Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hearing Voices

bringing voice into the classroom - image by
We've just stared our last quarter of the school year, and throughout the first two weeks of our Creative Writing class, we have been exploring elements of our writing voices. We’ve read and discussed the rhetorical choices a writer makes, drafted pieces on what makes our voice unique, and crafted metaphors for who we are as writers. This week we are listening to the voices of others, letting them act as mentors for our own creations.  I thought that I would share some of the writing exercises and resources that we use to explore elements of writing style and voice.

And as our study of voice comes to a close, I'm trying something new. We have been listening to interviews archived by the National Public Radio program, a program whose founder, Dave Isay, recently won the the prestigious TEDTalks Prize for his work capturing the extraordinary stories of ordinary people. Now it is our turn!

Working with partners, students in our Creative Writing class are interviewing one another, reflecting and writing about our shared stories. In the coming days, we will be using the new app to record and share our interviews with others around the country.  In sharing their interviews, not only will students make their work available for others to see, but the interview will also be archived in the nation’s Library of Congress.

It was easy to see excitement build around this culminating project. Students were listening and sharing their finds as they explored the featured essays on the StoryCorps site today. One student, as he was packing up after the bell, said in passing as he was walking out the door, "Well, I know I'm not getting thing done tonight. I can already tell I'm going to be listening to all these interviews." He wasn't dismissive or disappointed. Instead, he sounded excited to binge listen to interviews for an assignment. Wait, I need to repeat that. I have students more interested in binge listening to interviews than binge watching Netflix...okay, that might be going a bit too far.  But it does seem to hint at how important it is to bring voices into the classroom, and to open up space for students to share their stories, share their voices...literally.

And hear/here's how we got to where we are in class today (sorry, couldn't resist the word play):

Notebook Prompt: This Is My Voice
Writer Donald Murray said, “We must teach ourselves to recognize our own voice. We want to write in a way that is natural for us, that grows out of the way we think, the way we see, the way we care.”

Use Mr. Koyczan's first line as inspiration. Begin with "This is my voice..."

Notebook Prompt: What Is Good Writing?
Open up your Writer's Notebook and spend a few minutes thinking and writing about the following: What is good writing? Think about your favorite books, magazine writers, poems, or song lyrics. Reflect on what makes this a piece of good writing.

Reading and Reflection: What is Voice
The class breaks into two teams. Each team has a different article about voice, which they access as a shared Google document (article 1 and article 2). Together the teams read and annotate their article, using the comment function to add reactions, questions, and interpretations to their reading. Their purpose is to more clearly define what a writer's voice includes. After discussing in teams, each group takes turn presenting a summary of their article, a definition for voice, and a list of elements connected to a writer's voice. Then as a class, we try to come to consensus on a definition for voice.

Notebook : Hearing Voices
One of my favorite writing books is by Georgia Heard. Her book Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way is full of ideas for how to find and refine your voice as a writer. Let's read a few passages from her work together and complete some of her prompts in our Writing Notebook.
  • "Listening to the Corn" on pages 88-89 encourages us to slow down and listen to the world around us. 
    • After reading "Listening to the Corn," let's go for a walk. Find a quite spot and open up your Notebook. Record what you see, what you hear, what you feel, what you smell. Pay attention to the specific details. 
    • Try to focus on one object - a nearby tree, a lone dandelion in the middle of the baseball diamond, the empty bleachers. Spend some time describing that object in as much detail as you can. 
    • Now give voice to that object. Use your earlier description to write in the voice of your chosen object. What would that object care about? What would it see, smell, hear? 
    • Try turning this brainstorm into a more polished piece. Will it become part of a story, a poem, a song lyric? 
Reading and Reflection: Writer's Gather
Writers collect ideas, gather them up in notebooks, on scrap pieces of paper, on napkins.  So as we explore where writing ideas come from, we too must be gatherers. We must gather ideas, gather inspiration, and gather words.

Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge has a great idea for finding inspiration in her book Poemcrazy. She suggests that writers collect words and create what she calls "wordpools".  So let's give it a try!  Here's her explanation for what a "wordpool" is:
"I borrow words from poems, books and conversations. Politely. Take polite. If I’m in a classroom, I just start chalking them onto the board. I don’t worry about spelling or meaning. Curdle. Cantankerous. Linoleum. Limousine. Listen. Malevolent. Sukulilli, the Maidu Indian word for silly. Magnet cat oven taste tilt titter
I call gathering words this way creating a wordpool. This process helps free us to follow the words and write poems." (10)
Let's take some time to read her chapter on wordpools.  After you finish reading, we'll be using the magazines, newspapers, and books on our desks to create our own wordpools.  Then we'll use our gathered words to play around with creating a piece for tomorrow.
Notebook Prompt: Finding Your Voice
We are made up of many layers - layers of memories, events, beliefs, hopes, dreams, and goals. These layers should come through not only in what we choose to write about but also in how we write. What does your writing say about you? What do you say through your writing?

Let's take some time today to explore our unique writing voices. We'll begin by reading a short selection from Georgia Heard. Her chapter title "Layers" asks writers to consider themes that continue to come up in our lives and in our writing.
  • What does your chosen object say about you. Open your Notebook and take some time to write about the object you have brought to class today. Why did you chose this object? What does this object say about you? 
  • Similarly, think about what you have chosen to write about in the past. Do you notice any patterns? Are there words, images, or themes that continue to come up? Why? 
  • Now, take some time to think about those images, objects, themes, and memories that are most important to you. Select one. Use that image, object, theme, or memory as an inspiration for a more polished piece. Write a short story, a poem, song lyrics, or an essay about your selected topic.
Notebook Prompt: Blackout Poetry
Writers find inspiration from other writers, sometimes even using the words of others to create their own works.  Check out just how Austin Kleon is taking this idea to a new level. Now let's create our own. And, as you create your own blackout poem, reflect on the choices and decisions you make in your creation process. We'll spend time talking about how your voice comes through when you use someone else's words.

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