National Writing Project

The Mother Tongue: Takin' It to the Woods

By: Patti Powell Couvillon
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 3
Date: Summer 1995

Summary: Patti Powell Couvillon tells of her experience teaching a multi-grade class in the remote community of Elmer, Louisiana. At first she had no idea how to work with the students. Then she realized that if students are to write well they need to reflect first on who they are and what they bring to the classroom. She came up with activities that allowed them to celebrate themselves and their community, including writing about animals and interviewing elders. She shares examples of their work.



On my first day of class, Daniel, my sixteen-year-old freshman English student, sets the tone: 'You know, I welded me a chair to sit up in out back behind our trailer. My grandpa welded on the L.K. Bridge! An' I welded me a stove to prop my feet up on. I get out there 'bout 5:15 ev'ry mornin' and smoke me a pack of Marlboros.'

Thoreau knew what Daniel feels. The woods have a language all their own. And sprinkled among the hills are a people with a colorful and rich culture that must be respected and understood.

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