More than Meets the Eye

 

It’s Poetry Friday! Join me in this Friday’s round up at Reflections on the Teche.

 

Last month Margaret Simon over at Reflections on the Teche dreamed up the idea of inviting people to participate in a photo exchange she called “More than Meets the Eye.” The idea was that we would send a photograph from our area to an exchange partner then each of us would write a poem about the other’s photograph. I was paired with Catherine Flynn (who blogs at Reading to the Core); she sent me beautiful pictures from in and around Bridgewater, CT.

I get nervous about writing poetry – even though I’ve watched my blogging friends write a poem a day for all of April and I’ve popped in to the Poetry Friday round ups to read and occasionally share – and when I’m nervous about writing… I research! The first thing I stumbled upon was Trip Advisor where a found poem leaped (haha) out at me. So… just for laughs…

Lovers Leap Gorge
Trip Advisor Found Poem

This is a simple roadside pull-off with a nice view.
Great photo op.
No facilities exist.
Daylight use only.
Overnight parking prohibited.

But the stories, legends and history of the area deserve more than a tongue-in-cheek found poem. I was entranced by the sounds of the names, the newspaper articles from when they flooded the valley (covering over the Barnum house – yes, related to the circus) to create Lake Lillinonah (named for the young Pootatuk woman who, according to legend, leaped off the gorge with her lover). I learned that Still River runs into the lake and so much more. I wish I could have worked it all in.

And then… well, I tried free verse and a mask poem. I tried a little of this and a little of that and I couldn’t quite get what I was looking for. I wanted the circus (the sound of the calliope) to weave into the legend into the idea of man-made creation (because I’m assuming the legend is at least partly created and I know the lake is). It was the idea of weaving things together that led me to write my first-ever pantoum. It’s got my own twist – I used a refrain – and I tweaked the lines a little, but close enough.

Catherine, Margaret, here’s a Bridgewater/Lovers Leap Gorge/Lillinonah pantoum. Thanks for the inspiration!

Lillinonah
“I feel sure bits and pieces of the old valley will come bubbling up to the surface of the lake for years.” Mrs. Sewell Montgomery in the Connecticut News Times

Lillinonah:
Bits and pieces of the old valley
Bubble to the surface.
A lingering lilt of calliope
Ripples through the water.

Lillinonah
Bubbles to the surface.
A lover, she leaps and her echoes
Ripple through the waters
of the man-made lake.

Lillinonah:
Did your lover leap? Do his echoes
Glide like a canoe over
The man-made lake
Where Still waters cover legends?

Lillinonah,
Glide in your canoe over
The lingering lilt of calliope
Where Still waters cover the legends and
Bits and pieces of the old valley.

-Amanda Potts, all rights reserved

I Lost My Talk – FNMI PD

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From a slideshow by Justin Holness of Tr1be Academy

Today I attended a PD day focused on FNMI learning. For those who don’t know, FNMI stands for First Nations Metis Inuit and is the acronym we are currently using to talk about peoples who are indigenous to Canada.

“In 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada began a multi-year process to listen to Survivors, communities and others affected by the Residential School system. The resulting collection of statements, documents and other materials now forms the heart of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.” (from The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation) In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Report included 94 “calls to action” urging all levels of government to work together to change policies and programs in Canada in order to repair the damage done by residential schools and help our country move forward with reconciliation. One of the main calls to action is to change education to include FNMI history and culture in all parts of the curriculum. This means educating teachers as well as children.

Today, teachers heard from elders and youth and everyone in between. We listened to talks, singing, drumming. We ate food with a traditional flavour. We experienced cultural activities from sports to drumming to beading. We even sang. We tried to be open; we were open. Tomorrow, and for many tomorrows, we must continue to educate ourselves so that we can share these vibrant cultures with our students. To that end, I’m including two poems here. The first, I Lost My Talk, is well-known in Canada, but I’m not sure non-Canadian readers will have read it. The second is my own creation, a found poem from the words I heard in our PD sessions today. To all those who shared their knowledge with me today, thank you. Migwech.

I Lost My Talk

I lost my talk
The talk you took away.
When I was a little girl
At Shubenacadie school.

You snatched it away:
I speak like you
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad, about my word.

Two ways I talk
Both ways I say,
Your way is more powerful.

So gently I offer my hand and ask,
Let me find my talk
So I can teach you about me.

 

FNMI PD Found poem 4/27/2018

I Reflection
How did you get here?
A brief centering of self where
your knowledge comes from where
you look to know that
knowledge is real.
Connect the words
to your embedded
knowledge.

II Meaning Making
Life requires sacrifice.
Everyone has value
regardless of physical attributes.
The land tells us what is real.
Expand your ways of knowing, being and doing
Evolving while you learn.

III Acting
No idea is too
small
to make a difference;
No idea is too
big
not to get started.
Bring unity to the community.
Acknowledge, Learn, Celebrate
Indigenize.

Poetry Friday is being hosted by Irene at Live Your Poem

 

And we’re writing!

IMG_1077I am excited to take part in Poetry Friday, where writers share their love of all things poetry. Tabatha hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at  The Opposite of Indifference.  She is celebrating the release of Imperfect, an anthology of poetry about mistakes for middle schoolers. Drop by and see what poetry morsels are offered this week.

In my last post I wrote about some poetry lessons that had started well but ended flat. I was worried that the learners I work with might not be willing to stick with me if I didn’t get it together. Several people shared ideas about things that might work to help keep my students engaged; one that really resonated with me was that I don’t need to separate assessment from the play we’re doing. I could go on – and I probably will at some point – but I honestly think part of our success today is because I said, “Hey, you have all these great ideas in your writer’s notebooks & it’s Friday, so let’s just play.”

I showed them some cool thing – sijos and kimos; nonets and golden shovels – things they’d never dreamed of. They loved it! They wrote for at least 30 minutes – and when I said it was Poetry Friday and I could share some on my blog… FIVE asked to be featured. Then, we ended the class by starting a group “I am from” poem. They’ve asked to finish it on Monday. My students never cease to surprise me.

Golden Shovel poem by J (Party in the USA)
So Emily and I said, “Yeah
the song is old, but it’s
a fun song to sing, a
good jam to dance and party
to, especially when you are in
the basement alone, or in the
room and partying in the USA.”

Golden Shovel poem by T (based on his own I Am From poem)
When I was young
The very best food was my mom’s chili
Then going to my uncle’s to play hockey
Those were the best days

 

Lost Home Nonet by S
A place that felt like home is gone now
Here in Ottawa is uneasy
It feels like something is wrong
Where is my freedom now?
Will I find it soon?
Sweet potatoes
With sweet peas?
Teddy Bear?
Home.

The beginning of our “We are from” poem
We are from long cold winters
Icy roads, I almost got hit by a car,
Snowball fights that last all day.
We are from snowflakes that fall with the maple leaves,
Skating on the Rideau Canal for beaver tails,
Skiing and snowboarding down the hills.
Skating on rinks, hitting the puck, cheering our teams.
Yet we live for the months of summer
Expired Ferry Express tickets,
The days we spend outside, the nights we spend with our families.
(More to come – the bell rang!)

 

And then… poetry lessons go awry

After a bit of a slow start in Grade 10 English, the poetry unit has been going gangbusters. All my plans were working! Students were engaged! They were having fun! They were playing with language, finding words, generating metaphors! I was a great teacher! And then…

Yesterday started well. We used Jabberwocky to think about how sounds create images. We listened, added images, read on our own, listened to a different interpretation, argued for our favourite, tried to “translate” it, read out loud, did readers’ theatre. The classroom was abuzz. And then… I decided to “let” the class listen to Poe’s The Raven. I had a good version with a creepy voice, the words scrolling past, the whole thing. Except that I overestimated my students’ attention span. Even with the lights out & the scene set, they got bored. Quickly. I should have pulled the plug, but I hesitated and the class ended on a decidedly dull note. Note to self: The Raven is too hard and too long for this group to listen to without a better introduction.

Today I wanted to get back to our poetry buzz. I prepped The Bells as an attempt to rehabilitate Poe after yesterday. I found multiple videos, including songs and recitations with images, that illustrated various tones. The plan was to listen, notice, discuss, then look at other poems where sound takes centre stage. I was completely ready, and then… as the students walked in, one of the social leaders said, quite loudly, “Please tell me we aren’t doing poetry again today.” Another one of my touchstone students showed up late and dragging. The Bells was not going to work. I needed something quick & engaging.

So instead of The Bells we worked with Gwendolyn Brooks’ We Real Cool. Students listened to two versions and were able to hear how enjambment can create rhythm, sound and meaning. They heard Brooks read and said it sounded like jazz. They noticed the alliteration, the “hidden” rhymes, the images and more. Great, but the dang class is 75 minutes long. We needed more and my original plans were out the window. So I read them Gertrude Stein’s Susie Asado.

Now, you might think that Stein is an unusual choice for a motley crew of Grade 10 reluctant readers, but hearing a poem where the sounds count more than the words usually completely fascinates students. This group was no different. We talked about flamenco dancing. (I wasn’t quick enough to find a video; I was teaching on the fly at this point.) We talked about the sounds words make. We talked about why Stein might write like this. It was great, and then…I moved too fast. I asked them to choose a person and try to write a few lines about them using the sounds of words rather than the meaning.

Here’s what I did not do:
1. provide more than one mentor text
2. help students sufficiently analyze the mentor text I did provide
3. offer written instructions to supplement my oral instructions
4. brainstorm ways that onomatopoeia is different from what Stein is doing
5. break the task down into chunks that they could approach
6. provide anywhere near enough structure

I could kick myself. My darling students tried – they really did – but I had set them up for failure. Only a few got anywhere near something they liked. Most were completely  overwhelmed, so they got off topic, used the bathroom (my rule of thumb: once the third student asks for a bathroom break, that lesson is done), put their head on the desk… GAH! It’s a good assignment, I swear it is, but I forgot to take into account what these learners need.

And then… I sent prayers of thanks up that I was prepped a little ahead. I pulled out a handout about Juxtaposition from Karen Benke’s book Rip the Page(Thank goodness for Elisabeth Ellington and Catherine Flynn writing about this recently.) At last: a written assignment, concrete, with clear directions. Something they could do with some success.  I guided them through it, and then… class ended before we could share.

I was feeling like a bit of a failure, but truthfully, I think we’re ok. I’ve stolen from tomorrow’s assignment, and the exercise wasn’t quite as good without the lead-up I’d planned to use, but it was good enough. In writing about these two days, I’ve realized that I haven’t ruined everything – yet – but I am still nervous about tomorrow. If things go awry again, the unit may be done for: my students preconceptions about poetry (and English) are pretty tightly held; they will happily revert to their ingrained habit of hating it. And I want them to try writing poems on their own. They’ve seen loads of mentor texts now, written lots of bits and bobs; it’s time. But generating language is hard, and now I’m nervous.

Anyone out there in the blogosphere have suggestions?

Miss, this poem is trying to kill us!

My Grade 10 students are, generally, a suspicious lot when it comes to English class. If they’re having fun, they pretty much want to know when the other shoe is going to drop. As I mentioned in my last post, this stream of English is called “Applied”; I try to take that descriptor seriously. How will we use this? What do we get out of this? Why bother? These are guiding questions in the classroom.

And we had the *best* poetry class today. A while ago I found an article by Prof Toby Emert on The Poetry Foundation website. In it, he talks about “exploratory methods for interacting with poems” and details a workshop he designed to “help students respond to poetry in ways that encourage them to love the poems and to enhance the skill set they need to engage in deep readings of texts.”

Well, I happen to know a few students whose skill set for deep reading is, ahem, not well developed. And I have been reading about why poetry can be a good entry for reluctant readers, so I was committed to trying this out.

Background: We’ve already spent five periods on poetry, mostly just playing around. We’ve read mentor texts and tried out blackout poems, list poems, book spine poetry; we’ve rotated through stations of haiku, cinquain, skinny and concrete poetry; we’ve listened to spoken word poetry, and we’ve even collected words. We’re ready to go deeper.

Ok, ok, ok… but you want to know what we did today. Well, we did what Prof Emert suggested – and it worked.

I photocopied Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins, Poetry by Pablo Neruda and Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish onto the biggest paper I could find. I think any three poems on a similar topic but with varying tones would do the trick here, but Emert suggested these, so I followed.

These poems are *way* beyond what my students would normally access. Not only is the vocabulary hard (palpable, palpitating, casement, etc.) but their length and metaphoric thinking was more than we had approached as a class. That was important. I wanted them to be in over their heads a little, to react to the poem at a level beyond literal comprehension. I wanted them to do what Emert suggests: be willing to climb inside a poem and sit awhile.

I posted each poem on the chalkboard, spaced well apart. Next to each poem I wrote two sentence stems. I told the students that we don’t always understand a poem right away – and that’s ok. (I was rewarded with a dramatic eye roll.) I told them that sometimes poems just sit with us, we just feel them. Sometimes we hate them and walk away; sometimes we’re intrigued; sometimes they grow on us. I reassured them that, while they might not *get* a poem, they could still react to it. (I admit it: I talked about Gertrude Stein.)

The students, in groups of three, read the poems then used sticky notes to complete the sentence stems in response to the poem.

If I were sitting next to this poem, waiting for the bus, it would say…

If I went on a date with this poem, we would…

If this poem could fly, it would…

In this poem’s pockets are…

If this poem were a burrito, it would…

This poem is hiding…

The students started slowly. They kept looking to me for permission. I kept insisting that they should write what came to mind. “Poems aren’t burritos…” one muttered. “Why would I date a poem? That doesn’t even make sense,” grumbled another.

I tried to overhear beginning responses and encourage them.
“If it were a burrito, it would… be cheesy?” ventured one boy.
“YES!” said the extremely enthusiastic teacher behind him (ok, ok, that was me). “Write that down!” He looked doubtful, but he did it.

Once they got the hang of it, they moved quickly. The sentence stems were so outrageous that the kids felt free to be silly. Each group spent 3-5 minutes with each poem (more time earlier on, but then they got going).

“Did you understand these poems?”
NO! Not really… a little… maybe… no… they were defiant, sheepish.
“Remember that you don’t HAVE to understand it. And anyway, I think you *did* get them.”

I asked which poem was the funny one, the most beautiful, the most serious. They absolutely knew. I told them that they had identified tone. They were impressed. We read their responses out loud and, lo and behold, they (mostly) matched the poems’ varying tones. (I’ve included some of their responses at the end in case you want to see.)

Next, I distributed a copy of Nikki Giovanni’s kidnap poem to each group. I asked them to “have a little conversation” with the poem by asking a question of each line. Again, we had a slow start here, but this time, they decided to humour my odd request, especially once I encouraged them to start with any line they wanted; within a few minutes, each group was writing questions after every line.

Soon, giggles and guffaws filled the room. I heard one student say, “Ask her what lyre means” and another reply, “no, no ask the poem.” Everywhere, heads bent over Giovanni’s work. Pencils and pens marked up the lines. Shh! Don’t tell anyone that these kids were annotating a complex poem, line by line. Any group that finished took their notebooks to collect words and phrases from the posted poems.

The final magic happened when everyone was finished with the questions. Each group chose two people (future reference: I might do this whole exercise in pairs) to read the poem out loud like a dialogue: line of poetry/question. This valued their voices as equal partners to the author’s voice and moved us gently in the direction of reading poems aloud. Their questions, their reactions became part of the poem itself.

The first group read & everyone listened. Their honest and sometimes aggressive or bewildered questions were funny. Everyone laughed and applauded at the end. Groups volunteered to read next. Each dialogue was better than the last. Another teacher walked into the room, talking, and my students shushed him. The bell rang just after we finished.

Today’s exit question was “summarize today’s class in one word.” Their responses?
fun, hilarious, funny, fast, creative, effervescent(!), energetic, good.

I am not exaggerating when I say that not one of them used a negative or even a neutral word to describe their study of four complex poems. It was magic.

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************

Here are some of the responses to the sentence stems I used. (I’ve put some of the less effective responses are in parentheses because I want to be clear that this exercise was imperfect. In class I read all the responses but highlighted responses that seemed sensitive to tone. I wanted the students to feel success as a group.)

Billy Collins =>
If I were sitting next to this poem, waiting for the bus, it would say…s’up dude, what’s popping?; hey, wanna fight?; Boo! (bye, Felicia; Where are you going?; seal)

If I went on a date with this poem, we would… go on a game show and find a new date, make an excuse to leave, be scared go skydiving and then go swimming (go to the cinema, kiss, stop talking)

Neruda =>
In this poem’s pockets are… figures of speech, la poesie, (empty, key lime pie, memes, a Rolex)

If this poem could fly, it would… fly with broken wings, glide beautifully, be a dove (go to Ikea, fall)

MacLeish =>
If this poem were a burrito, it would…be a stuffed burrito; be too cheesy; not last long; have too much hot sauce; have guacamole

This poem is hiding… a message, sadness, its soulmate, the truth, in a Disneyland ride (seals; something; words)

We did it ourselves

Um, you all, guess what happened? Two of my students “didn’t have anything to do” last night so they went to a bookstore and created book spine poetry. Then they took pictures of the poems and brought them to class.

THIS IS AMAZING! I wish I could do a little dance right here in my blog. This is true application as implied in the moniker “Applied” for this stream of English.

Zoe and Marta said I could share, so here are their poems:

 

Standardized test answer

Today our Grade 10 students wrote the standardized literacy test they must pass in order to graduate from high school. I supervised the extended time room and silently cheered them on as they worked. I cannot encourage or help them, but I can smile, wink and even pray. I also peeked at some of the questions. I cannot share the prompts here, but I can share two of my own answers…

Short answer response (6 lines provided):

I can swiftly and easily respond to inane prompts. I can generate a story for any question no matter how banal, pull semi-believable facts willy-nilly from the air, and find the perfect example for even the most general of queries, all while employing the Oxford comma. I can write complete sentences, including participial phrases cleverly separated from a main clause with commas for extra points. I can vary sentence length. I can repress my desperate longing to throw in an effective sentence fragment for style; I can restrain myself because, above all,  I possess the skill of passing standardized tests.
(exactly 6 lines in Google Docs)

Opinion response – maximum two handwritten pages.
I’ve done a sneaky poetic response because
a) it’s Poetry month and
b) I don’t actually want to write a one page response to the question and
c) one of my students worked tirelessly on this one, and my heart broke a little for her.

Standardized Test Opinion Response – a Golden Shovel Poem

She flexes her tired hand then gets back to work, suddenly knowing that no matter what she does
Today in the library, tonight she will do the homework
Assigned by the teacher who looked her in the eyes and said, “You can improve,
You will improve” then gave her harder work because she is learning.