Identity Stories

Another incredible session that I attended at the TYCA-West conference Friday and Saturday was Sherry Rankins-Robertson and Duane Roen’s “Writing about Family History in the Basic Writing Classroom.”

What a cool idea!

Especially when Sherry described to us that “family” could mean so many things. If your high school football team felt like a family to you, you could write about that. If your family is losing health insurance right now, you could write arguments about health reform.Chris and Silva Wedding

I have a student this semester writing about his brother-in-law’s battle with Friedreich’s Ataxia, and it’s been incredible to read the comments from his other family members and friends responding to the conversation that’s been opened for them through this writing project.

I think Sherry and Duane have hit on something vital, which is that the more our writing means to us, the more invested we will be in the presentation of it. I love it when students choose topics they are passionate about, and I think using the idea of “family” as a way of centering them is valuable.

For me, family history stories have shaped me so much as a person that they’ve taught me the value of all of our stories and voices.

The couple pictured here are my great-great grandparents, Silva and Chris. Silva was orphaned as a teenager, and taken in by Chris’s parents, and then Chris had to leave her for three years right after their honeymoon, and came home to find he had a three-year-old daughter. Incredible! And sometimes I think, if my great-great grandmother could endure that—the loss of her parents, then raising a baby and toddler alone—I have zero things to complain about.

Willard Huish

The soldier is my great grandfather Willard. He fought in France in World War I. A bullet went all the way through his chest, and he was left for dead on the battlefield. My great grandmother Martha, his sweetheart back home in Arizona, didn’t hear from him for over a month. It turned out the bullet had pierced a hole in his lungs. Air was coming out his back. But Willard soon came home and married Martha. He attributed his survival to God watching out for him, and I often think of that too, realizing that if God could pull Willard through that, He can cause much simpler miracles in my life.

There are so many other stories like these in my family, and they have all shaped my identity. I always had their genes in my DNA, but now I have their stories in my head, and I think, “We are the kind of people who persevere, who do what needs to be done, who find ways to survive and be happy and triumph over adversity. We are not the kind of people who give up.”

Stories mean those kinds of things, and I think that allowing students to pursue issues that matter to their family—whatever definition of family they choose to use—would allow writing to be not only meaningful but identity-building as well.

What stories have shaped you? Funny ones? Serious ones? Embarrassing ones? Your own stories or stories of the people who are important to you? Share a story in the comments if you have a minute!

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Graphic Novel Adaptations

Never mind about the Tuesday/Friday schedule for now. I’m having trouble boxing myself in. For example, I wanted to show this cover to everyone without having to wait until Tuesday:


Doesn’t that make you want to pick up this book and read the whole thing? I love the illustration of Lizzy, and it makes me excited to open it and see all the rest of the characters I love! Plus the teen-mag spin with the teasers? Awesome.

This was just one of the many cool and unexpected things I discovered at the TYCA-West (Two Year College Association) conference this weekend. Levia Hayes and Elizabeth Henkel from the College of Southern Nevada gave a presentation entitled, “Comic Books and Visual Literature: Superpower or Kryptonite?” This cover was on their handout, along with a comic-book version of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and a comic book TEXTBOOK–that is, a textbook about comic books written as a comic book! How would you like that in college?

I’ve read only a few graphic novels, including American Born Chinese (super cool twist at the end!), Shannon’s and Dean’s and Nathan’s Rapunzel’s Revenge, and Holly Black’s The Good Neighbors (book 1), and so my experience with the genre is very limited, but I like the idea of graphic novels, the idea of having to read pictures closely to understand a story, all of that. pride_and_prejudice_3_by_sonny123

Anyhow, all three of those are original stories, not adaptations. This cover for P&P won me over instantly, and I’m excited to encounter a familiar, well-loved novel in a new way. I surfed over to my library website and put it on hold while sitting in the presentation. 

In high school we watched the BBC film rather than reading the book, but how cool would it be for teachers to use several versions–the original novel, the graphic novel, the BBC film, and the Focus Features film–and have students compare and contrast? You wouldn’t even have to show both films in their entirety.

There are, of course, a million other adaptations of P&P, with zombies and everything, but I like the idea of having high school students or college students analyze how the visual format of a comic book impacts the story, maybe falling in between the genres of novel and film.

Has anyone read any graphic novel adaptations of classics or contemporary novels? I’ve heard that Twilight is currently being adapted. Are there others? What are your opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of the genre? (Do I sound like I just got out of a conference? Sorry!)

Punctuation Repertoires

Dreamt I was the new word bubble grammar fairy. I was responsible for . , : and ;

This was a recent tweet from my friend Diana, who has a super cool webcomic called Sweet & Sour Grapes. Her tweet made me laugh so much that I warned her I’d end up quoting it some time, and now I have. I can’t quite imagine word bubbles with colons or semicolons in them, but I like the funny image of a fairy who dispenses those marks!


Sometimes I feel like the grammar fairy in charge of ; : — ( ) , etc. Only not for speech bubbles. For student writing.

My own experience learning all the punctuation marks was horribly inefficient. I was still picking up random things in college. I can remember exactly which professor went off on a quick tangent to show us about hyphens, and which professor pointed out to me in grad school that my ellipses needed to be spaced apart. If somebody had fed it to me all at once, efficiently and effectively, I would have eaten it up! I didn’t want to look stupid with my ellipses scrunched.

So when I got hired as a graduate instructor, I was totally dismayed when they told us we were pretty much not allowed to teach grammar. They showed us this quote about how it took away too much time from other instruction, and they gave us handbooks that we were supposed to have the students read and take quizzes on.

Can you guess how effective that was?

Anyhow, ever since then I’ve made it my personal mission to find an effective way to give students a repertoire of ; : — ( ) , ” ” ‘ . . . [ ] -, etc, all in one semester. I’ve had successes and set-backs, but I’ve learned a lot about what makes certain teaching methods effective.

I’ve just added a whole section on my teaching page full of pdf files and other useful links about grammar pedagogy, and tomorrow I’m going to show it to college instructors from Idaho, Utah, and Arizona–well, at least any who stop by my session at the TYCA-West conference. Hopefully someone will find the information useful.

I’d love comments about successes others have had–whether as a teacher or a learner–with mastering these conventions.

And if you could be a punctuation fairy, which mark would you dispense most often? For me, it would have to be an em dash. Gosh, I love those things. And a colon would come in a tight second.