Wednesday, April 25th, 2012
This week’s student Six-Word savants attend Ridgeview High School in Orange Park, FL. English/Language Arts teacher Susan Mullen begins her lesson plan by trying to convey the power and art that can be encompassed in something as small as a single sentence. “I’ve been using lessons and activities from a wonderful book by Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One. Understanding this concept and being able to put it into practice will make students more adventurous, confident writers. No amount of speech drills or memorization of grammar words will help them find this sort of writing mastery,” says Mullen. She then asks her students to find beautiful sentences in every day life while reading, listening to music or just experiencing the world. These sentences were shared with the class in a Beautiful Sentence Gallery day. (Among some of the sentences showcased: “Dude looks like a lady!” and “Don the Brobe, Take the Broath.”)
Mullen segues the class into a lesson on writing in the Six-Word Memoir form. “Student comments like, ‘How long does it have to be?’, ‘What do we have to write about?’, and ‘I don’t like writing!’, precede all sorts of writing assignments,” explains Mullen. “So it’s a joy to be able to respond to these queries when introducing the Six-Word Memoir. Everyone can write six words.” It turned out to be a fruitful assignment for all, even the more reluctant students. “Some students hinted at the pain of their lives, others the hope, still others their passion for sports, friends, faith. Some students were proud of their work, and shared it with friends, others remained anonymous. The bulletin board of collected memoirs is still a favorite hang-out spot as students consider one another’s words,” Mullen says.
Student Kelly M. says “a Six-Word Memoir to me wasn’t just throwing any old words together and turning in an assignment, it was finding just the right words to explain my life. After tons of narrowing down and crossing out, I finally settled on, ‘Head in clouds, feet tied down.’ You really have to know yourself and your history to write such a heart-spilling memoir.”
Mullen reports that one student formalized his apathy and isolation with the memoir, “Nobody cares, so neither do I.” It was a frightening sentiment, she says, “but one that gave me the opportunity to look a young man in the eye and tell him how I about much I care about work, about language, about him. Like so many assignments in the English class, big and small, the incredible power of words ended up taking center stage. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Student teacher and partner in Six Words, Leteia Schwander, adds that everyone was excited to try their hands at writing Six-Word Memoirs. “Usually there is a resistance from a select group of students, but this time everyone was very receptive. We gave them the option to do whatever they wanted, color, cut out pictures from magazines, or keep it simple.” Schwander wrote some sixes of her own, including my personal favorite, “Nomadic sorta life, stress and strife.”
Fellow student Eric. K says, “It is said that you can learn a lot about a person by the contents of a purse or wallet. I’ve learned more by seeing what people can say in six words.”
In the spirit of that sentiment, I’ll let the photos of a few truly inspirational Six-Word Memoir projects from Ridgeview High take it from here.