Category Archives: Multi-modal Mentors

Multigenre Magic

Teacher goosebumps. We’ve all had them: students are focused, consulting their Writer’s Notebooks, talking to each other, incorporating what they learned into their writing. It’s what we live for. No moment in the academic year ever evokes this synchrony more than the multigenre project.

Defining Through Experience

Like my students, you might be wondering what multigenre is. I learned about multigenre during my first year of teaching when I attended a workshop with Tom Romano, the godfather of multigenre. Dr. Romano has since become a mentor and colleague and his work continues to inspire my students 15 years later. Shana 

When we begin our multigenre unit, students have, at best, a vague notion of the vocabulary, but no experience.

Before class begins, I conspire with one of the orneriest kids; today it’s Jamal. Together, we quickly whisper a plan. As students finish up their vocabulary quiz, I look to Jamal, eyebrows raised.

“Jamal! I just saw that. You cheated,” I accuse heatedly. Suppressing a smile, Jamal shifts to fake outrage. We verbally spar a bit, ensuring all students tune in. They’re used to firm classroom management. Today it’s different.

Channeling all my inner drama queen, I huff and puff and toss my ID badge and keys to the floor. “Guess, what? I’m done!” I proclaim as I storm out of the door.

I wait a beat. Then before students can get too excited, I burst back in the door and high-five Jamal. Students are confused, excited, hyped. “You’re trying to figure it out, right? Well, before we talk about it, let’s write about it.”

Students grab their Writer’s Notebooks (WNB) as I pass out notecards. On each notecard is a genre of writing with which my students are familiar: Facebook post, text message conversation, letters, among them.

And students write. For three minutes their pens flow and they capture all the nuances — the questions, the perspectives, the layers. We share writing. We collaborate. We grow as a community.

“We’ve just created a multigenre,” I explain and share Romano’s definition of multigenre.Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 2.31.22 PM

Multigenre Tasting

Once we define multigenre, the next step is to immerse ourselves in mentors. Using past projects, as well the ones I’ve curated at Multigenre Library, we participate in a multigenre tasting. We create lists of the qualities of multigenre, as well as a rubric and checklist for this kind of writing. After establishing guidelines, students go back to their notebooks and explore their writing territories, finding compelling topics.

Mini-lessons

The bulk of the time for this unit is spent workshopping, conferencing, writing. We spend time in three main ways:

  1. Genre minilessons
  2. Research minilessons
  3. Revision minilessons

In genre mini-lessons, I stand firmly on Katie Wood Ray’s shoulders, knowing that asking my students to notice things in a piece of text is the key to them reading like writers. So, when we are going to try a new genre, we start by looking at examples of that genre. We make a list of rules/guidelines for that kind of writing and then we write about our own topic. Together we explore double voice poems, recipes, and open letters. Katie wrote about one of my favorite genres to explore in this post last month.

Once students have tried out lots of different ways of writing, from lots of different perspectives, we talk about incorporating research into their writing in a purposeful way. Whether students are writing about personal topics, or more traditional research subjects, they need to know how to add a layer of research because it deepens the writing and builds their own knowledge.

I began to save the research step until later in the process after they’d generated plenty of writing about their topics. They write a bit, then conduct research, then weave that research into writing that already exists. This approach has cut down on plagiarism. More importantly, it’s made the writing and the research more authentic.

Publishing & Assessment

Next students publish. We discuss how important it is to remember that their writing is the engine of the multigenre project. A beautiful presentation falls flat if the writing doesn’t show evidence of craft. This is an English class, after all. Students conference with me and with each other about ways they might present their work. Some choose digital platforms, others create scrapbooks.  

 

I have tried many approaches to assessing student learning within this unit. I used to have a rubric that was so detailed you’d need a magnifying glass to read it (which means nobody actually read it). Now I use a simple rubric, one we create together. Students must have a certain number or pieces, and write in a set number of genres. There needs to be passion and voice. Mostly, though, I focus on feedback. I make notes on post-its and stick them on pages where their voice soars, where images pop. The assessment has already happened through conferencing and workshopping. In the end, we focus on celebrating the work and how far they’ve come.

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in Cincinnati, working with teachers in all grade levels to move kids as readers and writers. She’s getting ready to introduce multigenre to 150 freshman next week while covering a 3-week sub position. She might be a little crazy (but also really excited).

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Some Multi-Genre Magic

So, remember my lamentations 2 weeks ago about students turning in “drafts” less than 24 hours before the “final version” of their multi-genre writing was due? Well, I still think years of indoctrination of The Gradebook Mentality is doing immeasurable damage to students own perception of their learning and success. But dang, did they come through in the end.

To review, seniors in Advanced Writing produced a multi-genre paper focused on an author or a genre. And the genres they could choose to write in were seemingly endless. To generate these, we played a version of Scattergories in which groups competed to name the as many unique genres as possible.  (Apparently, competition is a real motivator. Who’da thought?) Some of the noteworthy were manifestos, glossaries, Scrabble game boards, breakup letters, suicide notes, and on. What might have been the favorite was Choose Your Own Adventure: Claire took readers through an existential journey through Camus, and Maya let readers find love (or not) in her study of David Levithan.

qualitiescoverOne mentor text we studied brought about some magical results: The Book of Qualities by Ruth Gendler (BIG props to my teaching partner Mariana Romano for this idea). In this book, Gendler takes a whole slew of abstract “qualities” and embodies them in a collection of beautiful prose poetry.

Many students followed Gendler’s lead by taking prominent “qualities” of the work they studied and embodying them in prose poetry.  To express a theme that emerged from his study of Salinger, Jed personified “Innocence:” qualitiesexample

Innocence is that old friend. You know the one. That friend you run into on the street … It’s been so long, right?! Maybe not quite long enough… But at this stage of your life, it just isn’t a good match … and somehow you manage to lose them more than youMorrisonAppendix already had. 

Myria, who studied parallel universes in fiction, personified the fear that permeates the work. fear_myria

Elizabeth, one of the worst “late draft” offenders, included an appendix in her study of Morrison to aid her own readers in interpreting the complex symbolism in Morrison’s fiction.

Gray composed a recipe poem to explain the operation of the worlds built in Brandon Sandrecipe_grayerson’s fiction.

And Maya even went 3-D — her project on David Levithan’s love stories lives in a breakup bag! breakupbag.jpg

So, hope is restored. Which is SO useful as I follow my seniors into the final quarter of their high school experience — useful for me, anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

What Does it Mean to Read like a Writer?

It’s a startling reality, but many of my seniors do not know how to read like writers. I spend a good part of the beginning of a semester helping students look at how an author crafts a text.

This still surprises me.

The seniors I have in class this spring have all passed their state mandated English exams. A big chunk of these Texas state exams, both English I and English II, ask questions in the reading portion about author’s craft. (I haven’t explicitly studied the question stems in a few years, but I am guessing at least half.) In trying to get students to talk about the writer’s moves, most of my students get stuck talking about meaning.

Of course, meaning is important — but not when we are using a text to help us move as writers. In workshop lingo, we call this using mentor texts.

How do we learn to write anything well if we don’t study the work of writers who write well?

When I was first asked to write recommendation letters, I studied well-written recommendation letters. When I begin to write a grant proposal, I study how to write an effective grant proposal. When I need to write a speech, I study well-written inspiring speeches. There are solid examples for every kind of writing.

I want my students to know this. If they learn anything from me this spring, I hope it is this:

We learn how to write well by studying effective writing. To quote Kelly Gallagher: “Before you can film a dogfight, you have to know what one looks like. Before our students can write well in a given discourse, they need to see good writing in that discourse”. (Read Gallagher’s “Making the Most of Mentor Texts” for an excellent detailing of how.)

 

Yesterday Charles wrote about scaffolding a reading lesson. The same type of lesson, but with an eye toward reading like a writer, worked recently with my seniors.

It all started when I saw this tweet: TweetofGIFGuide

I thought: “Okay, this may be a relatively painless way to get my writers into writing. We will use this text as a mentor and write our own GIF guides.” (Quick change in lesson plans on the drive to work.)

First, we started with a conversation about GIFs. This NY Times Learning Lesson has some good questions. We wrote our thinking in our notebooks and shared in table groups. Then, not quite as planned, the conversation shifted to how to pronounce GIF. “Um, it’s JIFF, Mrs. Rass, the creator of them said so.”

In case you are wondering:  I think the creator is wrong. But, does it really matter? I just wanted my students to use GIFs as an entry point into writing using mentors.

To help students understand how to study a text for a writer’s moves, I copied the text into a document, and removed the images, so students would focus on the language. Then I crafted a list of questions. Taking a cue from Talk Read Talk Write by Nancy Motley, I cut the questions up and gave a set to each small group. They spent the better part of a class period studying the text and using the questions as a guide.

Later, we brainstormed topics we thought would work, eliminating some that were too broad, and discussing ones that would lend well to a how-to or informational type of writing. Students then completed this document, so they could see my expectations for the writing task, and I could approve their topics.

Students talked. They wrote. I taught mini-lessons on introductions and sentence structure. Students revised. Some taught themselves how to make GIFS.

Most surprised me with their finished GIF guides. Here’s a sampling of a few. (Disregard the citing of sources — that’s still on the Need-to-Learn list.)


Students, no matter their age, will write when we give them the tools and the time they need to be successful writers.

Sure, not all of my students produced solid writing — yet. But I am hopeful. We are only a about a month into the course, and most students now have a writing success story.

That confidence matters.

For a great read on helping students write, read “Children Can Write Authentically if We Help Them” by Donald Graves.

I’d love to know the fun or interesting mentor texts you use to get your students to take a chance on writing. Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen teaches English IV and AP Language at a large senior high school in North Texas. Go, Farmers! When she’s not skimming the news or her Twitter feed for mentor texts, she’s reading books to match with her readers or thinking about the rest she might get during spring break. Eight days, but who’s counting? Follow Amy @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk, and she invites you to follow this blog if you aren’t already.

 

 

 

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