I have long professed my love of teaching This I Believe essays and so I knew that my first assignment for my first year writers this fall would be a This I Believe American Creed. But I also wanted to reinvent my What If We Told the Story of Our Values plan from last year to connect my students and their writing with the building a more perfect union work spreading across the country while integrating project-based writing. How could I make my TIB assignment more #PBL? Fortunately my #PLN came to the rescue (more than once during this unit) and that inspiration led me to invite my students to write it slant.
Drawing inspiration from Emily Dickinson’s poem Tell all the truth but tell it slant I challenged my students to craft their This I Believe American Creed‘s in the form that best suited their audience and message. Over two class sessions we wrote and discussed the rhetorical situation that my students envisioned for their creeds exploring both who needed to hear their message and what that audience should know. I challenged my students to consider their creeds as invitations to a conversation they wanted to start with someone important to them. Drawing inspiration from Chen Chen’s I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party and Something You Should Know by Clint Smith, my students composed poems, letters and emails, story books, social media posts, and of course essays. My only guideline was that their slant essay had to retain the essence of a This I Believe American Creed.
I love how this authentic writing captured the passion that my students felt about their personal values and creeds. I love how writing slant challenged my students to consider their rhetorical situation. Even more than that, I love how this work gave them control over their deliverable and set them up to write a meaningful unit reflection about the choices they made and chances they took. I’d love to hear more about how other teachers have their students write slant so I can improve this unit next time. What do you love about teaching students to write slant?
This week my students and I embarked on our What If We Told the Story of Our Values journey. These early weeks we are simply writing our stories and creating artifacts to share our stories as we build on the work we began in our This I Believe American Creed and continued in our rhetorical analysis unit. Right now my students are reveling in the freedom to tell all their truth but tell it slant by creating microstories, haikus, memes, and so much more. My students know they will create multigenre pieces out of these artifacts, but they do not yet fully understand how this work is also creating rhetoricians. I love how this What If journey harnesses the power of my students’ passion for telling their own story, their own truth, to give these writers something they can never unknow: writers can change the world.
Update: We are now at the end of our What If We Told the Story of Our Values journey and my students are in the throes of telling their truth slant. Each week of our What If journey students created a one or two artifacts from a choice board (see below). I usually recommended three options each week, but always stressed that students could play with any of these genres. My invitation for my students was bookended by Emily Dickinson’s simple challenge: Tell all the truth but tell it slant.