The Journey Motif: Poetry and Mark Twain
Journey. What does the word mean to you? A place to go physically? Or, can a journey be an encounter, a conversational exchange, or an adventure leading to a change in one’s perspective? Imagined another way, can a journey be emotional, spiritual, physical, and even transformative?
With some writers whom we teach, let’s think about how we can scaffold their journeys — personal experiences, encounters, reflections, and transformations—into other texts by authors from other time periods — past and present — thereby enabling our students to explore and examine a deeper level of relevance and understanding of the author as writer and as an individual. Such scaffolding can often provide added benefits for students of all cultures and backgrounds.
Independence, Identity, Literacy, Family, Visibility, Self-worth, Social-responsibility, Loss — so much of the poetry our students read as well as the songs/lyrics they enjoy explore these real-life journeys — themes so many of them experience daily, especially since COVID-19, economic stress, and social upheavals. Through his notes, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, yes, poetry, Mark Twain’s journeys reflect and challenge contemporary students.
Let’s spend some fun time together at the 2021 CMTS Summer Teacher’s Institute. Let’s discover together how we can scaffold some of Mark Twain’s journey through life with the poetry we teach!
Tuesday, July 13 and Wednesday, July 14 – Online via Zoom
As teachers, administrators, librarians, and humanities educators, we have pondered and stretched ourselves to illustrate and model to students virtually, partially virtually, and in person just why they still should interact with text. For English language arts and humanities teachers, illustrating and modeling has been challenging. Regardless of the genre, fiction/nonfiction, ours remains a task that is “front-ended” with students and parents who are asking more often the following questions:
- Why are we still teaching old texts?
- How does what we teach assure a student’s success in daily living and a future career?
- What can poetry and prose and art do to help students secure degrees/certificates, a home, a car, groceries, and at least a semblance of “The American Dream”?
- And, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with these challenges with the instructional classroom, we still must see and process and understand, always being prepared to respond cogently:
- How can we defend teaching the content we do in light of #MeToo, #George Floyd, TikTok, COVID-19, evictions, food shortages, social distancing, masks (on/off), #BlackLivesMatter, #AsiansMatter, #AsiansforBlackLives (and an ever-increasing number of other social-activist groups), emotional and social unrest, and economic uncertainty?
At the core of these earnest concerns lies the nucleus of the argument: where is the relevance? Just what is it that students are exploring, deconstructing, and learning through content, like Mark Twain and his time, that will make a difference in their navigation of life?
Both students and parents have a right and responsibility to ask these questions and express their expectations of us. As teachers, we must always be prepared to respond directly, honestly, and clearly.
This summer’s CMTS Summer Teachers Institute explores Mark Twain through a series a unique lens — his journeys: personally and professionally; intellectually and spiritually; and, finally, through the man himself: Southerner, Northerner, ever-observer world traveler, armed with an unapologetic voice, challenging each and every person on the planet to see, think, reflect, process, and to act.
We will embark with Sam and Mark on their journeys around the world, through a variety of cultures, customs, beliefs, and dreams/aspirations of his time by means of his interviews, speeches, articles, notes, letters, and journals. While doing so, we will experience Sam’s and Mark’s “journey” in conjunction with assigned, curricular poems. In addition, we will scaffold onto the curricular approach, encouraging students to share their favorite lyrics, poems, or pieces of nonfiction.
Focusing on scaffolding curricular poetry with Mark Twain’s prose allows for another instructional entry. We want to take advantage of this opportunity in the Summer Teachers Institute and depart with our imaginations on fire with new tools and strategies that will broaden the scope of this man, his work, his writing rhythm, and his world.
Think about it: we teach writing and critical thinking. We do not often rely on the author’s writing process, patterns, resources, or inspirations. And, we do not often think about how to leverage these primary examples as models that inspired the poets our students read; nor do we often think about how we can leverage both experiences to help students understand more about what they can control and craft in their own writing.
Why Twain’s nonfiction this summer? Just since our last STI in 2020, the majority of states have adopted and interwoven into standing curricula Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT), In New York, the CRT standards are in the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework document.
In addition, using these not often-utilized primary sources with some of the poetry we teach invites students to experience and reflect and comment on how the past not only retains its own period- uniqueness, but also how the past can still inform and have relevance with the present. The majority of the poems will be those within the K-12 NYED Next Generation Learning Standards and Engage NY. As always, additional resources will be included with links, along with images, and primary source documents.
By the end of our time together, we will have explored, talked about, and shared ideas on how we can bring relevance, equity, equality, and voice to the texts we teach, using shorter, primary prose pieces by Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens while also addressing CRT.
This annual event is coordinated by Jocelyn Chadwick and Matt Seybold, who choose the theme, create resources for teachers to use during and after the Institute, and participate in conversations throughout the intensive two-day event. You can learn lots about Drs. Chadwick and Seybold by exploring the resources from past Institutes, as well as reading their published writings (see links in their bios below).
But we encourage you, most of all, to listen to the episode of The American Vandal Podcast made especially for the Summer Teachers Institute. It offers a more intimate conversation between the two friends and colleagues, as they discuss not only Mark Twain, but the contemporary politicization of U.S. education, the specific challenge this generation of students poses to educators, the relationship between secondary schools and higher education, and much more.
Jocelyn Chadwick is former faculty from the Harvard Graduate School of Education as well as a past president of the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE). Dr. Chadwick also serves as a consultant for school districts around the country and assists English departments with curricula to reflect diversity and cross-curricular content. She is a consultant for NBC News Learn, the Folger Shakespeare Library, PBS American Masters and The Great American Read, and Pearson. Her many publications include The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (U. Mississippi, 1998), Common Core: Paradigmatic Shift (Cambridge Scholars, 2015), and Teaching Literature on the Context of Literacy Construction (Heinemann, 2015).
Listeners to this episode may be especially interested in Dr. Chadwick’s recent publications about Generation Z for MarkTwainStudies.org (here and here), for the Today Show Parenting Team, and Education Week.
Matt Seybold is Associate Professor of American Literature and Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College and scholar-in-residence at the Center For Mark Twain Studies. He is also co-editor of The Routledge Companion To Literature & Economics (2018) and a 2019 special issue of American Literary History. His writing can be found in Aeon magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books, and across this site.
We also encourage current and prospective registrants to explore our resources from past Summer Teachers Institutes. You can read a recap of the 2019 STI with testimonials or the archive of teaching materials from the 2020 STI. Plus much more!