3rd Block – Discussion #2 – Spring 2017


This is the post for my 3rd Block English 10 class’ Discussion #2.

You will receive two separate assignments: Website Comment and Website Reply. Read and follow the directions carefully. :)

In our society, is it better to be a boy or a girl? State your position, then defend it with reasons and examples. (Check the assignment sheet for specific requirements.)

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1st Block – Discussion #2 – Spring 2017


This is the post for my 1st Block English 10 class’ Discussion #2.

You will receive two separate assignments: Website Comment and Website Reply. Read and follow the directions carefully. :)

In our society, is it better to be a boy or a girl? State your position, then defend it with reasons and examples. (Check the assignment sheet for specific requirements.)

Post to Twitter

SOL Domains Materials UPDATE

I updated the materials on my Teaching the Virginia SOL Domains page. The links haven’t been working for a while now, and my materials were a mess since my flash drive broke a few years ago, so it has taken a while.

Honestly, the only reason I’ve put it at the top of my list is that my department chair asked me to share it with the middle school teachers in our district to make sure we’re aligning our writing instruction. (Thanks, Ann!)

Maybe more to come!

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Voice Lesson: ‘I Shall Be Released’

Creative Commons License photo credit: dag

Japan 1971

Mr. Hawke came in the house the other morning with Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” in his head. When I think of that song, I told him, I always hear Jerry Garcia singing it. His sweet voice from the Jerry Garcia Band’s 1990 album is etched on my mind.

Well, of course, he wanted to hear it, so I googled it, and we ended up on YouTube.

After listening to Jerry’s version, I couldn’t help but click on The Band’s version; Richard Manuel’s falsetto of that song is classic (although Mr. Hawke didn’t care for it much on first listen). From there, I moved to the all-star force from The Last Waltz and followed the breadcrumb suggestions in the sidebar on and on, from one version to the next.

Same song. Same words. Same basic chord structure. Some were similar to others, but most were distinctly different in some way.

At some point I realized: I’ve got me a lesson here.

Voice: the writer’s presence in a piece of writing, created mostly by the writer’s word and information choices.

This is the working definition I have my students learn from the very first week of school, as we’re going through the Virginia SOL Writing Domains and Features. (This is a department mandate in my school. We follow it with a practice Direct Writing test, which is an essay written from a prompt. It is scored according to the domains and features.) A big part of analyzing the “Written Expression” domain is analyzing the writer’s voice.

I usually start discussing voice by having students describe someone’s writing in a note, details that would clue them in to who wrote this hypothetical note they found in their locker even if it weren’t signed. Or the “anonymous” text message that’s really from someone you know…

Fielding comments about a person’s handwriting or about the abbreviations he or she uses in text messages is key. We’re not talking about penmanship here; we want to get past the form to the expression underneath. This is not to say that form isn’t important, just that it’s not the voice of the writer.

We look at some examples of student essays next. I have three that I saved from the first year we started using the SOL tests, back before they actually had any bearing on (or reflected) student achievement, before testing security got so strict. My prinincipal at the time made copies of the essays for us to use as examples of different levels of achievement… So I have one that scored a perfect “600,” one that scored just over “400” (which is passing), and a third that scored around “360.”

We look for vivid and descriptive words and phrases in the essays, while trying to create a character sketch of sorts for the author. Is this author a guy or a girl? What kind of person is he or she? What kinds of activities would he or she enjoy? What kinds of TV shows would he or she watch? Music? Friends? Life goals? And so on…

It doesn’t take long for students to see that it’s much easier to sense an author’s personality when there’s more to work with. That “600” essay is about three (very small and not too easily read) handwritten pages; “400” is a bit over a page, and “360” isn’t much more than one paragraph. We always get a better feel for who wrote “600.” It never fails. But “360”? Who knows! No voice!

From there, I like to move on to writing in other people’s voices: friends, relatives, neighbors, people from movies. I think it’s easier to create something you’ve already heard. And it’s easier to find your own voice while practicing with other’s voices.

It reminds me of how I learned to sing harmony. My mom was trying to learn how to sing harmony, so she had me sing the melody to songs like “Amazing Grace” over and over and over and over as we drove back and forth from our farm in Axton. (Everything was a big trip from there, let me tell you!) And as I was listening to her sing that harmony, I set out to memorize it myself. I knew my part without thinking, so I’d listen to hers instead and mimic it in my own time. Before long I’d memorized that part so well I could sing it without anyone singing the melody because I could hear it in my head. I know it sounds crazy, but I was singing along with the tune in my head.

And I know that if my students can start to hear their friends and family, the people on TV and in the movies, the guy who was yelling at the cashier in the grocery store the other day. . . in their own heads. . . they can start to hear the characters in the literature they read (which will enable greater identification, engagement and analysis in itself) — and to hear their own voices, too. And once they begin to hear their own voices, they can more easily wield them in their writing.

Okay. Back to the song.

I think this song will be an excellent tune to use in deciphering and describing voice, not only because it’s been remade in a myriad of voices, but also because of its lyrical content.

Here are the lyrics, copied from Dylan’s website:

I Shall Be Released
(Bob Dylan)

They say ev’rything can be replaced
Yet ev’ry distance is not near
So I remember ev’ry face
Of ev’ry man who put me here
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

They say ev’ry man needs protection
They say ev’ry man must fall
Yet I swear I see my reflection
Some place so high above this wall
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame
All day long I hear him shout so loud
Crying out that he was framed
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

Copyright ©1967, 1970 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1995 by Dwarf Music

Most of my students will have never heard this song in any of its forms, which will hopefully cause them to more objectively move on to the lyrics and interpretation. Of course, this could also backfire with some students who aren’t open-minded musically. If they don’t like any of the music, they may not be able to adequately analyze it. Because of this, we’ll discuss the kinds of music they’ll be hearing and some background on the artists involved beforehand.

The song is written in first-person point of view, which is important mostly because whoever takes on the vocals takes on that character’s role, speaking with his or her voice. And in the various versions of the song, you can hear the different voices that the musicians covering the song use in interpreting this character that Bob Dylan created when he wrote the song so many years ago.

I think the story behind the song will be familiar territory to my students, though the music and arrangements aren’t. The narrator is imprisoned, either physically in a jail cell or within some other kind of mental or psychological captivity, and pondering his imminent release. From prison? From his life of suffering? From life itself? We’ll try to use the lyrics’ clues to answer these and other questions.

And now, to the different versions. I’ve placed them here in pretty much the order I found them, but I’m not sure that I’ll present them to my students in this order. I may not even play all of them. Ideally, I’d play clips from each, but I doubt the copyrights allow for any manipulation.

I’ll ask my students to try to take some notes on the videos, so they can sort of keep them separated a little in their minds. I’ll probably make a sheet with the artists’ names and blanks for notes/drawings.

Jerry Garcia Band:

The Band, ft. Richard Manuel:

The Band from The Last Waltz

Joe Cocker at Woodstock in 1969:

Govt. Mule:

Grace Potter offstage at Bonnaroo:

Joni Mitchell, Mama Cass, and Mary Travers:


and Bette Midler:

I’m not sure if I’ll use this last one of Bette from her Continental Baths days (with none other than Barry Manilow on keys). She sounds completely amazing, and she alters the lyrics of the second verse from “man” to “woman,” which reinforces the interpretative angle. But the video is awful! :(

Afterward, I’m planning to ask students to reflect on the overall activity of viewing the videos in regards to voice. Some possibilities I’ve considered:

  • Journaling about the activity
  • Writing a character sketch of the song’s main character
  • Drawing a detailed picture of the song’s main character
  • Comparing and/or contrasting two or more of the versions
  • Creating a map of the versions based on their similarities or musical styles/genres

I would love to find a different song in the same vein, something in first-person point of view, that students can then respond to in similar ways. I would actually prefer one that doesn’t have a lot of versions, or either I would opt to show only one. I think this would give my students more latitude in their own interpretations.

Well, that’s what I have so far. I’d love to hear what you think about it. If you have suggestions or questions, let me know, please. :)

And I’ll let you know after I’ve actually used this in class.

Thanks to Chad for this Jack Johnson addition via the English Companion Ning:

And thanks to Ryan at his Making Curriculum Pop Ning for this Jeff Buckley’s addition:

Aanndd thanks to Candace at Making Curriculum Pop for suggesting Nina Simone’s gospel-rooted version:

Cross-posted at Making Curriculum Pop.

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