“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” ~ James Baldwin (American novelist, playwright, and activist)
For more than five decades, educators throughout the United States have taken Baldwin’s comments to heart, stressing the importance of reading and words to allow students to navigate their future.
And, indeed, literacy and literature — which we believe helps students unleash their imaginations, relate to the world around them, and actualize their literacy skills — is forefront in the curriculum at Eagle Rock School, with hands-on experiences such as the one I am attempting to pass on to my students this trimester. Called Adventure Writing, this is the latest class delivered through an experiential education context that emphasizes the importance of reading and writing.
Most recently, a class called Sacrificial Poets was facilitated by Tommy McAree, our 2018/2019 Public Allies Teaching Fellow In Literature & Literacy, and Daniel Hoffman, Societies & Cultures Instructional Specialist. This class was taught during the first half of this trimester (ER 78), with Adventure Writing underway now during the second half of the trimester.
My purpose in today’s post is to provide context for our blog readers and supporters that Eagle Rock’s focus on making learning literacy and literature experiential isn’t just a one-off experiment. Recent examples, bulleted below, demonstrate our focus on making learning about literacy and literature experiential, and therefore potentially more meaningful for students previously identified as being disengaged in their own education:
- In Sacrificial Poets, students read, wrote, watched, and performed poetry in order to refine their writing and analytical skills. They traveled off campus to watch nationally renowned poets perform in poetry slams and open-mic nights. And much of the work took place outside the classroom — with students extensively continuing to read, write, and practice their poetic pieces.
- Last fall, in a class called March: Leadership in the Civil Rights Era, Eagle Rock School students read and analyzed John Lewis’ graphic novel trilogy — a book chronicling young people’s role in the struggle for justice and equality during the 1950s and 60s.
- And last summer, in a class called All Who Dared, students created pieces of narrative journalism focused on the 25-year history of Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center. Through effective writing and information gathering, students were able to tell important stories from the annals of Eagle Rock’s past.
In Adventure Writing, which is being offered now through the end of our current trimester in early-August, my students are learning that the best stories come from personal adventures and that they each have a story to tell. We’ve been exploring the Rocky Mountains on foot and the students are taking notes about their experiences. All of this is in preparation for an upcoming challenge to summit Longs Peak, which will result in fodder for fully developed memoirs from each student.
But the class is much more than “hike and write.” Earlier this month, we had published poet Edgar Kunz visit our classroom. Kunz just released Tap Out, a collection of his poetry that the New Times Book Review says “…charts the gritty, physical terrain of blue-collar masculinity.” On campus, Kunz engaged the students in a workshop that focused on adventure writing, sharing with them about the imagery and the role of poetic language in nonfiction writing.
Kunz, a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow and former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University who currently teaches at Goucher College in Baltimore, led students through numerous activities and discussions based on a selection of poems. As part of the workshop, they used their newfound perspective of imagery to collect observations during an on-campus hike. That same afternoon, Kunz led students in an examination of figurative language and the ability of metaphor to transfer precise meaning to their readers. Students wrote and shared their own metaphors with Kunz, receiving feedback — and praise — from this published writer.
As a result, I suspect my students will have the opportunity to apply these skills and others acquired in the class to their own written narratives. As we attempt to summit the 14,259-foot Longs Peak in the immediate future, I look forward to seeing how our students will summit their own literary peaks as they create engaging memoir for their reader.
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About the Author: Brett Youngerman is the Literacy & Literature Instructional Specialist at Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, Colo.