Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Topic Introduction
Judith Ortiz Cofer Reads...
Write On Your Own
Read Other Responses
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First Steps A Shared Path Different Audiences Different Purposes
Usage and Mechanics Providing Feedback on Student Writing Learning from Professional Writers Writing in the 21st Century
You can listen to Judith Ortiz Cofer as she introduces the activity.
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"Well, a question that people who don't practice writing everyday ask me often is, 'Where do you get your ideas?' It's a funny question to me because I have many more ideas than I have years to live or time to write, you know. There's always something to write about, but the getting started in writing requires something, a little push, you know. It's like the little plunge into the swimming pool, you know. When you don't know how to swim, you're a little scared of that sort of thing.

"And I talk to my students about the trigger, you know, something that will bring on the need or the interest or the curiosity. And for me that works more with words than even visual images. People are always saying, 'isn't that a beautiful sunset. Don't you want to write a poem about it?' And I said, 'No, I think Shakespeare already did that.' Shakespeare wrote a poem about everything, you know. There's hardly anything left to write about, but there is, actually, because the point is to look at the ordinary with new eyes and to make it new.

"And I'm going to relate just a little anecdote about how I came about to write a poem that's at the end of a book on writing, a book called Woman In Front of the Sun: On Becoming A Writer. It was a few years ago, about three years ago the vice president of my university said to me at the University of Georgia, 'We have the most diverse class of freshmen coming in and we want you to be our convocation speaker.' That was frightening enough, but she said, 'I'd like for you to compose a poem for the occasion.'

"And of course I went into total writer's block, which I don't usually do, but then nobody ever tells me to write a poem. I just write poems. And so to make this not a Puerto Rican story-which would require about a full day to tell-in the summer my vice president said I had until September to do it. I went to visit my mother and she couldn't stand me sitting at her table groaning about this poem. 'I have to write a poem, you know, for the students.' And she says, 'Let's go for a ride.' And she took me to the mountain on the island where she could-I could see the ocean and the sky and it was glorious, a glorious blue.

"And I said, 'El Azul . . . blue.' And she said, 'Mi cielo, mi mar.' She always claims that the island and the sky and everything about Puerto Rico belong to her to try to convince me to move there. She says, 'How can you find anything more beautiful than this?' And so I started thinking about this and it gave me the idea that what I needed to do for those students was to show them that the way to bridge differences is to come upon a way to see beauty in both worlds. And I'll read you the poem, but the point of it is that it was my mother's words that triggered this idea that beauty may be different to each beholder, but that, in this world, at this point in our history, we need to find a way to see beauty in both, on both sides of the bridge."

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