Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Love Myself When I'm Laughing...

Zora Neale Hurston - celebrated novelist, journalist and folklorist was the source of my inspiration when I visited Ron Brown Middle School in late October as part of a mini residency with the Kennedy Center.

The book edited by Alice Walker I Love Myself When I'm Laughing... But Then Again when I'm Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neal Hurston Reader title was used as a writing prompt.

I approached my workshop differently this time, by starting with the art and then using the art as a bridge to the writing. The 12 and 13 year-old boys and girls jumped head first into the art. Collage is such a great medium for children. It's so non-intimidating and accessible. I rarely allow my students to use pencils and encourage them to work big and bold, cutting out large shapes to make their expressions like American artist Romare Bearden.

The next day we used the cut paper collages to come up with words that described themselves. I read a passage from Angela Johnson's children's book Song of Faith about a girl Doreen and her brother Bobo growing up in the mid 70's. In the book Doreen had to come up ten words to describe herself in school. One of the words she used is square. I asked my middle schoolers to come up with their list. They were then encouraged to weave these words into their narratives using contrasts like in the title of the Hurston Reader .

I liked the attitude displayed in many of the collages. The children liked juxtaposing positive aspects of their character with other less favorable aspects. They left that second day feeling a sense of accomplishment and quiet satisfaction.