Chris McCurry: Forming and Reforming via Bread Loaf

May 14th, 2014 | By | Category: Bringing it Back, Issue, Spring 2014
McCurrySmby Chris McCurry
English Teacher 
Lafayette High School, Lexington, KY
BLSE 2012, 2013, funded by the C. E. and S. Foundation

Each year, as my Bread Loaf  summer progresses, my current ways of thinking and teaching slowly dissolve and reform around the ideas and pedagogy I learn from my instructors and the materials. In his Describing the Imagination course, Michael Armstrong introduced me to collective journaling and collaborative analysis of a work of art. This method became the backbone of my literature courses and inspired me to allow students to take the reins of the discussion. I pushed them to see themselves as experts, not students. I now feel confident in their ability to succeed in the real world. I looked for practical ways for my students to use their ELA skills. Collaborations and professional exchanges among students being implemented this year include Amazon.com reviews, forthcoming features on 32poems.com, and a stage production of thematically linked poems.

Collaboration with the independent publishing company Accents Publishing (http://www.accents-publishing.com/books.html)  allowed AP Literature students to work their analytical skills into a compact discussion of a contemporary author’s work. For many of my students, this was their first time writing a review, and for all, their first time writing for a real and immediate audience. Here is an excerpt of Becky’s review of Tom C. Hunley’s Scotch Tape World  (Accents Publishing 2013):

There is a lot of imagery and sentimental references to childhood, and most of them, even if they were darker, ended on a positive note with the author discovering something about himself or learning what he must do to reach the next step in his life. It’s very different from all other poetry, and contains many contradictions. For example, in “Permanent,” Hunley writes “your tattoo fell off . . . showing you something about impermanence.” A permanent mark meant to eternally recall a source of sentimentality proves that sentimentality itself isn’t permanent.

All in all, it was inspiring, and if not enjoyed for its complex notions on life, death, and the abstract, I enjoyed it for its nostalgic tone and mask of simplistic and beautiful language.

The stage production of thematically linked poems is a collaborative project between Lafayette High School and Woodford County. Students design, produce, document, promote, and construct an entire show for National Poetry Month. Photos, film, essay, and a blog document progress. Images from their work during spring break are available at http://poetryfrompagetostage.blogspot.com/.

Poetry is my passion. Reading and writing poetry keeps me fresh in the classroom. Professor Ruth Forman’s Poetry Workshop gave me readings and lessons to use with different levels in my classroom. The course focused on writing poetry and reading poetry to uncover meaning. I recently used Forman’s lessons on energy to engage my students in thinking about the flow and energy of a poem.

Bread Loaf enhances all levels of my teaching. It is essential to my teaching. I plan my classes around what is being offered at Vermont in the summer. I have designed an African American Literature class that I’ll be teaching next fall right after I take Black/Performance/Theory at Bread Loaf this summer.

 

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