“Laura was frightened. Jack had never growled at her before. Then she looked over her shoulder, where Jack was looking, and she saw two naked, wild men coming, one behind the other, on the Indian trail.
‘Mary! Look!’ she cried. Mary looked and saw them, too.
They were tall, thin, fierce-looking men. Their skin was brownish-red. Their heads seemed to go up to a peak, and the peak was a tuft of hair that stood straight up and ended in feathers. Their eyes were black and still and glittering, like snake’s eyes.”
Note: I’m including this essay on this blog because, as a language arts teacher, I think it’s imperative to be up-to-date on current news in literature. In addition, providing reading materials for students that can be read for their historical accounts is also important. I think the ALSC decision discussed in this post may ultimately be harmful to students.
I remember reading this excerpt as a young girl when prairie mania reigned in one small slice of American pop culture. The craze for all things “prairie” owed its popularity to a series of nine volumes collectively called the Little Housebooks. Written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the series’ popularity was aided by the launch of a TV drama, Little House on the Prairie, starring Michael Landon. I owned the entire Little House set and a pricey collectible wall calendar. I even visited Mansfield, Mo. with my family to tour Wilder’s final home where she wrote her books.
Spellbound through that breathless chapter where the Indians later entered the Ingalls cabin for tobacco and cornbread prepared by the girls’ mother, I considered how vulnerable the Ingalls were as they settled into the frontier of the Osage Indians who lived nearby. Based on my own background and Wilder’s perspective as told through the eyes of Laura, I never considered the vulnerability of the Osage and their culture. I just wanted to keep reading and turning the pages, so I could finish the book and dash off to the bookstore to buy the next.
The sage was enthralling and heart-breaking: white settlers making a home on the American frontier, occasional clashes with the Native Americans, Laura’s coming-of-age, tenuous friendships with the Olson family, Mary’s blindness.
Diverse? Not at all. Inclusive? Nope. It was 1975. As such, Wilder’s Little House series was considered a darn good story and was deemed worthy of recognition.
Until last week.
That’s when the American Library Association (ALA) and its branch, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), decided to change the name of its prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Inaugurated in 1954 and awarded to Wilder herself for her book series, “This award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature,” according to this ALA newsletter.
Sounds reasonable. Few would disagree that Wilder’s books indeed made “a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature” over the years, albeit not universally among readers.
Here’s how ALSC President Nina Lindsay explained the name change in a letter to her board of directors: “Laura Ingalls Wilder has long held a complex legacy, as her books reflect racist and anti-Native sentiments and are not universally embraced…”
She continued, “Today, this award elevates a legacy that is not consistent with values of diversity and inclusion—something we did not fully understand as a profession when we created the award. While many of Wilder’s books received Newbery honors, (and one may easily find other books within our award canon that don’t live up completely to our current values), we recognize that the name of an award itself holds significant power… The ALSC Executive Committee noted that the name of the award is a currently potentially significant barrier to achieving our goals, and is within our power to change.”
To counter these messages that misinform young children, the AICL website recommends works “by Native authors who write books that provide children with accurate information about American Indians.”
After all, Wilder’s books do contain racist depictions and stereotypes (in Chapter 11 of Little House on the Prairie and in other books in the series) of Native Americans and Africans. In addition, Reese cites Wilder’s recurring descriptions of the land as “empty” and her arguable notions that Indians were primitive beings without civilized, autonomous societies.
And let’s not forget this: the ALSC is not censoring Wilder’s work. Anyone can still purchase her books or find them at their local library. The ALSC merely removed Wilder’s name from its prestigious award.
It should also be noted that the decision does not appear to have been made hastily and members did not unanimously favor the change. An ALSC task force conducted a survey of members and ALA ethnic affiliates. The results: 305 favored the name change; 156 did not. Still, according to the ALSC task force’s recommendation, “We believe that this decision serves the best interest of our Association, its members, and all of those they serve, not only now, in 2018, but in the long term.
But what about history? Is it wise to attempt to remove evidence of the prejudicial attitudes from our past by denigrating the authors who recorded them? Wilder’s works were clearly set in the past and while they contain objectionable content for some, they remain a historical account. According to a statement from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Mo., “Mrs. Wilder believed her books to be historically accurate and reflect American life during the Western Movement. However difficult it may be to agree with social mores within these years, the fact remains that was a different time and what was accepted then would not be today.”
Even so, the quest for diversity and inclusion in historical literature takes precedence. With its action, the ALSC is indirectly controlling authors by condoning the events, characters and the actions of the characters those authors write about, historical or otherwise.
Regardless, the end result of all this is that now Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name comes with a warning label attached. And so does the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. This is what that label says:
Your characters will speak and behave with respect for all.
Your plot’s conflict must offend no one now nor in the future, and include the diverse views of all parties.
Your character’s thoughts and impressions must not be their own, or the author’s, but of those with the ability to make institutional change within the prevailing culture.
In short, write inclusively or you will be punished.
What are your thoughts? Click like and leave a comment so more people may see this and be able to weigh in. Follow my blog for more articles on education topics, as well as teaching ideas and resources, and news about writing contests specifically for middle schoolers.
So, the week after school ended (Does school ever really end???), I wrote a letter, enclosed it with some newsletter copies, and sent the package off to the center mentioned above.
Yesterday, I received a nice, handwritten note from the director, Dr. Michael Atwood Mason, thanking me for letting him know about my class’ activities.
I plan to display the card from the Smithsonian in my classroom in the fall. My students will be impressed that their words are reaching out even further than they ever expected with this project.
That short note got me thinking about how I’m thankful that my colleague gave me this suggestion to reach out. I think that often as teachers we become so involved in the cocoon of our classes that we forget that people out in “the real world” want and need to know what we’re doing inside the schools. It’s easy to become isolated in our work… with our main contacts on a daily basis being our students, administrators, other teachers, and parents.
This experience has reminded me to make the effort to branch out a little and communicate with those beyond the walls of my classroom. Not only does it give me a boost in the everyday routine when I hear back from a contact I’ve made, but it also reminds me to be open to the possibilities and future opportunities that may occur as a result of my sharing.
Thanks for reading! Have you shared any of your classroom activities with those outside of academia? Share your experiences in the comments below and follow my blog for more writing about my “brave and true” ELA classroom experiences.
According to the St. Louis-based museum’s website, “The Art & Writing Contest is a wonderful opportunity for young people who have visited the Museum or studied the Holocaust in their classrooms to respond creatively to what they have learned.” The contest is considered an “important outreach program” that is “dedicated to the memory of the 1.5 million children who perished during the Holocaust.”
Age: There are two divisions for both the art and writing portions of the contest. Students may enter one entry in each category. Division 1 includes grades 6-8; Division 2 includes grades 9-12.
Topic: Students are asked to write about the difficult and inspiring lessons of the Holocaust. Topics may include: acts of courage and heroism; resistance and rescue; indifference and its consequences; persecution, intolerance and injustice; preserving humanity in situations of great adversity; history and lessons of the Holocaust.
Skills Addressed: Students must exhibit Research, Creativity, and original and accurate Interpretation of Sources. Judges are looking for: content, originality, and quality of expression and accuracy.
Mentor Texts: I called the organizers of the contest and at this time, I was told that student writing is not available. Perhaps it will be in the future, though, so keep your fingers crossed.
Length: Entries may not exceed 1,000 words. Works must be double-spaced. Use paper clips, not staples.
Deadline: Per the contest contact person, there is no firm date set for the 2019 contest, but it will be in mid-April. I would suggest that you check back with the website in February or make a call then to confirm the exact dates.
Prizes: There are cash prizes and certificates awarded. The organizers also display winning entries in the museum theater. Last year, first through third place in the middle school division won $300, $200, and $100 respectively. Two honorable mentions were awarded $25 each.
How to enter: Submit three copies of your paper-clipped entry. Do not exceed 1,000 words. Mail entries to: Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, MO 63146.
For more information: Here’s a phone number for the museum is (314) 442-3711. A contact name for Dan Reich is posted on the website also with this email address: DReich@JFedSTL.org. A phone number for Mr. Reich is also posted: 314-442-3714.
I’m excited to have a Holocaust-themed essay contest. Writing about this time in history will be a plus for my students’ banks of knowledge about world history. Many students are not learning about the Holocaust today. See this post for more on that issue, including an important new study released in March.
Thanks for reading! Follow my blog to receive those updates on this post, which will include the new deadlines and/or timeframe for the next contest, and also whether or not there will be past winning entries to use as mentor texts with your kids. Have a great day!
This year’s theme will resonate with students as it recalls the national conversation about patriotism and specifically how we show patriotism toward our national flag during sports activities (think NFL kneelers) and other public events. However, don’t limit your students to that angle. Your kids will get creative with the topic, so allow them that freedom to interpret the prompt how they see fit.
The deadline for this year’s contest is October 31 and while that sounds like a distant point in the future, once school starts, it rolls around pretty quickly.
Here’s my checklist for how I go about introducing the contest each year:
Announce the theme the first or second week of school just to let it brew in students’ minds.
Facilitate a class discussion where we discuss prior knowledge relating to the prompt.
Brainstorm some possible angles for the essay. (If kids have a hard time coming up with ideas, that’s okay. We still have a month before we attack the contest in earnest, usually around the first of October.)
Set a day where the work will really begin. This is usually one month before the due date. This allows plenty of time for drafting, protocol peer review, revising, and editing. It also gives us plenty of time to send drafts home for parents to read objectively. Students often become so close to their material that they need someone totally new to the project with whom to share it. I have students attach a note that says “Fresh Eyes Needed” to explain the project to parents.
I also usually make a phone call to our local VFW chapter just to let them know that my students will be participating again and to confirm the due dates. The post commander usually comes in person to pick up the entries, so the phone call helps to solidify that pick-up date.
I assign this essay as an activity that only my seventh graders do to increase the students’ incentive to win. And since our local VFW recognizes three of them with cash awards, their chances of winning are high!
First through third place winners receive $100, $75, and $50 each, respectively, as well as a nice medallion and certificate. Our local chapter is so generous and I appreciate their sponsorship of the contest. Check with your local chapter to learn how they are able to support your students.
The three winning entries from my class then advance to the next level for judging. Unfortunately, my first-place winner last year missed progressing to the next level by only one point! Nationwide, 132,000 students entered last year’s contest where the grand prize national winner receives $5,000.
So there you have it. The 2018-19 VFW Patriot’s Pen Essay Contest theme and a few details. For much more about this contest, including information about mentor texts and what the judges look for, click here. If you haven’t had your students compete in many contests before, click here for my post about how motivating writing contests can really be.
I’m a believer in writing contests and I’m always on the lookout for new ones. In fact, tomorrow I’ll be posting about a Holocaust-related contest you might be interested in. I hope you’ll click follow to learn about it.
Thanks for reading! Click like if this contest is one you’d like to try. For high schoolers, click here to learn about the Voice of Democracy essay competition, where next year’s theme is Why My Vote Matters.
If you have a question or need more information, please respond below and I’ll get right to you with an answer.
Here’s what happened the first time I taught the “thank you” note
Okay, where are the thank you notes? Who said they were no longer necessary? Someone must have, because I often don’t receive one anymore. And it’s not as if I’m expecting one, but I would like to at least know that the gift I shipped was received. Unfortunately, sometimes I never find that out.
So, to counter this trend, last year I added thank you notes to our project list for writer’s workshop.
Here’s the background on how I have done writer’s workshop in my class for the past two years:
I have only done this structured form of writer’s workshop during the first and second quarters of the school year. I gave students a list of 8-10 projects from which they could choose to work on during dedicated workshop time. They were required to choose six projects from this list and complete the projects in any order they chose. There was a writing process to follow for each project. The process included:
writing a first draft
collaborating through peer response to the first draft
revising, editing, and then generating a second draft
receiving my feedback on their second draft
making final revisions and edits, and then generating a final draft.
At the end of the workshop period, usually the end of the quarter, students turned in all projects andaccompanying paperwork (prewriting, previous drafts, etc.) inside a two-pocket folder. Writing projects included poetry, how-to and/or listicle blog posts, academic essays, contest essays, arguments, short stories, and thank you notes.
At the beginning of the school year, I bought a few boxes of thank you notes students could use for their notes. They were to write a short (one- to two-paragraphs) note to someone they knew, thanking them for a gift, their friendship, or their help. I asked them to draft out what they planned to write on a sheet of notebook paper, and for this project only, submit that to me as their first draft.
Unfortunately, the thank you note project didn’t go as well as I wanted.Here’s why:
Kids tended to rush through this project because they knew it was one they could complete more quickly than the others.
Nearly all of my kids didn’t have any idea where to put “Dear Mom,” or “Yours truly,” on the card. I should have spent an entire class period practicing filling out a note card. See the photo below as an example of how kids simply didn’t know how to fill out a note card.
Some of the writing was very personal. Some were so personal, in fact, that I didn’t feel comfortable reading them. Once this happened a few times, I simply asked students to show me their drafts on notebook paper. Then, due to the personal nature of some of the writing, I would skim the notes for mechanical errors instead of reading them carefully for content. Then I would initial their drafts and they could then write their note on a note card. Many of the notes probably contained unclear thinking and I hope they didn’t cause confusion for the readers. My approach seemed like a very lame way to handle the project; however, I just didn’t feel comfortable critiquing such personal messages.
So for the school year that starts in August, I’m undecided about how to teach students to write a thank you note. I think it’s a valuable skill, but I clearly need to take a different approach to it based on my experiences last year. Here are a few things that may help:
Perhaps dedicating an entire class period to the basic format or layout of a note card would be sufficient.
Also, maybe it would help if, instead of having students write their drafts on notebook paper, I provided a template cut to size so they could practice writing it on the space provided. Transferring their note from a full sheet of paper to the dimensions of a standard-size note card proved difficult for them last year. In fact, from my own experience, I know that figuring out where the words will be placed and where I’ll put any hyphens and such helps me create a more attractive, well-written note. It just makes the note look more planned out, more intentional.
Encouraging students to slow down with this project. Just because it’s only a paragraph of writing doesn’t mean it should be done carelessly.
For next year, I may also require them to write their thank you notes in cursive. They need to know that many readers will keep their notes as keepsakes and will want to read them again. Writing in cursive will make their note more formal and meaningful.
I’m interested in your ideas. Do you teach traditional letter writing or thank you notes? Do you think this is an important skill or one that may as well be done on a laptop? Leave a comment and let me know!
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This “new to me” book will be fun to try this fall
A year or two ago, I found an effective paragraph that explained sentence variety perfectly. Read the post about it here. I dug a little deeper about the author and eventually made my way to this book, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, by Gary Provost. Gary Provost was an author and writing instructor who died in 1995 right in the middle of his career. In addition to his own books and articles, he produced a series of how-to writing books and seminars.
I ordered 100 Ways from Amazon last week and, after skimming through it, know I’ll be able to use several chapters in my language arts classes next year. I hope these short readings and the discussions they spark will make great mini-lessons to kick off a writing work day.
The book is divided into eleven chapters. Here are a few of them followed by one or two points discussed within each:
Five Ways to Write a Strong Beginning (Find a Slant, Set a Tone and Maintain It)
Twelve Ways to Give Your Words Power (Use Active Verbs, Be Specific, Use Statistics)
Ten Ways to Avoid Grammatical Errors (Do Not Change Tenses, Avoid Dangling Modifiers)
Six Ways to Avoid Punctuation Errors (How to Use Colons, Semicolons, Quotation Marks)
Twelve Ways to Avoid Making Your Reader Hate You (Avoid Clichés, Avoid Parentheses)
Seven Ways to Edit Yourself (Read Your Work Out Loud, Use Common Sense)
Nine Ways to Save Time and Energy (Use Transitions, Avoid Wordiness)
While the 158-page book deals with more technical topics, such as punctuation and grammar, the author also discusses the finer, more esoteric qualities of good writing. For example, in “Stop Writing When You Get to the End,” Provost writes,
When you have done what you came to do, stop. Do not linger at the door saying good-bye sixteen times.
How do you know when you have finished? Look at the last sentence and ask yourself, “What does the reader lose if I cross it out?” If the answer is “nothing” or “I don’t know,” then cross it out. Do the same thing with the next to last sentence, and so forth. When you get to the sentence that you must have, read it out loud. Is it a good closing sentence? Does it sound final? Is it pleasant to the ear? Does it leave the reader in the mood you intended? If so, you are done. If not, rewrite it so that it does. Then stop writing.
I like the tone of Provost’s writing. Concise. Clear. Practical. Warm. It’s an easy, friendly read, and has its share of funny writing snippets.
In addition, many chapters contain side-by-side examples of ineffective and effective writing. For instance, in the chapter entitled “Be Specific,” several examples of general and vague writing appear on the left-hand side across from their more specific counterpart on the right-hand side. Here’s one: The general “Various ethnic groups have settled in Worcester,” is shown alongside its more specific “Greeks, Italians, and Puerto Ricans have settled in Worcester.”
The book has a copyright date of 1972, so some of the examples used are outdated. I’ll just explain this to the kids, or pause while we read to explain obsolete terms. One I noticed was “word processing.” That term just isn’t used much anymore.
Some of the chapters overlap with existing lessons I already use; however, it never hurts to review the same concepts in different ways. This book will enable me to do that.
Check out this book by buying a single copy. I purchased a used copy on Amazon for about five dollars. That’s an inexpensive price for a potentially valuable new resource. Maybe a class set will be in my future.
Thanks for reading! Click like to help other readers find this post. Follow me for more similar articles on teaching middle school language arts.
Read this past article for information about the contest, guidelines, standards addressed, extra bonus, prizes, deadlines, and anything else I could think of that would be helpful to you.
Without any preview, other than the 2018 prompt, I’ve included below the 1000-word essay written by one of my seventh-grade students, Sara C. This essay was awarded first place among about forty entries submitted to our local county chapter. From there, it progressed to the state level, and placed first among all seventh-grade entries.
Here’s the prompt from the 2018 contest: The end of World War I was the beginning of a new age. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. Imagine you are living in 1918. State where you are living and how the end of the war will impact your daily life. Discuss the pros and cons of the changes this War introduced to society and how you imagine those changes will impact the United States in the years to come.
And here’s the essay that won “Best in the State of Missouri” by a seventh-grader:
World War I: Remembering the War to End All Wars
We’re in the midst of the Great War. Women have assumed the jobs men had to abandon to fight with Allies. Ma and I work in the factory making uniforms for men at war. I want to take control for more than just work. I want to vote and be involved in the politics, the decisions, and the future of our country.
My little brother, Henry, is fighting in the war. He is stationed in the fields of Flanders in Belgium. Little Henry… He should be here, but he’s a man. After he saw all the propaganda posters he decided he needed to help. He enlisted in the United States Army.
These posters were all over town, saying things like, “There is still a place in line for you. Will you fit in?” Or “Will you fight now or wait for this?” Then there was an image of destruction.
Ma and I were at a loss of words when told of his enlistment. It was hard on us. Now I don’t know if he’s safe. I may only hope for him to be okay. Not to starve, suffer a bullet wound, or get raided. I only have hope.
Some of the other women have been getting angry. They want rights, as I do. Most only want equal pay. We get paid less for the same jobs, you see, and it isn’t fair. I’ve tried to explain the amount of our pay isn’t as important as the way we are treated, but few listen to me. They don’t want to face the truth in other’s eyes, women are just for taking care of children. We are lesser in our brains, or so men think.
While I was walking home today I saw my friend Mildred. She was once so beautiful and lively. Now she’s very tired and her skin is stained yellow, she has become a canary after working in the munitions factory.
“It’s just awful!” Mildred exclaimed. “Remember Ruth? The little redhead?” she asked. I nodded. “Well, she dropped dead today. Out of the blue too,” she explained shaking her head.
“What of?” I asked. “Was the toxins of the munition, or the Spanish Influenza?” Both have caused many deaths.
The flu was worst. It filled the lungs with fluids so people drowned. Sometimes it turned skin blue, too. It was a terrible thing for someone as small and fragile as a child or a large-built man to die of something beyond their control.
“We don’t know yet. They say it was most likely from the flu. I think they’re trying to cover up,” she confides. “I believe it was the toxin we are exposed to. It’s not healthy.” Her face turns red with anger.
In the field next to us kids are singing, skipping rope, and laughing. We heard them loudly chanting, “I had a little bird, its name was Enza, I opened the window and in-flu-enza!” A woman scolds the kids as a group before grabbing a young girl by the wrist and pulling her inside their small house.
“Mildred? I think I want to go to war,” I said.
She looked ahead then laughed, tossing her head back. “Girls can’t be soldiers!” she wailed. “You’re too funny, Ruby. Way to lighten the mood!” she laughed again.
“No, I’m serious. I may not be a soldier but I can go fix the soldiers up. They always need nurses,” I reasoned. “We could go help.”
“Don’t be silly,” Mildred bursted. “What would your Ma do without you?” she exclaimed. “She’s already worried sick about Henry.” She looked at me waiting for an answer.
“I suppose you’re right,” I sighed. “Someone needs to take care of Ma. And besides,” I said, “I can’t very well fight for women’s rights on the battlefield.” Mildred rolled her eyes, said goodnight and entered her small house.
I walk home and say hello to Ma.
“Please don’t go today,” she begs as I step through the door. “The other girls can handle it,” she says.
“Ma, please. Come with me,” I say. I grab my jacket and bag.
“No, no. I will not go,” she says crossing her arms. “When I was a girl of your age I was married and happy. Why in the world would you want to go and change things? You want to work? No thank you, I’ll be sitting right here when you get back,” she says sternly.
“Okay, suit yourself,” I say. “But I’m going to change America.” With that I left.
I get mad when people tell me I’m wasting my time on something that’s meaningful and important to me. If I want equal rights I will get them. Look at all the work we women are putting in. Shouldn’t that be enough to show we are just as good, qualified, and patriotic as men?
I enter the meeting with my head held high.
On November 11, 1918 the Great War, now known as WWI ended. We celebrate it as Veterans Day. We have parades and parties; many celebrations and the importance of why we celebrate should be heard; to honor all those who lost their lives for our freedom and safety, for all who suffered what we couldn’t begin to imagine.
Women won the battle for suffrage. On August 18, 1920 women gained the right to vote. It was the opening of a door to all the rights women now have earned in the decades to come. The right to equal opportunities in work and society, the right that women can do anything a man can do. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton once said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”
As a young lady, I’m proud. I’m proud girls can do anything men can do. As an American, I’m proud we have so many brave souls to give us the freedom we so desperately want. I would love nothing more than to thank each and every veteran individually.
American Experience Influenza 1918. Directed by Robert Kenner. WGBH Educational Foundation. Public Broadcasting Service. 1998.
“Spanish Influenza in North America 1918-1919” Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics. Harvard University Library Open Collections. Accessed 17, Oct. 2017.
Grant R. G. World War I. The Definitive Flawed History. DK Publishing. 2014. Print.
“In the Aftermath of World War I, Nations Were Forever Changed.” ThoughtCo.com. Newsela.com. 2017. Accessed 4 Nov. 2017.
Keene, Jennifer. “World War I” GilbertLehrman.org. Gilbert Lehrman Institute of American History. 2017. Accessed 17 Oct. 2017
“Outbreak of World War I” History.com. Newsela.com. 2017. Accessed 14 August. 2017.
Sara’s essay is not perfect. It switches points-of-view; there are some grammar issues. However, it does contain lots of period detail and a thorough knowledge of the myriad social changes brought on by the war. Sara paid direct attention to the prompt and made sure her essay addressed all criteria.
I decided to use this essay contest to teach my students how to blend genres in their writing. To start, I did that by writing my own first draft of a story that shifted from narrative to expository about halfway through.
I read my first draft aloud while students followed along on their own copy. I read it straight-through first and then we picked it apart, paying special attention to where exactly I “stepped out of” my story and began my informational writing.
You’ll see that this first draft is incomplete and shaky… some of my character’s names weren’t even decided yet and some of the plot’s action was abbreviated or even missing at this stage. Also, the point of view changed to third-person near the end, which I would need to fix.
With this mentor text, I told my students, I merely wanted them to see how to write narratively and then how to “step out of” the narrative and into informational writing. The bolded text at the top was just my note to students.
This is a start at my attempt at a blended genre essay… this is BOTH narrative and INFORMATIONAL….
How does it work in your opinion???
World War I: Remembering the War to End All Wars
“Well, don’t you think that since I worked alongside men and other women and other… well, Americans… that I ought to at least be able to cast a vote?” I tossed my head to the side. A strawberry blonde curl fell across my eyes.
I could tell my face was red and I hate it when my face turns red, but I was so sick and tired of having to explain this to people, most of all Mary, my closest friend, or who I thought was my closest friend. I straightened my wool skirt. I pulled the curl away from my eyes and tucked it behind an ear. I felt an argument sparking between us.
Mary turned to me, “But, Fiona, if they let women vote, then we’ll have to …”, she hesitated.
“Be responsible? Intelligent? Up-to-date on what’s going on in the world?” I interrupted. I was flabbergasted. To think that we had both worked in the munitions factory, and had even moved to Chicago because there were so many jobs what with the war raging in Europe. To think that our jobs were contributing to the cause to fight the German Empire filled my heart with patriotism and duty.
Here’s where I step out of my story and start writing informationally:
The Great War ended on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918. It was the dawn of a new era for the world and for American women like Fiona who had felt the rumblings of progress when they filed one by one into the factories and offices while their men fought overseas. Knowing that they were keeping the country producing weaponry, food, and the other supplies for the homefront and for our allies caused them to feel the burdens that had been borne primarily by the men of the country. With this knowledge, it only seemed obvious that now they had earned the right to vote alongside the men they had filled in for during the war. Suffrage was justified.
Here’s where I step back into my story and resume writing narratively:
This conversation was the exact same one I had been engaged in with various people… friends, other women at the factory, my parents. It seems that no one takes it as seriously as I do, and I don’t understand why. We owe it to our men – the ones who’ve fought in and survived those horrible trenches– to be responsible. Why should they carry all the load? It’s not fair to them, I have tried to explain so many times.
It seems the only people who understand me or agree with me are the suffragists, the women who have been wanting much longer than I have to see that women get the right to vote. I’ve been to a few of their meetings… loud, raucous events that you would think would have more of an impact than they do.
“Well, Fiona, I know you’re convinced this is the next step for women, but I guess I’m not so sure,” Mary ended the conversation. She picked up her bag, turned and walked away from me. We had arrived at the factory that morning early, done our jobs, and now we were returning to our homes. Separately. I wasn’t sure this would dispute we were in would end amicably. I wasn’t so sure she was truly my closest friend anymore.
The next evening, I attended a suffragette meeting downtown. Alone. Mary wouldn’t go with me.
“I know it’s probably a good thing, but I’ll let those women decide how to get the vote,” she had told me earlier when I inquired whether she wanted to go.
“Well, I’m not going to let others decide what I’m going to do and when. It’s the year 1918. The war is over. And I can’t vote. It’s ridiculous,” I told her.
“Well, ridiculous or not, I’m not going to that meeting. You’ll have to go alone,” she had said. And so I went alone.
The meeting began at 8:00 p.m. The meeting hall was full but not crowded. Mostly women and girls were there, huddling in groups at the beginning. Around 8:15, a woman took the stage. “Ladies, we are here tonight to once again discuss the Suffragist movement. WE must remain strong. We must convince other women that their opinions, their attitudes matter. The victorious Allied forces owe American women a debt. Because we worked, the Allies won. Through working, we fought in our own way. Because we worked, our men are back home and our country is on the move. The future of the United States of America and its women is bright!” Those in attendance clapped, filling the meeting room with thunderous enthusiasm.
As I watched the activitiy on stage, I noticed the speaker motion to a young man who was standing to the right of the stage. He was in uniform, and well… there’s just something about a man in uniform. The man walked forward to Stanton, removed his cap, and bowed his head to the audience. Who was he, I asked myself?
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce _______, who has just returned from the battlefield of ______________. I asked Mr. ____ if he would tell us of his experiences in the Great War and also relate to us his thoughts – and the thoughts of his fellow soldiers — about suffrage. I believe you will be encouraged by his words as we continue to fight for the vote.”
Sgt. ______’s speech goes here:
I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm for the suffrage meeting I had attended. When I spoke with Mary at the factory the next morning, there was a frostiness in the air between us. She listened, but barely. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t supportive. How anyone could continue to keep the voice of women out of politics and economic matters baffled me. When I mentioned my short conversation with Sgt. _____, she listened with curiosity at first, and then with disdain at the mention of Sgt. _________.
“Well, of course, your advocacy for suffrage only builds when there’s suddenly a handsome soldier involved!” She deposited her handbag into her locker, turned the key, and stomped off to her sewing machine. I stared after her, then headed for my own station.
Could I let this friendship go? Was I ready to take that step? Women usually work together, stick by each other, and support one another.
I arrived early at the next meeting of the suffrage society, …. Was placed on a committee of young women to plan events to ensure that suffrage will pass. My committee was tasked with setting goals for the members as we work together to ensure passage of the 19th amendment.
First on the list: women should be allowed to vote alongside men, and to eventually hold office alongside men, whether it’s the office of head garbage collector, mayor, or even President of the United States!” I chimed in, amazed at my own bravery and high-minded idealism. This movement, born out of necessity from the horrors of the Great War, was changing me!
Has another conversation with Sgt. __________… it goes well and holds promise for the future for her personal life.
She decides to give up the friendship with Mary. It’s a tough decision, but having a say in elections is more important to Fiona than a friendship full of constant disagreement. Once she makes this decision, she knows she has made the right one. She feels that suffrage is more than just an idea, it’s a movement, a tidal wave, progress. It’s one of the few good things that came out of World War 1 and it will positively impact the future of the Uniteid States.
And it’s only a matter of time.
( 1,018 words)
Using my self-written mentor text was key to helping students see how they could write a story that they could, while in the same paper, “step out of” in order to explain facts, details and other information about the war.
Nearly all my students understood how to take the blended-genre approach to their entry and most used that approach. None of my IEP kids took the blended-genre route, which was fine. I knew they recognized when the genre shifted from narrative to informative; however, writing that on their own (with help) was difficult, and they tried. At least they were exposed to the technique… maybe next year!
This is the main reason I love the DAR American History Essay Contest: It has always allowed kids to write narratively, but the prompt can also be elevated to show kids how to blend genres. That’s an advanced skill, and one that isn’t addressed in the Missouri Learning Standards until ninth grade. It’s nice to know that my students have a “heads up” on this advanced writing move.
Thanks for reading! If you learned something with this post, click “like” and then leave a comment to let me know exactly what resonated with you, or if you have a question… ask away!
Also, follow this blog for a future post where I’ll share how I’ll prepare my students for the 2019 DAR contest. The theme? The Passage of the 19th Amendment, Women’s Right to Vote.
I’ll share about finding helpful videos, texts, and other resources, plus how I make homework assignments that build prior knowledge and lead up to the contest. I also have students focus on precise details that can infuse their essays with realism.
So far, these methods have worked for me and have helped my students win and build their writing confidence— my ultimate goal.