carlabramowitz

Explore with Curiosity. Create with Love


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Creative Writing Syllabus

Creative Writing

Instructor: Carl Abramowitz

Email: cabramowitz@yscacademy.com

Meeting Times: TBD

YSC-Academy-opens-310x206

 

Honor Code

We, the student-athletes of YSC Academy, in order to pursue academic and athletic excellence, pledge to live by the following code of conduct:

Always conduct ourselves with confidence and humility

Respect and value the opinions and ideas of all people

Challenge ourselves and each other to do our best

Accept and learn from our mistakes

Lead the way and share our successes, on the pitch and in the classroom

Treat one another and ourselves with honor and respect

Treat all academic and athletic environments with reverence

Embrace change and demonstrate resilience

Take pride in being a member of this community

Every day, everywhere we go, and with every person we meet, we work to earn respect for our school and ourselves.

 

INTRODUCTION

Overview of the course and its goals:

Creative Writing: This semester-long course explores the art of creative writing, focusing on three major areas: creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. After this broad exposure, you will choose a primary area of emphasis for the remainder of the semester. Coursework reinforces the writing process: understanding and stimulating creativity, brainstorming ideas, revising drafts, and establishing a writer’s practice. All students participate in writers’ workshops to learn both how to give and how to receive constructive editorial assistance.

This workshop-style class is an introduction to the pleasures of the writing process. You will benefit from in-depth readings and constructive critical support in a class that fosters a community of writers. We will spend half the semester writing fiction and non-fiction and the other half writing screenplays and poems. Some of each meeting will be devoted to discussing the texts. We will look at literature as writers rather than as scholars. From time to time, we will do some in-class writing. Growing, experimenting, and revising are key. Class participation and attendance are vital.

  • You will develop a working knowledge of the basic elements of the craft of fiction and non-fiction:
    • Character
    • Plot
    • Point-of-view
    • Dialogue
    • Style
    • Narrative distance
    • Voice
    • Riffs
  • You will explore and practice a variety of approaches to the craft of poetry including:
    • Narrative
    • Lyric
    • Free verse
    • Formalist
    • Epistles
  • For homework, you will complete brief writing assignments (known as two-pointers) designed to help you shape and generate work. These are journal entries, meant for you to approach the reading in a scholarly way. Prompt questions will be provided.
  • Details, due dates, and texts are found in this syllabus and on Canvas (for the two-pointers and the discussions). This syllabus is a basic course guideline. I may make some adjustments to it as the semester progresses.

MATERIALS:

  • Selections from Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University
  • Selections from Writing True: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction
  • Selections from Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence
  • “The Distance of the Moon” from Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
  • “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell
  • “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner
  • “The Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka
  • Selection from Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee.
  • About plot and pacing: “Mastiff” by Joyce Carol Oates from The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/07/01/mastiff)
  • About point of view and voice: “Happy Trails” by Sherman Alexie from The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/06/10/happy-trails)
  • About dialogue: “Hunters in the Snow” by Tobias Wolff. Find the story here: http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/huntsnow.html
  • About ending a story and aspects of theme: “Paper Losses” by Lorrie Moore from The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/11/06/paper-losses)

 

COURSE OUTLINE

SEMESTER I

 

1.     Course Introduction: Aspects of Fiction and Non-fiction

 

2.     Screenwriting and Poetry

 

SEMESTER II

 

1.     TBD

 

2.     TBD

SEMESTER I

 

1.     Days 45

 

 

2.     Days 45

SEMESTER II

 

1.     Days 45

 

2.     Days 45

 

GRADING:

I will be looking for participation, improvement, revision, and experimentation. I expect your work to be polished in terms of the written conventions of good English style and grammar.

ASSIGNMENTS ARE WEIGHTED BY CATEGORY
YOUR CREATIVE WORK + FINAL PROJECT

This is composed of your fiction, your non-fiction, your poetry, and your short screenplay. Your grade on these assignments are based on improvement, revision, experimentation, and timeliness. Each student is required to present his work for constructive critiquing. Be sure to keep your critical feedback and mark-ups from both myself and your peers.

 

 

 

 60%

 

 

TWO POINTERS

These are double-spaced analytical essays about the texts. These give you opportunities to strengthen your skills in composition and analysis, and to generate critical thinking skills about the reading in a scholarly way. Prompt questions will be provided.

   20%

LEADERSHIP / PARTICIPATION

Leadership / Participation means facilitating the discussion on that week’s reading in class. This class is a workshop-based class; hence, pro-active and candid/productive collaboration comprises the majority of this grade. Reading is fuel/nourishment for the writer’s task à not passive reception, but reading as entering into the texts pro-actively, with incisive curiosity, and a critical, perhaps even, meddlesome eye.

 20%

EXTRA CREDIT

Extra Credit: response to a Kelly Writers House reading attendance (see website below)

http://writing.upenn.edu/wh/calendar/0916.php

 +5% (half a letter grade)

 

GRADING NOTE:

So that everyone can write freely as possible, grades are based on your maintaining an active writing process as above defined. Doing the full gamut of required activities (your own writing, two-pointers, and in-class discussions) responsibly and punctually is what earns an “A.”

 

LATE WORK:

Late work loses 5% on the specific assignment per class-day late and will be allowed up to two weeks late.

 

CLASS MEETINGS AND EXPECTATIONS:

This class is about both your individual creativity and the group’s dynamic. Constructive interaction means the following:

  • Being on time.
  • Staying through class
  • Listening actively
  • Speaking in turn
  • Speaking civilly in all circumstances
  • Keeping your integrity (online and in-person)

 

WORKSHOP PARTICIPATION:

  • We discuss what the text/writing achieved or fell short on (not the author/writer)
  • The author DOES NOT speak until the group is finished critiquing his text.
  • Be respectfully frank and specific (being too nice or too general/abstract is not useful)
  • Critique with a text’s potential next evolution in mind.
  • Silence is not a friendly gesture in a creative writing workshop — passivity will be taken as evidence of not having prepared for class.

 

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: All students are required to adhere to these policies:

  • When you say you did the work yourself, you actually did it.
  • When you rely on someone else’s work, you cite it accordingly.
  • When you use their words, you quote them accurately, and you cite them too.
  • Refer to the Honor Code at the beginning of this syllabus.
  • Guidelines for Collaborative Work will be explicitly explained per assignment.

 

FORMATTING:

  • It’s best to use Microsoft Word or PDF given that many computers you’ll have access to here might have difficulty with other formats.
  • Double-spaced text is easier for others to write comments on.
  • Title your work. Take the titling of a piece of work as part of the creative process.

 

hands

 

 


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On Teaching Poetry Across the Curriculum — Creating Buoyancy for Our Young Readers

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“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

We read for buoyancy. I’ve probably read this quote over 10,000 times. I have been teaching Anne’s book ever since I started a new school, but the quote has been a part of me much longer. It is inscribed in my soul. The practicum of teaching poetry spans multimedia: from Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society to the Apple iPad Air commercial quoting from the aforementioned movie. All too often, however, we forget about the buoyancy of reading. We forget our personal marginalia; in other words, we cast aside our disposition in relation to the poem. Our disposition, our ways of taking stock of the market negotiations between us and the poem, our network of other readers who have also shared in the reading — these create the buoyancy, which is really a space created for wiggle room, and if we’re floating together along this sea of profound uncertainty, we might as well “[sing our didn’ts and dance our dids].”

Recently, a new buoyancy has awoken in my teaching and learning with poetry. I am currently walking through various kinds of poetry with my 9th, 10th, and 11th graders. The 9th graders are being introduced to poetry much like a restaurant would build a buffet. The walking through and the messing about is more for their various engagement with poetry of all kinds. The 10th graders just began poetry by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Before, we had read Frederick Douglass’s The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. The 11th grade began the semester with T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and recently we moved into Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” and Blackstar’s (Mos Def & Talib Kweli, ft. Common) “Respiration.” Each poetry class has a purpose but the purpose does not have a stranglehold on the experience of the poem. This multipurpose approach in poetry has created various outcomes: reflection essay on poetry, debate on the toolkit of poetic devices, remix of poetry in contemporary voice, timeline of connections between the content of poetry and historical events.

Most of all, I like exploring Essential Questions with my students around poetry. These essential questions are generated from teacher-guided and student-driven curiosities. I recently read an article that helped with a template for helping students generate essential questions. It is this specific act of question-making that creates some of the buoyancy for engaging in poetry collectively. Some of the essential questions I like to ask are:

  • Why does the poet write this poem? For whom?
  • How do effective poets hook and hold their readers?
  • How is this particular poem about me?
  • How is the structure of this poem related to the function of this poem?
  • What are the common factors in various poetic forms?

Students demonstrate understanding of poetry NEVER through multiple-choice questions. They show their learning through writing. They exercise the toolkit of poetry: alliteration, assonance, dissonance, meter, rhyme, sonnet-form, villanelle-form, ekphrasis, repetition (chorus/hook), free verse, Imagist poetry, onomatopoeia. It’s a disservice if educators of poetry avoid these forms and practices of writing poetry due to more emphasis on rational thought and essay-writing. Again, our disposition, our ways of taking stock of the market negotiations between us and the poem, our network of other readers who have also shared in the reading — these create the buoyancy, which is really a space created for wiggle room. Emphasis on synthesis/analysis ideation comes after the wiggle room.

I’ve recently come back to Socratic Smackdowns with my 9th graders. Socratic Smackdowns come from The Institute of Play; to play you create a fishbowl classroom where one-half of your students participate in the discussion and the other half remain outside, responsibly paying attention to an assigned classmate on his discussion strategies:

  • body language and eye contact to indicate active listening
  • poses and responds to questions
  • builds on the thoughts of others
  • quotes the text to support a point
  • challenges ideas and conclusions in a thoughtful,well-reasoned exchange of ideas
  • makes new connections

Some questions I invite the students to answer throughout the poetry units are I borrow from Junot Diaz, professor extraordinaire and writer from MIT:

  1. What are the poem’s primary features—spatial, cultural, biological, fantastic, cosmological?
  2. What is the world of the poem? What are its ethos (the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize the world)?
  3. What are the precise strategies that are used by its creator to convey the world to us and us to the world?
  4. How are our characters connected to the world?
  5. And how are we the viewer or reader or player connected to the world?

These are difficult, albeit frightening, questions for students to sometimes answer because they require the kind of engagement not always asked of them. At the same time, the discussion about our discursive habits and using poetry to explore our and others’ worlds facilitates the buoyancy we are trying to create with our students. That is the direction of literacy, to decrease our students’ sense of isolation, so they can feel a little connectedness and meaningfulness within the pages and within themselves.


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A New Perspective

A reluctant reader found solace in parkour and then he began writing about it.

lorenzesthoughts

This semester I started blogging. At first I was not amused by it whatsoever. In fact, I strongly disliked it. I was doing it only for the sake of my grades, not because I truly enjoyed it. Then it all changed when I read the book Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne LaMotte. This book gave me the urge to write, which was baffling for me because I have never wanted to write before in my life. It was a new feeling but a good feeling, and I loved it.

Anne LaMotte describes writing in such a beautiful way. She makes it seem fun and enjoyable, unlike the educational system that I am used to. She describes it as a way for us to “feed the soul” and “decrease our sense of isolation” (237). She tells you as a writer to just throw down your…

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Bird by Bird: A Great Read for Improvement of Writing

We’re onto something here.

wordsofwax

birdbybird

Is it possible for a book to change a person’s perception and aid in their writing ability? Well sure it is. Anything can change one’s perception of something or help them. The only difference I am feeling about this book: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, is that after being a very bad boy and disappointing the English teachers of the world by judging the book by its cover, is that after finally giving the piece a chance, I found that it truly changed my thought process on writing. Now, I would not go as far as to say that this book is “life-changing” or “magical” because the hyperbolic nature of those words is a bit over-the-top to describe a high school book, but I would say that it has helped me and my writing progress. This progression in my writing can be shown and explained…

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Connections

A cyclical approach in writing and that voice…

mswift7

Writing, whether for pleasure or requirement, has a great influence on the writer, audience, and relationship between the two. Lamott in her final chapter of Bird by Bird talks about how incorporating emotion is the strongest way to get the most out of writing because people can relate and connect to it. Blogging, workshopping, and in class writing are all types of writing that are beneficial from an ecological standpoint because it allows the writer to voice an opinion and receive feedback from a group. Writing is the most powerful social tool in today’s world because the power of words can unite or disband groups of people from one cause to another. Writers often become socially isolated because writing draws writers into a their own imagination but it also decreases the writers’ sense of isolation because they are not alone since they are satisfied in their own world.

A writer from an ecological…

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It’s hard to learn from multiple choice

I found this blog to be reassuring in my quest for oral and written literacy, and my refusal for multiple-choice anything. I highly recommend others read this.

What I Learned Today

I teach history, but I rarely give multiple choice quizzes or tests.  Some of my students have been asking me why. They seem used to taking mutiple choice tests.

I have a three-part reason for generally avoiding multiple choice quizzes and tests:

First, I like learning, and I don’t learn much from the wrong answers students give on multiple choice tests.  I suppose that if everyone got #4 wrong, I’d know to go over that one.  But what I’d learn would be limited.  The answer was C and they put D.

With short and medium answer questions, I find out in more detail what my students don’t understand, so we can go over those concepts in class.  And isn’t that the whole purpose of a quiz?  It’s not to generate a grade — it’s to find out whether students are getting the material.

For example, in response to the question…

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Reflecting on Our Culture of Reading Across the YSC Academy English Curriculum: A Case for the Ecology of Learning

Say the words “Reading” and “Writing” and “Learning” and “Teaching” and everyone seems to have an opinion about how their worth and purpose. The education sector is awash in the discursive qualities and expanded dialogue of the processes and steps to becoming a passionate explorer in these realms. If we are going to have a discussion about these four activities, their purposes, and their outcomes, then we better start having open and honest discussion about them. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror if we work in some capacity with the skills associated to these terms, and we need to be as transparent and inquisitive about them as we can in talking to colleagues, parents, and our students.

I am currently the Director of Language and Literacy at YSC Academy in Wayne, PA. The school’s mission is: “YSC Academy provides passionate student-athletes the opportunity to maximize their academic and athletic potential through innovative best practices in the classroom and on the field.  Our community is based on an ethos of trust, hard work, and a dedication to pursuing excellence. Our environment develops self-directed learners with a lifelong passion for learning.” Our school is new to the extent that we enjoy the little, daily struggles of building a culture around learning that engages each member of the community. As the director and English teacher for 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students — all who come from various educational and cultural backgrounds — it is my job to create opportunities and windows for students to see their literacy through the realms of citizenship, creativity, research, and partnership. Each day I am reminded of the dutiful dance a teacher must balance between leadership and “followership.”

The four terms in question — Reading, Writing, Teaching, & Learning — came to my thinking because of a recent article I came across. It is entitled “Why Students Hate Reading — And Often Aren’t Very Good At It.” Reading the article and the subsequent conversations swirling on the edge of the topic is appealing. Usually, as readers on the internet and users of such websites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, we are taught to not give much attention to the “second-hand” smoke around the major topic. Agitators and trolls exist in the bushes around the real-life issue we are dealing with here. How many of us have adventured past the end of an article only to end up eventually reading the antagonistic and rather immature side-conversations that usually terminate in finger-pointing and name-calling. For the sake of this blog, I want to include those conversations because I notice they play a bigger role than we think in defending our position toward reading, writing, teaching, and learning.

Like I teach my young-adult readers, I am going to begin with the end in mine while still balancing some of the examples and evidence that lead to the overall conclusion. First off, “hate” is such a strong word. If we are working with students in our school who passionately abhor the work they doing, then that is a bigger issue. Furthermore, if we put the pieces together, we can assume that hatred probably stems from misinformation rather than lack of information. We must start with the basic question: “why do we read?” and we must work our way through the complex maze of the answers: to be informed, to learn, to go places, to share, to entertain ourselves, etc. These do not exist in a vacuum, and the role of any good guide is to provide BIG PICTURE for how all these philosophical questions work together in the context of the learner. In essence, we are helping our learners make connections way before they themselves can see those connections. We must be willing to ask the BIGGER questions.

Meaningful investment and purpose is the key to unlocking the definitions of reading, writing, teaching, and learning. We do the little things of breaking down words, using tools and strategies to decode characters and theme, in order to get at the marrow of life. Really good readers use reading to get at the raw material of what being human is really about. They absorb, digest, and appropriate the reading for them or for the class. Students absorb, digest, and appropriate a text in so many different ways that it is important we do not get buried in the excrement of their opinions or meaning-making processes along the way; rather, we just continue to question and create in a space where these processes can exist, and in essence put more emphasis on the processes than the results.

With so much emphasis on the processes of absorbing, digesting, and appropriating, the temptation might be to speed up in order to get as many students industrialized to the formula of good reading. Read more. Race to the Top. Quality over Quantity! THIS WE CANNOT, SHALL NOT, WILL NOT DO AS TEACHERS! We must slow down. Put on some classical music with a hot cup of Earl Grey and the sound of the dog barking outside slowly fades away. Francine Prose, author of Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books & For Those Who Want to Write Them, states: “One important thing that can be learned by reading slowly is the seemingly obvious but oddly underappreciated fact that language is the medium we use in much the same way a composer uses notes, the way a painter uses paint. . . . it’s surprising how easily we lose sight of the fact that words are the raw material out of which literature is crafted.” This connects to the author of the “Why Students Hate Reading.” Terry Heick proposes: “there’s little wonder why students are increasingly seeking briefer, more visual, social, and dynamic media. Because not only are these media forms effortlessly entertaining, they rarely require meaningful investment of themselves. And it is this kind of connection that makes reading – or any other media consumption for that matter – feel alive and vibrant and whole. When readers are younger, there is a natural “give” between the reader and the text, their imaginations still raw and green and alive. But as readers grow older, there is less give – and more need for texts to be contextualized differently.” How is a blogger, teacher, and writer to make sense of these feuding arguments?

Meaningful investment and purpose is the roller-coaster ride we traverse in the midst of our job, and if we do not find the highs and lows of our job enjoyable anymore, then we must find another one that suits our interest. It is my job, and the job of all English teachers, to create opportunities and windows for meaningful investment and purpose. Literature is simply the vehicle through which we have students merge two realities: the text and themselves or the “I, Thou, and It” scenario. HOWEVER, it is not our job to define what meaningful investment and purpose is for each student. If a student HATES or is BORED or does not have any FEELING from the reading, then this is an opportunity to talk about the deliberate choices, the raw material, the evocative objects of the reading through observations and confusions.

One of my soccer-scholars may lose track of time engaging in social media while another may lose track of time in a book. Feeling alive, vibrant, and whole cannot be the end-goal of reading, writing, thinking, and learning — for this matter, they are merely stepping stones for teachers to engage adolescent readers. As Heick argues, readers skim because true, authentic reading causes them to self-reflect and engage in deep, essential questions with their humanity and their interdependence, and this kind of self-realization with the world can be horrifying! TERRIFYING! We must remember, we are guides for each learner, but I must disagree with Heick on this principle. Skimming is also reading and is not just a result of the kind of relationships we are asking our students to create with their texts. Skimming is part of a larger epidemic. No English teacher or student will say they haven’t used the skill of skimming to get what they need for the class or test. The College Board and the amount of standardization in this country is also part of the problem, the mechanization of reading for the sake of getting at a multiple choice answer. There is no quick and dirty solution. Instead, schools must take a more proactive approach to define these skills in an INTERDEPENDENT way. That starts with a conversation again defining what reading, writing, teaching, and learning look like in meaningful and purposeful contexts AND on a PERSONAL LEVEL.

We cannot forget, however, from where this article arrives. Finish the article and you will then see RELATED POSTS such as “How to Read a Book: 3 Strategies,” “25 Reading Comprehension Strategies,” and “Teaching Students to Respond to Texts.” Within the realms of reading, writing, thinking, and learning, aren’t all these connected, especially in a blog entitled “Te@chThought”?

Because of the endless strategies to get readers to make meaningful investment and create purpose out of their reading, the temptation is to give them all the strategies at once or to ask them basic 5-W and 1-H questions about their reading. These questions might look like this: “WHO is the story about? 2. WHAT is happening so far? 3. WHY is it happening? 4. WHERE is the story taking place so far? 5. WHEN is the story happening at this part? 6. HOW do you feel about what is happening or HOW do you think it will turn out?” Over time, these questions may become mechanical or industrialized to the context of the classroom if they are not re-questioned from a meta-cognitive perspective. Why are we doing what we are doing. I believe, at first, this kind of self-reflection can be terrifying for students, but over time and with a patient teacher who sees the ecology of learning, can become the right kind of mix to facilitate passionate learners.

I started this blog with the school’s mission. Here it is again: “YSC Academy provides passionate student-athletes the opportunity to maximize their academic and athletic potential through innovative best practices in the classroom and on the field.  Our community is based on an ethos of trust, hard work, and a dedication to pursuing excellence. Our environment develops self-directed learners with a lifelong passion for learning.” Much of the issues with reading, writing, thinking, and learning we are dealing with exist within the margins. We tend to marginalize the “otherness” of our thinking about a text while it is still in its inchoate stage. I’ve included other voices in this blog because, ultimately, the Ecology of Learning to Read and Write, is what makes good and passionate readers and writers.

There is a danger if these diverse voices start to put too much emphasis on the ideas and politics of the reading, writing, teaching, and learning. We must put an emphasis simply on the processes themselves. This kind of conversation exists when we can have honest and transparent conversations about the processes with ourselves, our colleagues, and our students.

If we really want to have an open dialogue about reading, writing, teaching, and learning, then we must start to ask harder questions of the ecology of our network such as, but not limited to:

  • How do we structure the school so that learners are learning from learners?
  • How can we optimize and maximize resources for learners to teach learners?
  • How do we honor the importance of making/tinkering with learning as an entire school?
  • How are we going to scale our learning system so that learning independently and collaboratively is the norm?
  • What social practices and institutional structures are most important in generating this new learning scape?
  • What kinds of permission do we give our students?
  • What kinds of permission are required in order to achieve our mission?

In reading Heick’s article, it has sparked more personal questions related to my teaching and my being and my role as a teammate in my school. These are questions I have been dabbling with for quite some time as my school moves forward through its 2nd official year and my 3rd year as part of the team helping to build the school.

I look forward to hearing from you and your thoughts.