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Today, I had the opportunity to listen to 3 presentations at the Heart of Texas Writing Project. Below are my notes for one of them entitled “Flights of Fantasy,” excellently facilitated by Angie Zapata, a graduate student and 3rd grade bilingual teacher in her 13th year.

Angie’s session was intriguing to me because it focused on a genre of writing that I often select from book store and library shelves for my own pleasure reading. Given the choice between reading fantasy or almost any other genre–with the exception of books about writing–I select fantasy. In fact, after returning to “home neighborhood” I made my way to the library and grabbed a few fantasy books off the shelf for reading!

Beginning the session with self reflection on the “What does Fantasy mean to you?” Angie certainly had me thinking about the elements of my favorite genre. The discussion moved on to a discussion of keywords like “Quest,” “Setting,” “Imagination,” and phrases like “Supernatural powers,” “characters.” I found the definition of a quest–offered by a session participant–particularly apt–A journey with a purpose. Angie shared an image similar to the following one:

There are various quests, including the salvation quest, the transportive quest, the object quest, and the transformational quest.

Angie, and fellow researchers, admitted their ignorance of fantasy, a genre they thought they understood and knew well. The stated goal of her agenda for the session was as follows:

  • Explaining inquiry as a teaching stance in genre study.
  • Examining one student’s use of writing to learn to read and write within genre.
“Is Fantasy,” Angie asked us, “worth studying?” That’s a question others had apparently raised. She went on to point out that in setting out to teach themselves about fantasy, they opened a Pandora’s Box of various fantasy types. They sought to build a collection of books that would meet the needs of children, adding a more realistic edge to our fantasy writing. I found this last point humorous but appreciated the “realistic edge” that must be present in any kind of writing. She also mentioned the importance of living within the genre…literally surrounding oneself with analysis and examples of fantasy.

Through this discussion, Angie regaled us with images of students, a video of a conversation between a teacher and the class discussing aspects of fantasy, a scattering of charts with language pertinent to fantasy. Even more fun was a student crouched on the floor, a spill of books–Angie characterized it as a “book flood”–flowing from a bookshelf made to look like the wardrobe out of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe.”

As I viewed Angie’s excellent presentation, I found myself nodding my head–not in sleep but excitement–at the wonderful possibilities available to these students in the third grade class. I mourned silently for the wasted opportunity my child had in third grade, filling out worksheet after worksheet in a large urban district.

Angie highlighted the importance of writing genres–before, during and after reading them–to keep the conversation going…talk is importance. Writers were able to take advantage of public spaces–large paper charts–to document what was shared during the conversations. More interesting, the students began to use the language on the charts…it appeared that they internalized it and the words began to emerge in their conversations.

During analysis, students can ask themselves:
  1. What do you notice?
  2. What features of fantasy does the young writer take up?
  3. How might you respond to the writing during a conference?
There were other excellent points and I’m sure Ms. Zapata could have gone on for quite some time…and we would all have listened happily on.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure