Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reyna Grande and an Acronym for Storytellling

Reyna Grande
Our school had the honor to host a talk by author Reyna Grandea week ago. Our Puente chapter and the Guest Writers' Series (a group of faculty who invite authors to visit our college) co-sponsored her talk. Granda primarily spoke about The Distance Between Us, a memoir that covers her journey from Iguala, Mexico to Los Angeles. 

Grande shared her immigration experiences and spoke poignantly about the difficult choices associated with leaving one's homeland and how those choices divided families. She focused on education, referencing the disappearance and probable murder of the forty-three college students in Guerrero, Mexico and the subsequent protests.  Her words about pursuing one's dreams in the face of struggle inspired students and professors alike. 

The students from my class who went to her talk walked away feeling motivated, particularly because they had analyzed sections of her her memoir prior to her visit. 

I knew that students would enjoy Grande's talk. In fact, those type of activities always inspire students so much. ALWAYS. Most of the students in my classes have never met or heard a published author, so whenever the campus offers a talk like this, I do my best to attend

Because I don't want author talks to feel like an add-on, a supplement, I strive to find ways to do more than simply give extra-credit for attending when the talk isn't scheduled during my classes. When possible, I do what I can to weave in a reading by the authors so the activity becomes an integral part of my calendar. Even though Grande's book wasn't an assigned reading, I found a way to suture her talk into the lesson. 

Here's what we did: By happy circumstance, we were working on narrative/story telling writing in class when Grande visited. So we analyzed sections of her book, one chapter on the difficulties she faced at home with an abusive father, and a second chapter that featured Grande's positive experience with her college mentor. 

Two weeks prior to Grande's talk, we went over four elements of good story telling: Action, Dialogue, Descriptive/Details, and Thought Shots. The first three elements spell out "ADD."  I think I picked up the ADD acronym from Pinterest for some other social media, but I can't put my finger on the exact pin.  Thought Shots, a concept I took from ReadWriteThink, have to do with the parts of a story that reveal the narrator's inner dialogue, reflection, flash back, or flash forward. Basically, it's the part of a story where a narrator  reveals her inner world. 

Storytelling Features & Elements - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires 

The day before Grande's talk, I reviewed the ADD + Thought Shot concept and introduced the class to The Distance Between Us, providing context about Grande and her story. Working in pairs, students read and "coded" Grandes' words. As one partner slowly read the text, her partner marked sentences, phrases, and words: "A" for action, "Di" for dialogue, "De" for description, and "T" for thought shots. 

After a period of time - about half-way through the short chapter, reader and coder reversed roles. Once most people were done, partners shared their answers, correcting and editing as needed. Then we debriefed as a group, noting how single sentences often include two or more different elements of narrative. 

This iteration of the lesson on narrative elements was highly productive. It did more than simply remind students of the four features; the activity compelled them to identify recognize the ways the elements overlapped. 

Next, we transitioned into a discussion how the weaving and braiding of moves Grande made created the dominant impression and theme of each chapter. Students saw just how much action and description Grande used in order to create the mood and support her memoir's project. Several students noted that the moves and impression are impossible to separate. 

Ding, ding, ding! Teaching Jackpot! 

The next time I use the "ADD + Thought Shot" activity, I will ask students do some statistical analysis - compare and contrast how much of each element writers use and what we observe in different types of narratives. It'll be cool to contrast how much ADD/Thought Shots make up the texts will read. Perhaps this numerical evaluation can be a third iteration of the "ADD + Thought Shot" unit. This way students can have an estimate how much of each element they might include in their own personal narratives. 

A subsequent step could be asking students to "code" and run a statistical analysis of their own (or a partners') narrative .  . . hmmm . . . definitely something to think about for next semester!

And just as important, using Grande's chapters built interest in her talk, increasing the odds that students would bring genuine interest to the event. That doesn't happen when I only offer extra-credit for attending extra-curricular activities. 

This means I should also make sure I keep abreast of activities on campus. I don't want to get flat-footed, and so many of my colleagues organize powerful events that, with a little effort on my part, complement what I'm supposed to be teaching - value added! And I want students to develop an appetite for these enriching out of-class events they might expect at a four-year college.