I wake up early (early enough so that my two-year-old is still sleeping), make coffee, open a book that is just a little over my head, usually philosophy, and then begin reading as dreams slowly give way to words. As a poet, creative reading has always been the springboard for my writing process. I read until some unique word charges my brain, or until I come across a phrase that I can only explain to myself through poetry.
As a teacher, “creative reading” is also a crucial aspect of my work with student-writers. All students, but especially students on the autism spectrum, love to take texts apart, to look at them closely, examine the “inner workings,” as it were. The process is like taking apart a small machine and then trying to rebuild it; only, in the case of writing poetry, you can put it back together any way you want.
I call this process writing a Remix Poem. I have the students bring in a treasured poem, or the lyrics to a song, something they know very well, and then we begin to dismantle it into reusable pieces. The size of pieces a student chooses tells them something specific about the poem they’d never learn otherwise. If they choose the smallest piece–the word–they learn about word choice and vocabulary. If they choose larger chunks–two or three words–they learn something about techniques like alliteration or assonance. If they choose even larger chunks–four or five words– they begin to learn something about grammatical phrasing and punctuation. And if they choose full lines they learn about line breaks and how a line divorced from the context of its previous and succeeding lines can still contain its own meaning.
Rebuilding the poems, students embark on a writing experience that is somewhere between vicarious and visceral. It breaks the spell of language where it seems a thing can’t be said differently and allows them to see language as a resource, something inherently social that we borrow and adapt and improve. This idea, that language is shared, will come to serve them best in the years to come. Once that truth hits home, it’s hard to hide behind talk of writer’s block. Can’t find the words? They’re everywhere! Just waiting for you to discover. Creative reading gives all students access to the deep well of words.
And reading to write can hone the mind, firing up the ability to read actively. I often give my students short detective assignments, having them trace the use of color in a short story or how a songwriter uses adjectives. I have them compile lists and use these lists as the source for their own writing. For me, it’s a win-win. They avoid the terrible (and absurd) anxiety of originality, which we’ve all struggled with, while at the same time increasing their literacy skills and understanding beloved texts in ways they never thought possible.
Learn more about unlocking the potential in your child/student at Autism and Language Arts on December 3!