What You Know Stays With You: the Power of Place – NVWP Summer Institute – Day 4 pt. 2

Next up is Amy Langrehrer

What You Know First Stays with You: Exploring Changing Contexts and Perspectives

This lesson is based on the book What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan. It’s about the connection to your original homes after you leave it. It gives ELL students, presumably mostly immigrants, a chance to acknowledge the pain of leaving a first home. Amy works with many ELL and ESOL students who have changed their living contexts within their memorable lifetime. This lesson helps them tap into the power of place. The power of a place we no longer call home.

Before she reads us the story, she has us complete three writings about what we knew first. Use the 5 senses to talk about my first important place (ties in with setting).

My first place. I didn’t move around at all as a kid, so my childhood home is the place I’ll use. There are few smells that stick out. Perhaps the gamey aroma of my dad’s flank steak dinner. I taste another of his signature dishes, chickenghetti (exactly what it sounds like). Creamy chunks of chicken, hearty sauce, slippery eel noodles. (As I’m writing this, btw, more details begin slinking back into my consciousness) I hear the sounds of music. All types. Avant-garde jazz (Sun Ra Arkestra), rock (The Beatles), classical (Bach variations) and pretty much anything else besides country. Sometimes I got to pick out the records. One of my favorites was “Little Red Top” by the Pleasure Kings (might be wrong about the names). In terms of the feelings of that place, that’s where these things begin to get a little complicated. I made the conscious choice to avoid the messy arena of feelings while writing the previous stuff. Unpacking the labyrinth… (we just stopped)

Next, Amy has us write about the people in that place (ties in with characters). Physical or personality descriptions. Important memories, etc.

Family is complex. Let’s do some description work. My love of ascetic routines comes from pops. My mental image of my father shows him wearing the khaki chinos and blue button-down shirt he seemed to sleep in. Sitting in his study reading or writing. Probably smoking.

Lastly, what happened when you left that place (ties in with plot)? What happened in the multiple instances of leaving?

Like many millennials, The first quarter of my life involved many instances of staying and leaving home. I’m going to go with going away to college at George Mason University, my first real experience leaving. I hadn’t wanted to go to college. My high school experience was a blur of sadness and self-medication through chemicals. I was failing a few classes and I had no ambition to speak of. All of that changed one morning when I work up in an epiphanic haze the beginning of my senior year. By the third quarter of that year, I had been managed to both apply and get accepted into George Washington University and George Mason University. I went to GMU because, as my dad memorably told me, “The people you hated in high school are the same type of people going to GWU.” 

Then, she hands out what she calls a Conversation Grid

Convo Grid

Amy uses Conversation Grids with ELL students to help connect written and spoken words, generate language around an idea, practice third person singular, and build a sense of community (phew!). We walk around and interview each other. Again, as I write every day, the act of using language and literacy in a social setting is magical. Breaking down the barriers between children that a society steeped in competition and atomization inserts between us.

Next, Amy does a read aloud of What You Know First. She sets our reading purpose: what will she miss and how does she comfort herself? She mentions some of the many reasons to do read alouds. She talks about stop and jots (stopping reading to ask comprehension questions of the audience), a practice I agreed with until hearing Ralph Fletcher denounce it at a conference. He said it was akin to someone leaning over and talking to you constantly during an exciting movie. However, she stops and explains many words and concepts from the book that might confuse ELL’s. This definitely speaks to the importance of context in reading comprehension. Obvious tie-ins with reasons why many children struggle with standardized tests.

This activity brings out a lot of deep stuff for us. Some of us who have mined our past before are well-equipped to answer these questions and talk about our pasts. Others might have only begun the process. Either way, the self is a seemingly infinite pool of material.

Fantastic week! Be back on Monday.

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