The Role of Narrative in Writing
Lesson 6 of 12
Objective: STWBAT explore the role narrative and personal anecdote plays in developing arguments through analysis of Donald Murray's essay "All Writing is Autobiographical."
Today we will begin where we left off yesterday by finishing the presentations regarding mapping patterns in excerpts of Wild and draw some conclusions from these presentations. Yesterday I ended up pausing frequently to ask pointed questions about how each of selected excerpts build on one another to develop central ideas; students explained each of the excerpts well in how they were generally structured and the central idea within the excerpt (and metaphorical use of wilderness and the trail), but struggled to put the ideas in more than a general way. The question I asked both groups that went yesterday was “how does Cheryl Strayed show change from that early excerpt to this new excerpt?” This was the big question because students more easily cited similarities in the excerpts in how they were structured. I expect that the last presentation will take a similar track. However, I will take the recognition of changes from personal experience to personal experience forward as a point of emphasis in the coming days rather than pause here; the students have had a positive experience with the book and are learning how the excerpts are structured—I will focus on the development of central ideas from excerpt to excerpt in short texts at a later date, where the shifts and building will be more clear. However, I need to have all the groups present, so we will take the first 10 minutes to have the final group present their ideas before transitioning to reading their own work.
After the last presentation and some conversation about the book as a whole, we will pause for about 15 minutes for a Silent Sharing segment in small groups. While I don’t want to take the time today to do this with the whole group as a did a couple weeks ago, I think it is important for them to share these—it builds the idea that they are writing for an audience rather than a grade, it lets students who may have struggled see how their peers organized their pieces, and it builds a sense of community, since by sharing writing you are opening up a bit to others (as we will discuss in more detail with the Murray piece). So, I will put students into groups of four, and they will simply hand their pieces to their left, read the pieces, then continue to send the pieces around until they get their own back (this also lets me see who didn’t do it—while I will also see that when I collect them, this puts more pressure on the students who didn’t do the assignment for next time, since they are more exposed. In this class there is rarely a student who doesn’t do the assignment, but because they only take a couple minutes to read so it is okay for a person to not have something to do for two minutes, I will have all students participate; it may be that the student who didn’t do it didn’t understand, and can learn from their peers’ models).
After the students are done reading and have had a chance to talk briefly, we will transition to the Donald Murray piece.
The remainder of the class will be spent with Donald Murray and his piece “All Writing is Autobiographical.” While not specifically about gender, it helps build a conceptual framework for writing, and a stronger awareness of writing for students. He uses many examples from his own work as he explains that ALL writing his autobiographical-- how sometimes his work contains personal experiences, while in others it is the tone and style that is autobiographical. My main goal with this piece is for students to consider all the writing they do, and to be aware of how they are infusing themselves into all of it. Another more immediate purpose with writing memoirs is to help students free themselves from the ‘facts.’ He writes, in one section, how his reflections on personal experiences are in the context of what he is writing now—that the events did not necessarily happen exactly as he tells them because he's writing in the context of his current self and current perspective. Since the unit is in part how to use personal experience as evidence for argument, this is a key concept, and will hopefully free the students from thinking they are simply chronicling events, or that they have to remember them all (I have found this to be the case when I’ve had students write memoir in the past—they feel very tied to the exactness of events).
To accomplish this, I will first have students look over the piece silently for about five minutes to review their annotations (I can also see who did the reading/annotations at this point) to reconnect with the piece as the first part of a “think, pair, share” activity. Then, in pairs (they will select their own partner), they will share the moments they thought were particularly poignant with regard to the writing process and their own writing. This will be about five or ten minutes, at which time each pair will share key ideas they discussed. My hope is that the groups hit on the particular concepts I want to address, and I will emphasize them when they come up. However, if no one identifies the ideas (particularly about memoir not being solely about facts), then I will bring it up at the end as something I annotated (I will frame it this way so they don’t think they read it ‘wrong,’—that I was participating in the process. This kind of approach has the effect of not undermining their responses).
Next Steps: In the coming days we will closely read a number of texts regarding gender; tomorrow we will specifically address Paul Theroux’s “Being a Man” to take a look at the male side of the coin.