Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On a happier note

I was going to combine the previous post with this one, but that's not fair to you, me, or my students. :)

Because for the last couple weeks, with our poetry unit, we've been having a good time. And I want to share it, because god knows there aren't always positive words to be shared.

The first day of the unit, we read Sick by Shel Silverstein. I read it to them first, so they could enjoy listening to the words, rhyme and rhythm. Then I passed out copies and they read along while I read it a second time. Next, they all read the poem aloud together. I pointed out some places where the author wanted us to stop or say something in a particular way, and reminded them that we shouldn't sound like dead robots when reading poetry. When I asked if they had ever done something like this, they all raised their hands, and I said, You have to sound like you mean it, or no one will believe you! So to help, I had the class stand up and act out all the 'symptoms' while reading the poem in unison. Then to finish, they took turns reading the poem to a neighbor.

The first poem they wrote was a 'copy-change' poem for This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams. I had a worksheet that cut out certain words for students to fill in with their own. The results were absolutely brilliant! I wish I had some examples to show, but they didn't bring them in after break like I asked them to. But I was extremely impressed and entertained with their work.

Earlier this week we worked with haiku. That's one of two poetic forms they've already heard of if not written, so I like to do those at the beginning. Plus they're so short. To scaffold the writing practice, I gave them partially written haiku (which I got from a website somewhere) and they had to write the missing lines. Then I handed out some pretty nature calendar photos and in groups they used the pictures for inspiration to write more haiku.

I challenged them to eliminate words like "beautiful" and "big" because they don't give us a vivid mental picture. I reminded them that using meaningless words like "the" and "and" wastes syllables. And their poems just got better! Again, I was really proud. Honestly, some of them I would have suspected of plagiarism if they weren't sitting in my classroom talking to one another. And I have to say, the level of accountable talk and classwork was at its highest in a long time.

Today I taught another form of poetry related to haiku. Once again I gave them a partial poem (Wind blows, thunder claps/Black clouds are evil leaders/An omen of death) and had them write a completion as groups. They were totally not fazed with the 'darkness' of the sample--in fact, I think their work was the best yet. There was plenty of time to have each group share. In the Roos, one table inserted some claps in the lines and line breaks of their poem and it startled all of us. It truly gave me chills and several students were like, You scared me! It was astounding; I was floored. I told them that I want to have them go perform their poem for some other classes. They were excited to hear that.

Oh! And I read them another great classic poem today. It still gives me a thrill each time I read it--the rhythm is so hypnotic and the tension builds so wonderfully--you could have heard a pin drop in my classroom. I actually read it twice, first stopping to have them infer and predict, but I didn't read to the end. I read it all the way through a second time and there was a moment until the impact of the ending hit them, and you could hear and see the surprise and confusion on their faces. I loved it.

I'm doing something new this year--using poetry for reading workshops as well as writing. We've read and discussed a few poems and it's actually lasted an entire period. I'm pushing them to think about what they read and notice techniques and imagery employed by authors. Not interpreting the work for the students, but just making them think. So far it's actually worked very well. There are several poems I'm looking forward to sharing with the students. Do you have any favorites or suggestions to share with us?

Oh, and one more thing! On Monday, a number of students didn't do their break homework, so I made them all stay for a lunch detention/homework makeup. There were like thirty kids in there, but most of them got the work done. And THEN! On Tuesday, the Herd had 100% homework! And the other two classes today had 100% (the Herd had just one, who clearly felt embarrassed)!

The last few days I've had them actually check each other's homework, counting syllables and such. That way they practice evaluating poetry and written work and see that they are accountable for the directions and assignments. Makes it a lot easier for me, too.

And I keep forgetting that apparently May is tomorrow. The year is quickly approaching the end. Phew.


StrangeNewTeacher said...

I love reading about your experience! I am so happy you are having such positive results with poetry -- it gives me hope!

My favorite all-time poem is Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. I like to take out all the jibberish words and tell the kids what part of speech each is and have them create a mad-libs type poem. The one I wrote is about Bunny Foo Foo and is very fun!

Anonymous said...

Wow, students enjoying a poetry unit. You are creating MIRACLES I think! Maybe it's just the H.S kids, but I get groans and complaints any time I pull out poetry.