One of unit that I particularly enjoy teaching in my Critical Issues in Literature course is the memoir. In fact the last year we were able to build towards this unit through a number of short pieces and quicky writings. This proved to be especially successful.
What surprized me about this type of writing was that it seemed to be a great equalizer in this class. Critical Issues is a junior/senior level course that is heterogenously grouped (which is becoming less common in my school, but that's a whole other post). It draws kids that have learning disablilties and are in need of in class support along with honor students. Some of the work that students who had disablilties with written language ( according to their IEP) produced was remarkable. The contained were finely drawn scenes with reflections. They may have had some gramatical problems, but they were able to recreate characters, settings, and events in their lives and have something to say about them. This involves complex writing skills that unfortunately we don't seem to be concentrate on that much in high school. On the other hand, some of my higher level students who were adept at more academic writing had difficulty with genre at first. They weren't sure what "we wanted" and complained that nothing happened in their lives that were worth writing about.
This year I'd like to do a better job communicating the importance of writing as a way to make sense of the seemingly meaningless events in our lives and the importance of doing so. This has certainly becopme more popular as Philadelphia's First Person Festival, NPR's StoryCorp, and much of reality TV has shown. For what is reality TV, but an attempt to create a story out of people's everyday lives? They choose interesting characters, put them in exotic settings, add a little conflict and see what unfolds. Then through creative editting, presenting scenes and reflection, they have an (hopefully) interesting story. I'm hoping by presenting these sources, and perhaps involving a recent graduate of our school who was a contestant on Beauty and the Geek, I can help my students better realize this. I'd also like to find ways to infuse this in my other courses, and help students better use the skills they develop through memoir writing in other more academic styles of writing.