and counter-claims of 21st-century discussions. We are not sitting around dinner tables anymore, we are sitting in a web of ideas, and sometimes we are the prey: in this day and age, it is critical to not gloss over what is fake news, but to empower our students to consider and weigh the entire issues at stake. It is a monumental task but may mean life or death. Hyperbole? Not when others are reading conspiracy theories and threatening lives. Even if this isn’t factual–consider that some do believe it, and act accordingly.
While reading through her presentation, what caught my eye was the idea that ancient stories or ‘campfire stories’ are nonfiction. Campfire and ancient stories are something I’m very familiar with, having created units on early human story telling for 8th grade, that ties in with the World Studies history. At least I thought I was an expert, but according to Beers and Probst, campfire stories are non-fiction. I asked for clarification, and Roth’s interpretation of N&N Nonfiction makes sense: those stories were meant to inform. Yes, they were. They were origin stories, creation stories, explanations for the beginnings and the endings of things. That makes sense. But–and here is where I ran out and clicked on the book link to buy it–I can imagine teaching the context of genre and how genre shifts with new knowledge is going to be critical.
But before a rush to judgment, I will be reading with a lens that my personal theory is not all campfire stories were meant to inform. Or rather, humans didn’t need to hear and share stories with pure entertainment and escapism value. Nonfiction connotes such dryness for me, and that’s wrong. And I am going to check my bias, because more likely than not, my students believe stories as if they were factual, and it’s time to deconstruct that notion. Think about it: urban legends, social media comments, texts –they are not meant to entertain, but to state opinions as facts.
I remember when introducing Greek/Roman mythology trying to put it in context for students, and dancing around a theological line: these gods and goddess died because no (human) believed in them anymore, but at the time, the cultural belief system was as strong as any current religion today. Some students, occasionally, would suggest we bring back Zeus and Hera.
Perhaps there is another word, a portmanteau, that integrates fiction and nonfiction: truthiction? Stories intended to inform but are based on limited knowledge? Maybe I’ll leave that one up to my students next year to discuss and decide. Yes, I think that’s best.
Here is a better idea: if stories are meant to inform, enlighten, or motivate, then perhaps a unit on civic engagement is in order:
For years, (and I am not being hyperbolic) I found that no novel, no news article, heck, not even a cereal box would cross my path without my examination of every word in close detail of where and what and how and when some text passage would spark my EUREKA! LOOK AT THIS CHARACTER RELATIONSHIP TO SETTING! This happened long before I heard the term ‘close reading.’ Annotating, discussion points, questioning, digging…on and on. The (over) analysis of literature, news, history, politics, religion, movies, poetry– and yes — cereal boxes, no longer came to me with just the need to read [say this in a Top Gun voice of ‘I feel the need for speed’]. I didn’t need to read for myself, I needed to read through every students’ brain that came into my classroom.
My best conversations about narrative are always with my husband. But even now, I sometimes tell him I don’t want to analyze what we’re watching, which probably hurts his feelings. I don’t blame him. We did manage to enjoy this anthology’s selection of True Detective, and if you say one word against Vince Vaughn’s performance we can’t be friends anymore. I did have one scuffle with a friend over her inability to appreciate the sad, sweet frosting that is The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I’m not married to her, so I let it go.
But you see how this goes, right? That what we love and share is as close to our hearts as anything can be? And if we love reading, and then must dissect it, masticate it, and regurgitate for others to find the path…then…(don’t worry: I’m going to get to a good place with this).
Another place that’s mine to share when discussing books is a book club one of my dearest friends started. There are several members, mostly NOT teachers, which provides a refreshing place to discuss books. My friend’s turn to choose came up, and she thought a classic would be in order, so she shared her love, Pride and Prejudice. I went through a “Jane Austen” phase in my late 30s, having not read any of her work in high school. I loved them. I got them. And I saw connection after connection between her genuis of writing about social foibles in her time and the relevancy to today. Now, one of my friend’s friends asked her if it was okay to just watch the movie. I don’t blame her. The text was written in 1813, for Elizabeth Bennet’s sake, and it’s hard to make heads or tails out of it.
Take this passage:
“Pride, observed Mary, who who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, “is…
Austen, Jane (2008-02-11). Pride and Prejudice (Kindle Location 216). Dolphin Books. Kindle Edition.
Translation: This girl likes her own opinions.
We all know this girl. The one who interjects into every conversation her personal wisdom and sage advice.
Am I sure that’s what it means? No. I didn’t look up Sparknotes, or talk about it, or have a scholarly discussion about Jane Austen. I JUST KNOW.
I promised someplace good with this. Some kind of wake for my loss of my reading life. A fête, perhaps.
But here is that slow-burn epiphany: I signed up for this. It doesn’t matter that my inner reading life is no more: I am a teacher now, and all that matters is that I help ease the path for reading, and making meaning, for students. Just like parenting responsibilities, teaching is a biggie. It’s not an avocation or hobby. But unless I get back my own engagement in the conversation with students, it’s going to feel like work. (It did last year, but last year was fraught with a dearth of imagination and abundance of negativity, lack of scope, lack of growth mindset, and just plain bad manners. I can’t abide bad manners.)
But that was last year. This is now. I still love to discuss ideas: ideas from books, movies, graphic novels, politics, media, and world events, past, present and future. As long as I show students that close reading is just a tool to help make reading easier–easier to access the ideas–then it’ll be okay. Close reading, and my internal dialogue and connections with writers’ craft, still delights and engages me, and makes me feel smart and confident. I want my students to share in the same gift.
I have no issues or concerns with the author or article. What I’m digging into is this: why read at all?
When I pose this to students, I can gauge their level of maturity in their responses:
Immature: Because the teacher made me.
Mature: “Oh, Mrs. Love, The Hunger Games is SO GOOD – I read it all weekend and couldn’t put it down (this comes from both girls and boys). Do you have the next book? The next book? The next book?
I worked as a barista at a well-known world-dominating coffee establishment while I was working on my master’s. The cash register went to a symbol system, with codes, etc., and most instructions for the layout of the shop were “idiot proof.”
Be cautious, people: are we making the world so ‘idiot proof” that we marginalize ourselves even further.
I”ll just keep talking away – telling students that everything, and I mean darn near everything, is improved in my life because of my rich reading life: food, experiences, travel, time with family, conversations, know-how, confidence, friendships, choices, and any social interaction, writing, creating, crafting, developing, and breathing – it’s all better.