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Opening Spaces of Possibility

Opening Spaces of Possibility

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Published by Mary Ann Reilly

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Published by: Mary Ann Reilly on Mar 28, 2011
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Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 52(5)February 2009doi:10.1598/JAAL.52.5.2© 2009 International Reading Association(pp. 376–384)
At a time when matchinginstructional practices toexternal standards is thenorm, making do, like abricoleur, may feel like anodd fit.
visitor to Murray Krantzman’s (all teacher and student names are pseud-onyms) eighth-grade classroom in northern New Jersey would find it filledwith soft lighting, multiple seating arrangements, and a library with morethan a thousand discrete titles, many of these artifacts gathered by the teacher.A lot of the usual books that adolescents favor are on hand alongside titles thatare less likely to be found in a middle school classroom, texts that mirror theteacher’s more eclectic interests and knowledge. At a time when teachers of-ten are required to mold their teaching to external standards, the presence of these texts seems all the more important. It is with these less typical offerings,as well as why and how Mr. Krantzman shares such texts, that this story aboutteaching and bricolage begins.In
The Savage Mind 
, Lévi-Strauss (1962/1966) referred to
as themake-do activities a handyperson employs while working. The
is onewho tinkers with the materials at hand. Lévi-Strauss explained that “the ma-terials of the bricoleur are elements which can be defined by two criteria: theyhave
had a use 
they can be used again
” (p. 35, italics in original). Similarly,Mr. Krantzman acts as a bricoleur by continually cobbling materials together in the course of teaching. Such intellectual activity requires flexibility and thecapacity to work with what is given while being responsive to emerging un-derstandings. Lévi-Strauss wrote that the bricoleur “derives his poetry fromthe fact that he does not confine himself to accomplishment and execution: hespeaks not only
things...but through the medium of things” (p. 21, italicsin original). Throughout the year, Mr. Krantzman uses the work he and hisstudents create as a means for further inquiry and dialogue. Resituating andtransposing ideas, hunches, and products is the modus operandi in this class.
Tuning Ears
During the third week of school, Mr. Krantzman shows
Silence: Lectures and Writings
(Cage, 1961) to 13-year-old Sofia, saying that he wonders if she mightfind interesting the way that voice and breath are represented on a page. Mr.
Mary Ann Reilly
Opening Spaces of Possibility:The Teacher as Bricoleur
Opening Spaces of Possibility: The Teacher as Bricoleur
Krantzman has told his students that he wants themto read deeply—matters of voice and breath as repre-sented in literature, especially poetry, are content tobe learned throughout the year.As a frequent visitor to Mr. Krantzman’s class-room in the role of researcher, I have come to real-ize that engaging students in the study of poetry asreaders, writers, and performers is not a unit of studybut rather a yearlong immersion that begins withtexts he offers to each student and that is sustainedthrough engagements that are woven through theyear as it unfolds. During the school year, it is likelythat he will place poetry by Jimmy Santiago Baca,Lucille Clifton, Robert Creeley, e.e. cummings, PaulLaurence Dunbar, Yusef Komunyakaa, Li-Young Lee,Molly Peacock, Gary Snyder, Sekou Sundiata, andWilliam Carlos Williams—to name but a few—intostudents’ hands. Likely, he will receive poems fromstudents that they offer as important art. In helpingstudents to shape poetry, he will teach them to namethe poetic—such as repetition, rhythm, meter, andfigurative language—in other types of print and non-print texts, as this is a classroom where the idea of genre is purposely blurred. Students’ success as po-ets rests not only in the direct poetry instruction Mr.Krantzman provides, but also in the way he guidesstudents to seek and name the poetic across multipletypes of texts. For example, Mr. Krantzman and hisstudents study essays by Wendell Berry, Bill Bryson,Annie Dillard, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Barry Lopezin an effort to better understand how these essayistscompose. Students will use techniques such as foundpoetry (Dunning & Stafford, 1992) and sketch-to-stretch (Harste, Short, & Burke, 1988) as ways todeepen their comprehension and understanding of a writer’s craft. “I want students to take the readingstrategies they employ while reading fiction, such asimaging, and use it to help them make sense of essay,”Mr. Krantzman explains, emphasizing the reusablenature of things learned.By January, students will have read
Haroun and the Sea of Stories
(Rushdie, 1991) and closely studiedaspects of the writer’s craft that are based on Prose’s(2006) work (see Figure 1 for a description of the as-signment). Mr. Krantzman explains, “Students areamazed at Rushdie’s control as a writer and his use of 
Figure 1 Reading Slowly: StudyingSalman Rushdie’s
Harounand the Sea of Stories
From Prose, F. (2006).
Reading like a writer: A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them.
New York: HarperCollins.
During the next few weeks as you read
Haroun and the Sea of Stories 
 you will be asked to notice and comment on Salman Rushdie’s craft. Youwill be posting responses to what you read online and posting a reply toanother classmate’s response.
Chapters 1–2: Words
“Words are the raw material out of which literature is crafted...readingquickly for plot, for ideas, even for psychological truths that a storyreveals—can be a hindrance when the crucial revelations are in thespaces between words, in what has been left out” (Prose, 2006, pp. 16,19).1. Isolate a small section (a paragraph) from the first or second chapterand examine Rushdie’s choice of words closely.2. Use a dictionary to help you trace the origin of a word or two.3. Post your response online.4. Respond to a posting.
Chapters 3–4: Sentences
What do you notice about Rushdie’s crafting of sentences in Chapters 3and 4? Locate one or two beautifully crafted sentences from one of thesechapters. What makes them so appealing? Look at how each sentencewas made (part by part).1. Post a response by recording the sentences you have identified andexplaining why these sentences are so appealing. What exactly hasRushdie done?2. Respond to a posting.
Chapters 5–6: Paragraph
Choose a section from Chapter 5 or Chapter 6 and notice how Rushdieshapes the paragraphs, deciding where to end one and begin another.As you ponder this, consider what Francine Prose says about theparagraph: “The paragraph could be understood as a sort of literaryrespiration, with each paragraph as an extended—in some cases, veryextended—breath. Inhale at the beginning of the paragraph, exhale atthe end” (p. 66).1. Post your response. What did you notice about Rushdie’sparagraphing?2. Respond to a posting.
Chapters 7–8: Narration
Who is telling the story, and who might Rushdie have imagined islistening to the story of Haroun? Take some time as you read Chapters 7and 8 to ponder these questions.1. Post your response. Who is telling the story? Who is listening?2. Respond to a posting.
Chapters 9–11: Gesture
What small physical actions, often unconscious or semireflexive, do younotice happening in Chapters 9, 10, and 11? How are the gestures youhave identified important to the story being told and heard?1. Post your response.2. Respond to a posting.
Chapter 12: Details
Francine Prose writes, “Details aren’t only the building blocks with whicha story is put together, they’re also the clues to something deeper, keysnot merely to our subconscious but to our historical time” (p. 207).In this chapter, how does Rushdie’s use of details echo our own historicaltime? Record your thinking.1. Post your response.2. Respond to a posting.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 52(5) February 2009
language. I don’t know that they would have been ableto read Rushdie with their ears without the immer-sion into poetry. It all starts there, learning to hear.”In discussing his students’ understanding of craft,Mr. Krantzman remarks that one student, Peter,while discussing revisions to an essay he was writing,explained that there’s “regular sentences and languageand then there’s Rushdie sentences and language.”Peter was revising word choice and syntax to developmore voice as he had seen done in
. The power in Mr. Krantzman’s instruction is that like him, hisstudents begin to cobble together bits of what theyhave learned here and there and apply these ideas tonew situations.This process of shaping individual students’ read-ing is one the teacher develops alongside his studentsas he comes to know them, their interests, and their reading behaviors. It is a practice Mr. Krantzman sayshe considers essential. He later explains that he has of-fered the Cage text to Sofia because he knows her tobe an accomplished violinist. When we discuss Sofiaseveral months later, he tells me that he has noticedthat while she and her classmates are involved in con-versation, she often moves her fingers on the table infront of her as if that surface might be a substitute for the fingerboard of her violin. “I wonder if she is com-posing or rehearsing music,” says Mr. Krantzman.
Collaging Cards
By the close of October, Sofia has selected three po-ems from those she has written to include in a port-folio of works as per an assignment Mr. Krantzmanhas given, and she has included a letter that intro-duces each of the poems. In the first, Sofia respondsto an engagement with which Mr. Krantzman hadprovided students with during the previous month.Throughout a two-week period, students recordedthe germ of potential poems on separate index cards,resisting actually writing a poem. Mr. Krantzmanasked students to carry the cards and a pen with themthroughout the two weeks so they might jot ideas asthey occurred. Students recorded individual ideas onseparate index cards, accumulating 10 cards. Duringthe next week, students brought their deck of cards toclass and working alone, with a partner, or in a groupof three pitched their cards. “It’s like pitching baseballcards,” Mr. Krantzman explained. “Students find anopen section of the classroom and pitch their cards.Then they flip a coin. If you get heads, you pick upthree cards closest to you. Tails, you select the threecards farthest from you.”Prior to students participating in this engagement,Mr. Krantzman has modeled how he would collectideas and how he might use three random cards toform a poem. He introduces this engagement by gath-ering students in the center of the classroom and hav-ing them watch as he flips index cards he has collectedfrom previous students. He asks students to choosethree cards from the ones scattered on the floor, either close to him or far away depending on the coin toss.Students jockey with one another to read and rereadthe cards, laughing at some of what they find. Theythen choose three of the cards, selecting what theythink seem to be the least related. Mr. Krantzmanthen arranges the three cards on the surface of a docu-ment camera and asks students to give him some quiettime as he thinks. Students quietly take seats aroundMr. Krantzman as he begins to write, and as he does,he interrupts his writing to talk to the students abouthis evolving intentions. “I want to use all three cards,preserving some of the language on each card,” hetells them as he starts. He adds, “I want to get at theunderlying principle that connects the cards.” Thestudents observe as he composes the poem, borrowinglanguage from each card and connecting the ideas,making use, like a bricoleur, of what is present.Using this method, Sofia has written the poem“Vacant Skies” (see Figure 2) and includes it in her portfolio. In her letter, she explains,
The three cards I picked had to do with music, art,and the sky. The reason I wrote about music is becauseit is a large part of my life. I do things with it a lot,and I decided to write a card about how music never goes away. I wrote a card about art because it isn’t justa painting or a bunch of scribbles on a page. Art issomething that has meaning to the person who createdit, and often times tells a story. I chose to write aboutthe sky because I always liked to just sit out on a clear day under a tree and watch the clouds go by. I alwayswondered as a child where the clouds went, and so Idecided to base my poem on the card.

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