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A writing idea for the first weeks of school—informative writing which can include some light, fun research. Some ideas are applicable to all grade levels. Additional information in No More "Us" and ...

A writing idea for the first weeks of school—informative writing which can include some light, fun research. Some ideas are applicable to all grade levels. Additional information in No More "Us" and "Them."

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    • page 22 Voices from the Middle, Volume 14 Number 2, December 2006 Roessing | What’s in a Name? A Whole Lot of Talking, Researching, and Writing What’s in a Name? A Whole Lot of Talking, Researching, and Writing Lesley Roessing I t is important to make learning relevant to students, and what is more significant than their names? I stand there looking at a sea of faces—strangers. They look eerily alike on that first day. Some varia- tion of skin tones, hair color, gender . . . . Wait, three are wearing glasses (with the same frames). Tomorrow, the first full day of school, the room will be a sea of green, khaki, and white as they don their school uniforms. Who are they? I think to myself. How will I ever tell them apart? How will I get to know them? Who are they? Many of the students think as they glance out of the corners of their eyes. How will I ever tell them apart—get to know them? My students have the same problem as I. Every fall in classrooms around the country, teachers and students spend the commencement of school learning each other’s names. My class- room is no different. Our names are the first part of ourselves that we share with others. Just the act of acknowledging a name makes a person feel im- portant and accepted. Many of my students do not know each other at the beginning of the year, and I know none of them. I have about 75 names to learn as quickly as possible so that my students feel important and accepted. Sharing our names shifts us from the role of strangers to acquaintances and, eventually, I hope, even to friends. During that first class period, l read the story of Chrysanthemum, a little mouse who thinks her name is “absolutely perfect” until she starts school, where other students make fun of her name. Of- ten, this is the first time the middle-level students have seen a picture book since the primary grades, and this concept, in itself, is interesting to them. Tomorrow, we will continue this new tradition with A Boy Called Slow, the story of the re-naming of the Sioux chief Sitting Bull. I ask the students to make name signs for their desks, forming each letter into an item that tells something about themselves (see Figure 1): an S can be a flower stalk, an M two mountains with a vacation home perched in the valley, an L might be a pencil and a paint brush, a P a hairdryer or hockey stick. During the time they are creating their signs, students are chatting with their neigh- bors, sharing supplies and ideas, playing with each other’s names, and communicating. Figure 1. Kristin creatively conveys information about herself by molding action to letter shapes. 22_30VM_Dec06 10/27/06, 8:53 AM22 Copyright © 2006 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved.
    • page 23 Voices from the Middle, Volume 14 Number 2, December 2006 Roessing | What’s in a Name? A Whole Lot of Talking, Researching, and Writing In other words, these young adolescents are learning how to make the writing process and the characteristics of good writing work for them, rather than simply learning about writing. As we look at the finished signs, I ask students how they got their names. Ears perk up. What? Amazingly enough, very few have thought about it. Even the “Juniors” and “the Thirds” may not be sure why their parents chose that tradition, but that does give us a starting point to discuss cus- toms and feelings and to begin an inquiry. (“So, how do you like being ‘Little Frank’ even though you are two inches taller than Dad?”) I have caught their attention—and it is important to catch stu- dents’ interest from the beginning—because I have capitalized on what adolescents like to hear about, talk about, and find out about—Themselves. Research, observation, and common sense show that students work more willingly on topics that matter to them, topics that interest them. In Conversations, Regie Routman (2000) states, “Stu- dents have to care about their writing to write well, and they care about things in which they are in- terested” (p. 213). Ralph Fletcher (1993) writes, “It’s important to begin with the realization that there is little inherently interesting about any sub- ject. . . . It is not the subject itself that will hold the reader but the writer’s relationship to that sub- ject” (p. 152). For the next two weeks, each class embarks on a search for the meanings and tradi- tions behind their names: given names, surnames, confirmation names, nicknames. We achieve this through a combination of teacher lecture, print and Internet research, interviews with family members, and the exploration and noting of per- sonal feelings and experiences. But what I am ac- tually teaching—the lesson behind the lessons—is a study of the characteristics of good writing: con- tent, focus, organization, style (including voice), and conventions. [Note: These characteristics are referred to as “domains” by the Pennsylvania De- partment of Education, who has issued a PA Writ- ing Assessment Domain Scoring Guide for its standardized writing assessments. The majority of states refer to the writing “traits” identified by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland, Oregon: ideas, organization, sentence fluency, word choice, voice, and conventions. In this article, I use the term characteristics or the ge- neric term traits interchangeably.] I also use this personal interest in the topic to help my students scrutinize the writing process as they brainstorm and collect data and organize it meaningfully in order to draft, revise, and edit their writings. In other words, these young adolescents are learning how to make the writing process and the characteristics of good writing work for them, rather than simply learning about writing. Over the following weeks, the students gather information, de- cide the most appropri- ate ways to present it (mode and genre), and learn how the characteristics of good writing will let them most effectively communicate their mes- sages. We begin by compiling ideas, or content, for the writing. Content Content is the information or details from which writing is composed. Students rarely have suffi- cient content in expository writing; before they even begin to write, they need to have enough data available from which to choose what bits are the most effective or interesting. To help my students gather a quantity and quality, as well as variety, of content for this project, I model several techniques. I share information on given names; the history of names and naming; recent naming trends; tra- ditions in different cultures, religions, and time periods; meanings of names in various languages; statistics on name popularity; and so forth. This assortment of information is presented in a vari- ety of ways, and I present it for interest’s sake. There are no required notes, no quizzes—just a lot of class discussion. The students pay attention because “John” in different languages—Ivan, Juan, Ian, Sean, Jan—is intriguing and applies to them or their friends, as does the popularity of names through the decades, and religious or cultural nam- ing traditions. The introduction of the nickname is relevant because their friends bestow nicknames 22_30VM_Dec06 10/27/06, 8:53 AM23
    • page 24 Voices from the Middle, Volume 14 Number 2, December 2006 Roessing | What’s in a Name? A Whole Lot of Talking, Researching, and Writing upon them, especially as they enter the sports arena. My students find themselves jotting down information (taking notes!) because they want more knowledge about themselves. We brainstorm a list of criteria that can be taken into account when naming a baby so they can go home and ask par- ents about what influenced their choice(s). I also explain how family names came about and the four basic types of surnames. They have fun changing their surnames to patronyms using their fathers’ names or matronyms using their mothers’ names. We check telephone books to identify obvious patronyms (Johnson), place names (Woods), professions (Smith), and descriptive names (Short). Consulting their foreign language teach- ers, some students translate their names into En- glish from different languages (Bauer, farmer). Using these techniques, Frank Weiss, whose fa- ther, David, is a carpenter and who lives at the top of a hill becomes Frank Davidson, Frank Carpen- ter, Frank Hilltop, or Frank White. After the students discuss the information pre- sented over the previous days and determine what may be applicable to their names, they generate a list of questions that they would like answered. “A healthy dose of ignorance is often helpful when you begin researching a subject. . . . It insures that you will be a learner. . . . It provides room for the imagination which, as the writer Bruce Brooks has pointed out, flows from what is known to what is not known” (Fletcher, 1993, pp.153–4). Students generate many questions based on all their names: Who named me? Why? How was the name chosen? Does anyone else in our family have this name? Was I named after him/her? Were other names originally chosen? What if I had been a girl/boy? What do my names mean? How do I really feel about my names? Have I always felt this way? Has my name ever caused a problem? Is my name popular? Was it ever? Has our family name always been the same? When/why was it changed? Who gave me my nicknames? Why? How do I feel about nicknames? In After the End, Barry Lane (1993) writes, “I explain to [the students] that every story begins by answering a question and some of their ques- tions make me want to write more than others” (p. 14). He continues, “The art of asking ques- tions is intrinsically linked with the art of having something to say, of valuing your experience, and trusting enough to share even painful experiences, first with yourself and then with others” (p. 16). My students next divide their lists into three types of questions: interview questions to ask fam- ily members, research questions to check in books and on the Internet, and personal questions to brainstorm themselves (see Figure 2). Pairing off, they discuss and share their personal feelings about their names, building community in the new class- room. Regie Routman (2000) validates the impor- tance of building a community: “Establishing community in the classroom is likewise necessary if we and our students are to be able to work at our best” (p. 226). She adds, “Today, we know that taking the time to get to know each other and build community in the classroom is one of the best ways to get the mind working well” (p. 539). Figure 2. Students used the Internet, among other resources, to research questions about name origins, meanings, popularity, and history. 22_30VM_Dec06 10/27/06, 8:53 AM24
    • page 25 Voices from the Middle, Volume 14 Number 2, December 2006 Roessing | What’s in a Name? A Whole Lot of Talking, Researching, and Writing After completing their questionnaires, the students are always excited about what they have discovered and are delighted to disclose the infor- mation. The divergent questions elicit a variety of content—statistics, facts, reasons, examples, anecdotes, family folklore. Chris found out how popular his name was the year he was born and what percentage of the U.S. population is named Christopher. Amanda Grace shared her mother’s musical version of Amazing Grace, and Brittany complained that her name was too common while others wished for more popular names. John dis- covered that he, in fact, is not a “Junior,” because his middle name is different than his father’s. Stephanie never noticed that she shared her father’s name (Stephen), and Sarah discovered that all the women in her family for the last four gen- erations had one of two names—Sarah or Barbara, or, in some cases, both. Ian George determined that his names reflected heritages from both sides of his family, Irish and South African, and was sur- prised to learn that his White mother could be South African (prompting a mini social studies lesson). And the stories went on. Unbidden, students bring in coats of arms and genealogy charts. Everybody has something to say, an anomaly for an eighth-grade heterogeneous classroom. The young adolescents talk together SIDE TRIP: IF YOU PLAN IT, THEY WILL COME (AND SUCCEED!) From a human development standpoint, a unit where students can learn more about themselves and their families couldn’t come at a better time than middle school. The search for identity and need for affiliation are well known among middle school learners. Like any journey, it begins with knowing where you came from. Leslie Roessing feeds that need by providing her students with the means and the space to begin to discover who they are. Planning is key to the successful implementation of a unit like this in your classroom. It is helpful to assemble a variety of materials tailored to the research needs of your students. As with any research assignment, be sure to discuss the importance of accurate information. Source materials and websites on name origins abound. Consider bookmarking websites on your classroom computers that can offer mean- ings of names of representative cultures. Many of these sites are intended to help new parents name their babies. Be sure to screen them carefully before students use them, as some ask for a subscription fee or market other services. Books deserve an equally close screening. While there is a wide variety of books that describe the mean- ings of names, some offer dubious information. Encourage your students to verify using two or more sources of information. Two books with excellent background information include: Norman, T. (2003). A world of baby names (rev. ed.). New York. Perigree. Stewart, J. (1996). African names: Names from the African continent for children and adults. New York: Citadel. As a follow-up to this unit, consider extending your students’ understanding of the role of family in the words and phrases of the English language. For example, words and phrases associated with father (patri- arch, patron, “father knows best”), mother (alma mater, matriarch, maternal, matrimony, “mother tongue”), brother (brethren, fraternize, “brothers in arms”), sister (sorority), children (kindergarten, pediatrician, pedagogy), and family love (affiliation, fidelity, Philadelphia, genealogy, genetics, “blood is thicker than water”) abound. —Nancy Frey 22_30VM_Dec06 10/27/06, 8:53 AM25
    • page 26 Voices from the Middle, Volume 14 Number 2, December 2006 Roessing | What’s in a Name? A Whole Lot of Talking, Researching, and Writing about what they have in common, and, equally important, listen in interest to the dissimilarities. For once, students who may view themselves as “different” have information that other students find fascinating, such as Fazil, whose Malaysian surname actually is a patronym; and James, whose surname comes first in his Korean culture. Every- of the data that I have collected would be appro- priate support, and we highlight it on my infor- mation sheet. We choose the focus that either has the most support or is the most interesting to me as the author. Next, the students ask questions and decide if I need to conduct additional research in that area. (Here’s a tip: “Teach students to replace ‘The End’ with a list of five questions generated by a neigh- bor” [Lane, 1993, p. 17].) I may have thought I was at the end of my brainstorming, researching, and organizing, but their questions showed me otherwise. This step demonstrates the recursive nature of the writing process. With this model under their belts, the students review their own information and determine the focuses of their writings. Any data not pertaining to the selected focus is eliminated, at least for this writing; this information can be transferred to their writers’ notebooks for later consideration. Last, each writer discusses with a partner any additional questions that may need to be answered by adding informa- tion. Style & Voice: Genre Choice Style is what makes the reader want to read on; voice is the presence of the author communicating with the reader. As I explain to my classes, all writ- ing needs content, of course, or there would not be anything to read, but one never hears a reader waxing poetic over a writer’s organization or fo- cus or conventions. Style and voice, however, can compensate for weaknesses in other characteris- tics. Style can gain a reader’s regard even when the topic is not of particular personal interest. I tell my students that many times I have read articles on subjects of no particular concern to me just to “hear” the author’s voice, and I illustrate with an example of John McPhee and his environmental writings. Besides a lead that captures the reader’s attention and a conclusion that leaves a memo- rable impression, style is determined by choice, use, and arrangement of words and a diversity of sentence structure (Pennsylvania Writing Assessment The students feel special as they learn they are special, and, sharing their stories and collected data, they grow to know more than each other’s names. The content for their writings becomes “substan- tial, specific, and illustrative.” one has a name—even those who may not read a book or write a poem; therefore, all students have something they can add to our name discus- sions. What they all dis- cover is that their family members spent a lot of time and effort confer- ring their names and, in many cases, there are family, religious, or cultural traditions associated with their names—both given and surnames. Even those students who insisted that they already knew everything about their names admitted that they found out new information because they had a new goal—writing about their names. The students feel special as they learn they are special, and, sharing their stories and collected data, they grow to know more than each other’s names. The content for their writings becomes “substantial, specific, and illustrative” (Pennsylvania Writing Assessment Do- main Scoring Guide). Focus After discussing the concept of focus as a single, controlling point made about the topic, the stu- dents are to look over their collected data to de- cide what point each wishes to make about his or her name. I share a transparency with the data I collected about my name. Together the class brain- storms the possible points I could make about my name. They come up with three: that I have never liked any part of my name; that my name reflects my heritage; that my name is more multicultural than I am. For each focus, the class decides which 22_30VM_Dec06 10/27/06, 8:53 AM26
    • page 27 Voices from the Middle, Volume 14 Number 2, December 2006 Roessing | What’s in a Name? A Whole Lot of Talking, Researching, and Writing Domain Scoring Guide), which create a rhythm. Style also can be achieved by effectively using an unexpected mode or an unusual genre, such as a comic book, as long as the writer is proficient in that format. At this point, I usually discuss indi- vidual options for mode and genre, including atypical genres, such as a eulogy or obituary for a name, or a persuasive advertising brochure. Some- times groups of students collaborate to draft my data in different genres for practice; “The Sad Ballad of Lesley-Irene” will always be a favorite. I have file boxes of samples of different genres and formats that students can examine and use as models if they wish to try a new type of writing, an idea borrowed from Linda Rief (1992, p. 26). While some students are more comfortable be- ginning the year with a familiar and practiced genre, some accept my invitation to experiment. Over the years, students have taken risks and writ- ten in many divergent genres. Joel created a com- mercial storyboard for his name, while Stephanie wrote a commercial script for hers: Stephanie is a name that is unique enough not to be heard everywhere, yet is popular enough that every- body knows it! It’s originally Greek for “crowned,” but this name is so great that many cultures just had to have a version of their own! The Germans also have the name Stefanie; the Polish and Ukrainians have Stefania; the Russians have Panya, Stepanida, and Stesha; in the Czech Republlic [sic], it’s Stepanka; the Hawaiians have Kekepania and Stefana, the French have Etiennette; the list is endless. . . . Hurry! This is a limited time offer. (Also comes in Stephen.) Also experimenting, Calvin composed a rap, Chris went back in time to meet an ancestor who could educate him about the family name, and Bridget fashioned an instruction manual for new parents, Baby Naming Tips. A budding playwright, Debbie, wrote a three-act drama starring her parents: Act 1—The Announcement; Act 2—Pregnancy, Month 6; and Act 3—The Birth and The Nam- ing. In Act 3, Peggy, who has been contemplating the names Rachel or Tiffany, “looks up at Ken, tears streaming down her face as she sees her baby for the first time. She pauses for a moment: ‘Deborah Elizabeth, my little honey bee.’” Two of the most creative products have been Dan’s comic book featuring a research hero, Name Boy, and Nicole’s multi-stanza limerick that be- gan: It was time to look in the book. Some names made them laugh ’til they shook. They each made a list Of names that they wished. Then they exchanged them and then took a look. and ended . . . My mother was glad I was a dame. What happened next, she was to blame. A girl I was born From chosen ‘Melissa’ I was torn Because “Nicole Danielle” I became. Two components of style are word choice and sentence structure. I find that students want to use strong and picturesque words when describing scenes inspired by their names or when portray- ing their feelings. An example is Krista’s memo- rable lead, “In a cozy brown leather chair, Krista While some students are more comfortable beginning the year with a familiar and practiced genre, some accept my invitation to experiment. hit a roadblock on the highway of writing.” As she writes about her grandfather’s enlistment in the WWII Army, she describes the front of the recruitment center: “A mammoth American flag was waving in the chilly December air”; she describes the recruiter, Ser- geant Walker: “His name gleamed in the bright light of his lamp. His khaki uniform was in pris- tine condition and newly pressed.” He spoke “in a calm and collected voice that instilled fear in many of his inferiors.” We talk about varying sentence structure and type and the power of sentence length. We even discuss the situations in which a fragment can be used effectively. Like now. Hope- fully, this beginning induces students to think about style or voice in informational, as well as creative, writing. Organization The next step is for the students to decide on the most logical and effective arrangement of their data and the development of that information 22_30VM_Dec06 10/27/06, 8:53 AM27
    • page 28 Voices from the Middle, Volume 14 Number 2, December 2006 Roessing | What’s in a Name? A Whole Lot of Talking, Researching, and Writing throughout their writing. We discuss the fact that every genre, even a poem or a letter, will have a beginning, middle, and end. The students review transitions and transitional devices and practice using them appropriately within and between paragraphs, sentences, and ideas (or stanzas and comics frames). Beginning her third paragraph, Victoria wrote, “Even though my first name did not come from one of my family members, Tatiana [her middle name] did.” As the students look at their information, they ask themselves and each other questions about what they really want to discover or say about their names. They then practice drafting their leads using a few methods (quotation, statistic, surpris- ing fact, provocative question, dialogue, setting or character sketch) to see which works best with their focus and genre and to practice drafting different types of leads for future writings. One memorable lead was Andy’s fictitious anecdote, written in flashback, about an ancestor in County Cork, Ire- land, meeting a friend and discussing her baby’s name, Andrew. The story then fast-forwarded to the present time to his mother in America, meet- ing a friend and discussing naming her baby Andy. It was quite effective in illustrating the folkloric quality of naming practices, and this lead aroused interest in the facts that followed. Bobbi took a storybook approach and began at the beginning (literally): It was a snowy December day at the hospital when a baby girl entered the world. She was tiny, pale, and had light brown strands of hair peeking out of her magenta hat. A blanket, fuzzy and pink, was wrapped around her small, fragile body as she rested atop the tiny bed as if she were a queen upon a throne. She opened her rather large, hazel eyes and glanced into her joyful parents’ proud eyes. After leads, we consider conclusions. I encour- age conclusions that share insights, that answer the So What? Another similarly effective conclu- sion for this type of writing would be an observa- tion or understanding. Many students had interesting observations to share with the class after conducting their research: “I did not realize that my parents put so much time and effort into my names.” “My names contain a lot of our family history.” “My name doesn’t reflect who I am; it reflects who my parents wanted me to be.” SIDE TRIP: READWRITETHINK LESSON PLANS TO SUPPORT NAME STUDIES • Alphabiography Project: Totally You (http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp ?id=937) Instead of writing their life stories in a linear fashion, students write their biographies from A to Z in this nontraditional autobiography activity, which was inspired by the book Totally Joe by James Howe. After the entry for each letter in their alphabiographies, students sum up the stories and vignettes by recording the life lessons they learned from the events. • Investigating Names to Explore Personal History and Cultural Traditions (http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp ?id=878) In this lesson, students investigate the meanings and origins of their own names in order to establish their own personal histories and to explore cultural significance of naming tradi- tions. After Internet research and interviews with family or community members, students write about their own names, using a passage from Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street as a model. • Avalanche, Aztek, or Bravada? A Connotation Mini-Lesson (http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp ?id=75) Would you rather drive an Avalanche, an Aztek, a Bravada, a Suburban, or a Vue? In this mini-lesson, students examine familiar car names for underlying connotations, then proceed through a series of steps, increasing their control over language until they learn to select words with powerful connotations in their own writing. Lisa Storm Fink www.readwritethink.org 22_30VM_Dec06 10/27/06, 8:53 AM28
    • page 29 Voices from the Middle, Volume 14 Number 2, December 2006 Roessing | What’s in a Name? A Whole Lot of Talking, Researching, and Writing Bobbi offered this end to the tale of her ac- ceptance of a typically “male” name and her kin- dergarten classmates’ teasing: Loudly the girl asked, “Is it true that your name is Bobbi? What were your parents thinking? That’s a really weird name.” Bobbi continued to color her picture; she giggled on the inside as she simply stated, ‘Thanks . . . I like it too!” Conventions As this is my students’ first writing, I do not spend much time teaching conventions. We talk about the purpose of conventions—so that the reader can comprehend the communication. I point out that conventions apply to all the genres—even poetry is punctuated—but many genres have their own unique conventions. Since the writers will be sharing this writing with their peers and families, they do look at editing lists and ask other students for editing advice, and many rewrite another fi- nal, publishable copy, incorporating my conven- tion suggestions. However, for me, this writing serves as an initial formulative assessment to dem- onstrate the students’ strengths and weakness, and it lets me know what I must review or teach in my convention mini-lessons that school term. Assessment My assessment of this writing is based on the writ- ing characteristics, modified to reflect what I have taught, modeled, and expected and to emphasize the focus of this particular writing (generating ideas/content). I give my students a rubric in ad- vance so they can use it in their peer revision con- ferences as a point of discussion. I look for content that is substantial and varied—a blend of anec- dotes, statistics, facts, organization, examples—and represents a mixture of research, interview infor- mation, and personal feelings; I expect a focus that is maintained with supporting details. I am also looking for organization that appears to be logi- cal and effective for the writer’s purpose. Subjec- tively, style is what keeps me reading and serves as a mirror to their interest in the topic, but objec- tively, I give weight to attempts to expand word choice and use figurative language and varied sen- tence structures. Misuse of conventions are marked and noted in this writing but not graded; they can use my comments to generate a personal conventions list. Reflections—My So What? It’s not often that middle school students express their appreciation for a lesson unless it involves a game or prizes. Of course, as teachers, we feel that most of what we teach is interesting and valuable, but usually young adolescents do not acknowledge this. Upon submitting this writing over the years, numerous students have mentioned that the ex- perience of researching their names and discover- ing their own family histories is not only interesting and novel but also important to them. Besides learning and practicing the characteris- Their own lives and their histories fascinate my stu- dents. Because of this interest and because the writers want to share this information as effectively as possible, they endeavor to write well about themselves. tics of good writing, stu- dents gain a sense of cul- tural, national, and family folklore. Also valuable to them is learn- ing that research can be conducted through inter- viewing experts in the field, in this case, their families. In What a Writer Needs, Ralph Fletcher (1993) writes, “I seek a subject to write about with two distin- guishing characteristics: it must interest me and it must be something that I think I can write well about” (p. 152). Their own lives and their histo- ries fascinate my students. Because of this interest and because the writers want to share this infor- mation as effectively as possible, they endeavor to write well about themselves. They accomplish this with assistance from mini-lessons about writing traits (domains) and my models, not to mention the cooperative support of their classmates. Mr. Fletcher continues, “A significant subject is usually connected, however loosely, to my life” (Fletcher, 1993, p. 152). Students’ names are very 22_30VM_Dec06 10/27/06, 8:53 AM29
    • page 30 Voices from the Middle, Volume 14 Number 2, December 2006 Roessing | What’s in a Name? A Whole Lot of Talking, Researching, and Writing closely connected to their lives, and they find out just how closely through this unit, which makes their names a truly significant subject to study and and to write about. The added bonus is that, by the end of these writings, strangers have become acquaintances and future friends. I agree with Nancie Atwell (1998) when she says, “We know that young adolescents value school friendships and social relationships far more than school sub- jects and teachers” (p. 66). This Names Unit provides students with op- portunities to know each other and know about each other. During this two-week period, these young adolescents are employing all the language arts—reading, writing, researching in the library and computer lab, talking, and listening. Through- out the project, they are gathering information, which they then work to comprehend, apply, ana- lyze, synthesize, and evaluate. Students work co- operatively with their peers, sharing creative ideas, research materials, personal stories, writing strat- egies, and revision advice, which mimics how adults act in their professional lives. The unit of study integrates academic and affective education by capitalizing on age-appropriate social and in- dividual interests, community building, writing strategies, research methods (including interview- ing), the reading of a variety of nonfiction sources, use of technology, and the recursive nature of the writing process. I also integrate vocabulary les- sons, introducing terms such as onomastics and ge- nealogy, words that also lend themselves to the study of affixes. This inquiry-based research and writing serves to prepare the students for paying attention to the characteristics of effective writing while also pre- paring them for success in the school year. As a bonus, it lets me become acquainted with my stu- dents through views of their families and their lives—postcards from their 13-year trips. Some Resources Used in the Classroom Bruchac, J. (1995). A boy called slow: The true story of Sitting Bull. New York: Penguin. Chou, J. S. (2004). Quick baby names. New York: America Media Mini Mags. Dunkling, L. (1991). The Guinness book of names. Middlesex, Great Britain: Guinness. Hanks, P., & Hodges, F. (1993). A dictionary of first names. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hanks, P., & Hodges, F. (1994). A dictionary of surnames. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Henkes, K. (1991). Chrysanthemum. New York: Mulberry. Naming Your Baby. (1993). New York: Mimosa. Tutalo, G. (1995). What will we call the baby? Boca Raton, FL: Globe Communications. Various websites: Search for “surnames” and “ethnic given names and surnames,” “naming history,” and “naming practices.” References Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle: New understandings about writing, reading, and learning (2nd ed). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Fletcher, R. (1993). What a writer needs. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Lane, B. (1993). After the end: Teaching and learning creative revision. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Rief, L. (1992) Seeking diversity. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Routman, R. (2000). Conversations. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Lesley Roessing has taught eighth-grade language arts for 16 years in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is a teacher–consultant for the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project and has published articles relating to the various language arts. Email Lesley at lesley_roessing@ridleysd.k12.pa.us. 22_30VM_Dec06 10/27/06, 8:53 AM30