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Jason Reynolds: Author Study | 8th Grade Language Arts

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Jason Reynolds: Author Study | 8th Grade Language Arts
8th Grade American Studies

For our last book clubs of the year, students in Language Arts are pioneering something special. Soon, they will prepare their end-of-year portfolios, in which they look across their entire body of work from September to June and analyze the pieces they have written spanning multiple genres, asking themselves, “Did I become a better reader and writer this year? What are my strengths and weaknesses? What are my preferred genres, authors, and topics?”

This kind of critical analysis can be challenging when comparing, contrasting, and synthesizing many kinds of writing over a period of time. To assist students with this thinking, we study the work of one author in particular—Jason Reynolds, whom many students are familiar with from reading one of his novels or graphic novels when they were younger. Students not only read one of Reynolds’ novels in small groups, but also read an essay, a commencement speech, a poem, and two short stories.

It just so happens that the poem we read, “For Every One,” was recited at the 2011 dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. Students not only read the poem, analyzing its tone, message, author’s craft moves, and style, but also read about the memorial itself and visit the physical structure. They compare the poem and structure and question how Reynolds and Dr. King are similar or different, how their messages to the world are similar or different, and how the poem complements, enhances, or challenges the message of the memorial.

Students take photos, connect the poem to the quotations throughout the monument, and discuss how they overlap in idea, theme, and execution. In class, students share their photos, quotes, and connections to be documented in an ongoing live chart that illustrates what students “notice” about Reynold’s style and author’s craft elements. 

By the end of the unit, students have analyzed the impact of tone on readers’ experiences and how an author might adapt their writing style for different audiences and purposes. As they ponder what makes an author effective at conveying ideas, students also consider their own work—how do the books they have read influence their writing? What strategies for organized, clear communication can they learn? By examining these questions, students develop their own writing voices so they can communicate with fire and precision.

This article is a continuation of Memorable Middle School Collaboration featured in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Bullis Magazine on page 4.

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