Saturday, December 01, 2012

Can High School Students "Write Like Poe"?

A clever point--put the task still must be attempted:)!
Just prior to the recent Thanksgiving Break, while in the midst of reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and following a review of Poe's "The Raven" and "Eldorado," my Advanced Placement Language and Composition classes embarked on a writing task I call Write Like Poe.

The task.
Like most teachers, I borrow or cherry-pick ideas and elements from other teachers online (I have found Web English Teacher to be a good source), and tweak them slightly to make them my own. This particular writing task is one I have assigned periodically over the last four years I have been teaching this course, and each year I am surprised by the quality of some of the pieces I receive. I am hoping this year will be no different.

The evaluative tool.
The Write Like Poe assignment is nothing earth shattering in it's design, it simply requires that students, after first reviewing American Romantic writers and their product, write a piece of their own utilizing some common strategies. With an emphasis on the Dark Romantics or American Gothics, students craft a piece in a modern context in such a way that the narrative poem or short story is consciously imbued with structural and content markers of Romanticism.

Not surprisingly, student success with this task is predicated on how well the instructor, in this case moi, facilitates the students background development so that they have (minimally) a superficial understanding of the key elements of American Romanticism. Some years I do a better job than others, and, often the quality of the student's product is the inherent feedback I need to let me know whether I have done enough.

Each year I raise the stakes slightly. In previous iterations of this assignment I have prescribed the use of (just which are the student's choice) specific figurative language strategies such as alliteration, simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, etceteras. This year, I have added the expectation that students utilize at least one of three more sophisticated rhetorical strategies we have observed in The Scarlet Letter: anaphora, asyndeton (or polysyndeton) and parallelism.

The initial draft I have used in years past does not include any of those rhetorical strategies, at least intentionally so, and as a result my own annual task is to revise my draft to include at least one of these elements just as I have assigned the students to. An added bonus would also be if I did a better job with rhythm and flow...

The teacher's example (with bonus messy scanner-glass effect).
The published drafts (final products) for a grade were submitted yesterday, so with the mood set just right, given the cool air, snow dusted, frozen earth and starry skies, I prepare to hunker down for what I am confident will be a weekend of reading some fabulous student efforts. My prediction is that the result will be clear evidence that (with a little help) students can get close to permitting an affirmative answer to the question posed in the post title...

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