I’ve been inspired by the National Writing Project to rethink my writing classes to shift from focusing on the life lessons that comics can teach us to exploring our roles and responsibilities as citizens, but don’t worry — comics will still be an important part of my teaching (stay tuned). I have always felt that writing classes should be about more than just writing and my decades of experience and education (not to mention my NWP training) have taught me that giving writers an authentic purpose and audience can make a tremendous difference in engagement. And that’s why I’ve signed on for NWP’s Writing Our Future project.
We began our work during our Sept. 11 class which was a great day to explore what it means to be an American. We watched the American Creed trailer and spent much of the class writing in response to the ideas and questions the trailer posed, generating a list of the common ideals that American’s share, and then accepting one of NWP’s five writing invitations. Interspersed with viewing (and reviewing) the trailer and writing, we had conversations and shared our stories. It was a powerful experience for us as Americans. My students left class with a lot of ideas in their heads and a lot of words on paper that they will then focus into one claim about what it means to be an American and will explain that claim for our class blog. During the coming weeks we will watch the full documentary and explore the stories through discussion, reflection, and writing, and over the course of the semester we will create four polished deliverables inspired by this work:
- Creeds: These will be short essays inspired by both our American Creed work and inspired by the This I Believe essays we read at the beginning of our semester. These essays will give my students more experience with simple focused claims and arguments as well as create the foundation for our future work.
- Rhetorical Analysis: We will examine some comic-inspired universes for cultural influences that inform our American values and creeds looking at stories such as Superman, X-Men, and Black Panther. The intent of this work is to look at the ways others use rhetorical tools to shape our thinking and actions, but also to use comics as I have in the past — as a way to discuss challenging issues.
- Argument: Out of this work students will craft a claim, research evidence to support the claim, and write an extended argument using multiple sources. Inspired by our work on creeds and comics, these arguments will be connected directly to the lives and families of my students.
- Story: This will be an individual response to our American Creed experience that might be written as a reflection or an argument; a multi-media project or video; a podcast or interview; a cartoon, poem, or song; or even a game or interactive of some sort. These will be published on the Writing Our Future: American Creed web site. My goal is that they will create something that will challenge the thinking of their friends and family as our thinking has been challenged by this experience.
My thinking was inspired by my Kentucky Writing Project friend Maggie Brewer (Scott County High School) and all the NWP rock stars who shared their work on the Visit Our Classrooms section of the Writing Our Future: American Creed web site.
I am dithering about whether or not this is too much work (for me and for them) because it is a lot of assignments — one more than I usually assign but I really like the progression to support the development of our ideas. I guess we will find out! I am excited because this is authentic and important work. We have only to look at any news source (and most public gatherings) to see how divided our country is along political and ideological boundaries. We are more tribal than ever and the breakdown of our political leadership makes it even more important that we craft and share these stories that celebrate our common ideals and values. That is why I’m using NWP’s Writing Our Future: American Creed project to help my students think critically about what it means to be an American and examine the issues dividing our nation.