Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 4: Research and Discovery - An Na, Edwidge Danticat, Laurence Yep, and more
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Text Sets
'Where I'm From' Poems
Student Work
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.

Teaching Strategies
"Where I'm From" Poems


As part of her unit, Kathryn Mitchell Pierce adapts an exercise from Linda Christensen's popular book for teachers, Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word. In the exercise outlined by Christensen, students study a poem written by George Ella Lyon called "Where I'm From," then model their own "Where I'm From" poems on Lyon's. Like the poet, they begin many lines with "I'm from ...," then list specific details about their backgrounds, families, and homes. Like Lyon's poem, students include items typically found around their home, in their yard, or in their neighborhood; names of relatives; family sayings; names of foods that recall family gatherings; and names of places where childhood memories are kept. This poem provides a simple structure for beginning writers, but also invites originality and a "writer's voice."

"Where I'm From" Poems in Kathryn Mitchell Pierce's Classroom

Kathryn Mitchell Pierce mentions that she and her class had already written "Where I'm From" poems as Christensen describes (e.g., each student writing about him- or herself). However, she also asked her students to interview family members, noting their answers. These notes -- primary sources -- helped the students develop their original poems.

In this unit, Pierce asks her students to write "Where I'm From" poems for the characters in the novels they are reading. The poems must reflect both where the character is from originally, and where in the United States the character is from (once he or she immigrates). Thus, in a poem about Celiane, the protagonist in Beyond the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat, there would be details about both Haiti and Brooklyn. As Pierce explains, "The strategy invites them to go back into the novels and take a look into the lives of their characters before they left their homeland, but also to look at their characters' transitions to the United States, and their cultural transitions to being part of the United States. It gives students the chance to go back into the novel and find details that show how the cultural situation or the social context is different in the two settings."

Pierce takes her students through several steps to prepare them to write poems. First she reads them a storybook by Marie Bradby called Momma, Where Are You From?, which uses the same "Where I'm From" form. She then has the students talk in their groups about where their characters are from originally, as well as where in the United States they are from. The students then write poems, individually, in pairs, or as a small group, in the voice of a character and choose specific details from the book to illuminate the two places. After an initial drafting period, Pierce invites several students to share a stanza of their poem with the class. They continue with the drafting process and then, finally, students volunteer to read their work aloud to the whole class. Pierce ends by asking her students' permission to use these poems to introduce literature circle books next year. (See Student Work.)

Benefits of "Where I'm From" Poems

  • When students write a "Where I'm From" poem from the perspective of a character, they find details in a text that bring an author's rendering of a culture to life. By crafting these poems, the students decide what is most important, memorable, and interesting to the characters; this helps them to see similar details, themes, and issues in other texts.

  • When students write "Where I'm From" poems from a personal perspective, they can articulate and appreciate what is special about their cultural backgrounds. This activity builds community and integrates student's home lives and individual voices into the classroom. As Christensen says in her book, this exercise can make students feel "significant and cared about" by "making space" for them, their families, and the worlds they come from in the curriculum, and by celebrating the similarities as well as the differences.

  • Pierce's repeated use of the poem -- at the beginning of the year to build community and in the middle of the year to invite deeper reading of their novels -- encourages students to look for and construct connections across various units and experiences that shape their school year.

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