A Note of Thanks to James Thurber and Bryan Moss

The arrival of bryan-teachingBryan Moss, an amazing resident artist with the PAGES Program, in my classroom made me think of an article I read years ago about James Thurber. Thurber, who became known for his humorous short stories, was rumored to doodle little comics to clear his head before writing. He promptly threw the doodles away, thinking little of them. E.B. White shared an office with Thurber and, finding the sketches, submitted them for publication at The New Yorker where the two worked together at the time. Thurber’s sketches proved to have just as much to say as his written works.

I love this story about Thurber because it reminds me as a teacher of the different forms thinking manifests itself in. I love Bryan Moss for sharing his creativity and freedom of expression to guide me and my students beyond typing another essay. As honors 10 students, they take comfort in following the same formulaic structure; they pride themselves on nearly mastering it for the benefit of passing standardized tests, maintaining GPAs, and my fear, pleasing their teachers. While students proving their mastery on an end of the course test and vying for valedictorian are realities, we cannot lose sight of providing students with a safe place where expressing themselves in a unique, individual way is encouraged and celebrated. Obviously, students are not standardized. And, I hate to think that my class played any part in making students lose sight of the beauty and power of their own words. With Bryan, we sought spontaneity and individuality over a robotic prompt.tori-working

So, what did we do to merge what students were accustomed to writing with a fresh approach? By inviting Bryan into the classroom, we invited colored pencils, crayons, markers, glue, wine corks, construction paper, scissors, tin foil, painted rocks, feathers, and pipe cleaners into the classroom,too一the high school classroom. With this smorgasbord of items, we asked students to create something that represented themselves. Students were at first hesitant, but then they seemed to channel some form of their younger selves when they were less concerned with being right and more concerned with making something.

Once students completed their work, Bryan scrambled them so that each student moved to a desk with another classmate’s artwork and journal on it. Students wrote in their peer’s journal about what they saw in the piece before sharing their interprelauren-writingtations with the whole class. Then, the student artist was given a chance to respond to the interpretation presented. This worked brilliantly as student critics brought power and meaningto a piece that the original artist may have been too shy, humble, or subconsciously unaware of to own. Student critics also encouraged the creator to rethink his or her choices; was the piece really saying what they thought it would or should? This reflection prompted a new way of viewing the possibilities in their writing as well as their reading of other’s work. There was also beauty in receiving feedback in real time on the spot from their peers because, as a class, we established group permission and support in taking creative risks both with what we find in a piece as well as how we develop our own ideas.

And here’s the twist, the critical thinking generated by nudging students (and their teachers) outside of our comfort zones only enhanced those essays we later tackled because students felt free to experiment with the what and the how of their topics. James Thurber and Bryan Moss remind us that doodles and creative pieces have just as much to say, and prove just as much a challenge, stuffas those 5-paragraph essays; critical thinking doesn’t need to be three pages, double-spaced, and in 12 point font. Sometimes the best place to begin is with some twine, a glue stick, and a painted rock.

Meet our PAGES 2012-13 artists-in-residence

William Evans is a writer, instructor, and performer from Columbus, OH.  He is the founder and host of Writing Wrongs Poetry Slam and the President of Projecting Murals, LCC, a nonprofit organization founded in 2009 that connects artists with schools, community centers, and correctional facilities to encourage artistic expression in Columbus’ youth.

William is one the most successful performance poets to come from the state of Ohio.  He has appeared twice on the finalist stage at the National Poetry Slam, most recently in 2011, as a member of the Writing Wrongs National team. He also finished 11th at the Individual World Poetry Slam in 2009.

William released his first full-length manuscript, In the Event You are Caught Behind Enemy Lines in August 2009 through Penmanship Books of Brooklyn, NY. He has also published a chapbook, Humble Shell Casings ( 2009), and has produced two CDs, Measure (2007) and Living in the Hour Glass (2006).

 

Kim Leddy is a writer and high school English instructor from Columbus, OH. She currently teaches juniors and seniors at The Mosaic Program, though she has been teaching English in Columbus for twelve years. She received her Masters of Education, focusing on Creative Arts in Multicultural Learning, from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2005.

Kim also manages the content of food section of 614 monthly magazine, contributes articles to 614’s arts and living, and edits Food City, a biannual food magazine.

 

Chelsea Phillips is a third-year Ph.D. student at Ohio State University. She holds an M.F.A. in Dramaturgy from the Shakespeare in Performance program at Mary Baldwin College and the American Shakespeare Center and a B.A. in English from Bryn Mawr College.

She has presented at numerous conferences around the country on subject ranging from Shakespeare in performance to devised theatre. At Ohio State, Chelsea works on the University’s partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company implementing the RSC’s Stand Up for Shakespeare program in local schools. This year, she is helping to plan and execute a culminating Young Person’s Shakespeare Festival in May of 2012, which will feature local students performing Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.

 

National Day of Writing, Oct. 20

Here’s a lesson plan from the NYT Learning Network highlighting National Day of Writing

The Learning Network: Why I Write: A Celebration of the National Day on Writing, Oct. 20

By KATHERINE SCHULTEN

Published: October 7, 2011

Why do you write? With our partners, we’re inviting the world to answer that question on Twitter on Oct. 20, by posting your message, and the messages of your students, to the hashtag #whyIwrite. Learn about this and several other National Day on Writing projects, and please, spread the word!