I’ve been doing more thinking about how to use Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading to invite students to write. Since my last post on the subject, I’ve thought about how this would actually work―practically speaking―in my classroom. (If you are new to Notice and Note, read more about it here.)
My thinking so far:
PRE-WRITING: Beginning in our notebooks. Before officially talking signposts, we’ll take some time to do some notebook work. Doing so early will set the stage for the regular writing students will do in their writer’s notebooks all year. I’ll weave in quickwrites that address the signposts, though the students won’t know it yet. Some ideas:
- List of the best/worst advice you’ve ever gotten (Words of the Wiser)
- Favorite memory of the summer (Memory Moment)
- List of things you’ve learned in the last year (A-Ha Moment)
I’ll likely just focus on the first three signposts at this stage, as these seem the most immediately accessible to students. Eventually, I’d like to generate a long list of N&N related quickwrite prompts (future post?).
SIGNPOSTS. I plan to introduce the signposts with the first piece of literature we study. In my 9th grade world literature course, that’s the Epic of Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative, translation by Herbert Mason. To get started thinking about the signposts, I could do a little flipped learning and ask students to watch this wonderful set of videos made by teacher Brent Peterson.
LITERATURE. The next day, students can work together to apply the signposts to Gilgamesh. It turns out that all six signposts are illustrated in the story:
|WORDS OF THE WISER||Probably the epic’s most significant moment, on his journey to seek everlasting life, Gilgamesh meets the wise man Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that “there is no permanence,” that as much as he fights against it, Gilgamesh cannot avoid his fate as a mortal to die.|
|MEMORY MOMENT||During his grief over losing his friend, Enkidu, Gilgamesh recounts memories that the two of them spent together. These memories are important to Gilgamesh because they reveal not only the depth of his grief, but the depth of their friendship.|
|A-HA MOMENT||By the end of the epic, Gilgamesh realizes that the way to achieve immortality is through his actions, that he can be remembered for his good deeds as a wise king.|
|CONTRAST & CONTRADICTION||Gilgamesh’s immense grief over losing his friend contradicts the insensitive tyrant king we met at the beginning of the epic.|
|TOUGH QUESTION||The epic asks perhaps one of the biggest “tough questions” of all literature―and life―when Gilgamesh experiences the anguish over his friend’s death: how can we deal with grief?|
|AGAIN & AGAIN||Gilgamesh’s hunger for power and his hubris are repeatedly emphasized in the first part of the epic – which makes his transformation by the end that much more meaningful.|
As we review the signposts in Gilgamesh, I can also use this time to discuss how the signposts might apply to other stories―books (summer reading?), television, movies―so that students can see the universal quality of the signposts. Additional video clips from key WoW scenes from familiar movies would also be useful here (like this one from The Hunger Games featuring Haymitch).
NOTEBOOK WORK. This is the point at which I’ll ask students to think more deeply about how the signposts may apply to their own lives. As Beers and Probst point out in Notice and Note,
We think that these signposts show up in novels because they show up in the real world. Fiction does imitate life, and as a result we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the patterns that help us understand the world around us also help us understand the world of the book in front of us. (74)
For the first signpost-inspired writing assignment, we’ll zoom in on Words of the Wiser. I’ll start with WoW because it may be the most relatable to students’ lives (plus the WoW in Gilgamesh is one of the most significant signposts in the epic). I don’t know of a single adolescent who hasn’t heard advice from the adults in their lives―parents, older siblings, grandparents, teachers, coaches. I’ll also refer back to their previous readings. For example, I know that my 9th graders read To Kill a Mockingbird and The Giver in middle school. Reminding students of wise figures like Atticus and the Giver would be instructive here.
At this point, we’ll do some writing in our notebooks. Because students have already generated a list of the best/worst advice they’ve ever received, they can revisit their notebooks and begin the initial phase of exploring and drafting, what Kelly Gallagher calls the “down draft.” In addition, students could get ideas from the advice that others have received, as in this Business Insider piece. Instead of a piece of advice from a specific person, students can also identify WoW from something they’ve read and write about how those words ring true in their own lives.
MENTOR TEXTS. Now that students have some idea of what they may want to write about―in this case with WoW, which piece of advice they’d like to explain and explore―they can consult real-world, authentic mentor texts that also illustrate the signpost. For example, for WoW, below are few mentor texts that students could read:
- “The Real Me” from This I Believe. In this essay, a high school student recounts the advice given to her by her mother many years ago, and now understands that “hiding your true self can do more harm than good.”
- “Never Give Up” from This I Believe. In this essay, the writer remembers her father’s advice on the “importance of perseverance. What surprised her as an adult was how much he lived his “never give up” message toward her when she needed him the most.”
- “Charmed” from the NY Times Magazine Lives column. In this essay, a mother recalls her experience “taking [her] Moroccan grandmother’s advice for warding off the evil eye.”
- “Life Advice from my 99-year-old Grandfather―Still the Coolest Guy I Know” from the Huffington Post, an essay in which the writer describes the most important pieces of advice she’s received from, you guessed it, her grandfather.
As a class, we would read at least two of these essays and analyze each for its craft―How are the essays organized? What types of details given? Where is the advice located? How is personal experience included? Where and how are elements of narrative writing included? What is the writer’s tone? Which sentences stand out, and how can we use these sentences as mentor sentences? Because each of these essays varies in style and structure, students can see that there are multiple possibilities for response.
After reviewing two mentor texts as a class together, students can explore additional models individually or in groups.
WRITE AND REVISE. Finally, it’s time to write and workshop essays through multiple drafts and authentic feedback in peer response groups.
Some additional thoughts―
I’m hopeful about this structure, mostly because while it is structured, the process allows student choice throughout and the opportunity for students to develop their voice as they write about something that is personally relevant to them. The entire process begins with a close reading of the text, and from that, students are able to draw meaningful connections to their own lives, examine real-world mentor texts, and finally put everything together in an essay (or other text) that reveals their learning. I can also imagine directing students back to the beginning and to use The Epic of Gilgamesh as an allusion in their final essays.
Extension into independent reading―
It’s immediately after Gilgamesh that students will begin their independent reading endeavors. By this point in the year (a few weeks in), I would have booktalked several titles and taken students to the library for a tour. This Epic Reads video that features 7 “Words of Wisdom” quotes from YA titles would be perfect after this process to transition.
- In order to be successful, students will need a lot of time in class to write, write, and write some more, beginning with the initial quickwrites in their writer’s notebooks, extending and reflecting on their ideas in continued notebook work, and the drafting, writing, and revising stages.
- Again, more time will be needed to make sure that students can have ample opportunities to brainstorm, discuss, and respond to each other in groups.
- Lots of modeling by me, as their teacher, at every step. Probably more modeling than I would usually do since this will be our first time through the signposts. This means I’ll need to write beside them and compose my own essay to share. I imagine by the time we reach the third signpost for writing that students will be more independent.
- I’m not sure if I want to require a specific signpost essay after this initial WoW one. Our next whole-class text is Much Ado About Nothing. Several signposts apply. Last year, I had students write a short literary analysis on how one of the signposts applied to the play. They could choose which signpost, which worked out well. I think I will continue to do that essay, but add these personal essays in as well (I already have other mentor texts in mind for the other signposts!).
- As we move through our “regularly scheduled literature” units, I’l build in writing workshop time for students to complete these personal essays. I see this as an ongoing process―one that culminates in a portfolio of Notice & Note -inspired writing.
- As I did last year, I will give students the option of using the signposts as their area of focus for their independent reading reflections (last year, students could choose one signpost per week and wrote about how it applied to their IR books).
Whew – that was a lot. If you have any ideas, comments, questions, suggestions, please let me know in the comments below!
UPDATE: Part 3 of what has now become a series of N&N posts is here, where I discuss quickwrite ideas. 🙂