Top 10 Writing
A week or so ago, I wrote about the nonfiction literature circles my students are doing, using the Scholastic Top 10 magazine-style books I happened upon recently. I always like to mirror my writing instruction with my reading instruction, so we’ve been writing magazine articles on our own Top 10s.
Students chose a topic for their own top 10 lists:
- there were few restrictions on topics other than that students had to know something about their topic
- topics ranged widely: country music artists, cereals, video games, hockey players, places to vacation, chewing gums, horror movies, TV shows, etc.
- I chose a topic alongside my students so that I could go through the process with them - my topic was the Top 10 Visual Artists/Painters
- we ‘walked through’ the process of developing a set of criteria together (e.g., the criteria for a top 10 list of best video games might include: engaging graphics, an intriguing storyline, many levels of game play, not too difficult or too easy to beat the game, reasonably priced, online components so that multiple players/playing with friends is possible)
- I modeled how to judge the 10 in the list on the basis of the chosen criteria using my own top 10 list
- At first I thought we’d write about all ten items, but I’m glad we just stuck to one item, since it would have been a very lengthy process.
- Students chose the #1 item on their list
- We may do some shorter pieces on the other 9 in the future
- I struggled with this because online research is so difficult for students in 7th grade. They are not yet sure of how to determine whether a site is reliable or not. They have to resist the temptation to plagiarize, either by copying and pasting directly or by ‘revising’ the writing on a website (change a few words here and there), or by copying the structure of an online piece. It’s not that they WANT to plagiarize, but rather many of my students are unsure of what it means to plagiarize and they really don’t have the skills needed to do proper research
- I decided that a clearly defined process might alleviate confusions about plagiarizing and temptations to plagiarize. So students were expected to read and take hand-written jot notes (not in sentence form)
- Students had to remain focused on the purpose of the piece: to inform readers about their topics and to provide supporting evidence for choosing the item as the #1 in their top 10 list
- Students organized their notes in accordance with their subheadings
- Writing from their notes rather than from a word document helped students to avoid plagiarizing
- We blogged the drafts so that eventually they will be able to clearly see the difference between the first and final drafts
- Students found pictures and videos to compliment their writing
- Students also provided me with hard copies for marking
- Using the hard copies, I made notes directly on their drafts, and I provided them with a typed list of ‘things you did well’ and ‘areas for improvement’
- I gave each student a ‘if I were marking this now’ mark as a baseline grade
This is the piece that I created as I modeled the process for students.
Vincent Van Gogh
If the name Vincent Van Gogh doesn’t ring a bell for you, then I’ll bet there are things about him that will make you say, “Oh, I know that guy!” For example, you might recognize one of his most famous paintings: Starry Night.
Or you might be familiar with the story of his ear. That’s right! He’s that guy!
Meet the Artist
Vincent Van Gogh was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland in 1853. The son of a pastor, Van Gogh had a very religious upbringing. Although he started painting a young age, he didn’t make the final decision to become a serious artist until he was 27 years of age. Instead, he had several different jobs, such as bookstore clerk, art salesman, and he even tried following in his father’s footsteps by becoming a preacher for a time.
Once Vincent Van Gogh decided to really focus on being an artist, he moved to Paris, where his older brother Theo managed an art gallery. In Paris, Van Gogh met several artists who would become his friends and who also influenced the way in which he painted.
What Made Vincent So Special?
If an artist’s success could be measured by how much money people are willing to spend on his paintings, it’s clear that Van Gogh deserves to be in the Top 10. Seven of the forty-three most expensive paintings ever sold were Van Gogh’s paintings. The one that sold for the most money, a whopping $144.1 million, is a painting called Portrait of Dr. Gachet, and as soon as you see it, you will notice the trademark style of Vincent Van Gogh. His distinctive and passionate brushstrokes, as well as his lavish use of paint, give the viewer a sense of movement and energy that was characteristic of this brilliant artist.
Although Van Gogh’s paintings have sold for hundreds of millions of dollars, Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting, Red Vineyard at Arles, during his lifetime. This fact is even more surprising when you consider that during the last ten years of his life, Van Gogh produced an estimated 2,100 art works!
Everyone Loves a Strange Story
Vincent Van Gogh showed signs of mental illness early in life. As a boy, he was overly emotional, suffered great anxieties and depression. One of the reasons people love his paintings is that he was able to convey intense emotions in his work, through the use of bright colour, vibrant light, and brilliant brushwork. Nevertheless, his mental health would lead Van Gogh to such intense emotions that one night, during a heated fight with friend and fellow painter Paul Gaugin, Van Gogh pulled out a razor blade with the intent to harm. Gaugin stopped his friend’s attack, but later that evening, Van Gogh used the razor blade to cut off his own ear, which he is said to have wrapped up in tissue and given to a women named Rachel to be kept safe.
In 1890, Vincent Van Gogh died of a gunshot to his head, which many think was a suicide even though the gun was never found.
The Artist Makes His Mark
There is no doubt in my mind, that Van Gogh deserves to be counted as one of the Top 10 visual artists the world has ever known. Songs have been written about him. Have you heard this one?
Movies have tried to capture his brilliance and the sadness of some of the events of his life and illness. Dozens of biographies and at least one novel called Lust for LIfe about Van Gogh can be found in bookstores. People know his paintings. They recognize his style. Even more importantly, Van Gogh influenced the artists that came after him by inspiring them to become freer with their use of brushstrokes and colour to show emotion in their art works, to go deeper in their attempts to use visual art to express themselves.