It is difficult to get 6-12th graders to read. This isn’t even an argument about getting them to read well, closely or critically. They just don’t read. Sometimes they don’t even read things that they would actually enjoy like The Catcher in the Rye or The Things They Carried. And it’s infuriating. As teachers, we often bemoan the lack of reading our students do. But what’s to be done? Offering student choice is important but it can be daunting even for a seasoned teacher. Finding resources that are well written and engaging can prove exhausting. And in light of technology’s effect on publication shouldn’t students be reading a variety of online texts?
It’s no wonder we struggle.
My argument is not that we do away with Heart of Darkness or The Scarlet Letter or even the glorious Light in August. Students need to be challenged and held accountable. But I do want students to read texts they find enjoyable without sacrificing journalistic and literary merit.
So many educators argue the need for students to critically analyze a variety of texts. And so many more argue the importance of using blogs in the classroom. But frequently those two arguments don’t overlap in a way that identifies blogs as texts to supplement student reading. In all fairness, it can be difficult to find blogs that students can read consistently for style, argument and substance. And yet, they do exist. It is the goal of this week’s post to identify them and discuss how to use them in classroom. These posts will consider a variety of student interests (i.e. science, technology, cars, pop culture) without sacrificing quality in hopes that as an educator you can have students spend a “unit” or even a quarter towards studying and reading blogs.
Friday Dialogue from
Your Two Favorite Educators
As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss if “Party Rock” is a form of poetry.
1.) How can we get kids amped for poetry with sacrificing the integrity and intent of the poem itself?
Aubrey: I like to do an exercise. I show them some poems that they “deem” easy to write. “This is to Say” works well. Annotate, discuss, annotate some more. They still aren’t convinced. So then I ask them to make a list. Ten everyday things they know well. Toothbrushes, steering wheels, spiral notebooks, anything. They do it. Then I say write me a poem in the same style as William Carlos Williams about one thing on your list. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes. I’m lucky if I get one good “knock-off.” But that’s all it is and most of them can articulate that it’s only a poor copy. This isn’t innovative or life changing but it proves my point. Poetry is hard, and when it’s good you can’t replicate it. Forget amped. Make poetry a challenge, a dare. Read more
I know poetry is tough and that a lot of teachers, in an attempt to make poetry more accessible and fun for students, will often ask them to analyze song lyrics as they are a poem. Listen, I’m not trying to argue the music can’t be poetic. What can I say? I’m a Belieber and fully admit that some of his songs (okay, 95% of them) have strong poetic elements in them. However, just having poetic elements and rhythm doesn’t mean studying a song should replace a poem. Read more
I like to fancy myself a good reader. However, I whole-heartedly admit that poetry is tough. It creates doubt in readers. We are constantly doubting whether we really understand a poem or not. Even something that seems “easy” to understand, like “My Papa’s Waltz,” ends up sending even the strongest reader into a quiver. If I find myself a self conscious reader when studying a poem I can’t imagine how overwhelming it is for struggling readers. Read more
Poems are such a great resource to incorporate into the English classroom because, since they are usually fairly short, they pack a wallop of literary and poetic devices. One such device that many teachers capitalize on is imagery. Read more
O, poetry. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
We are now in the final week of National Poetry Month, something that some are relishing and others are loathing.
However, regardless of your feelings toward poetry or an entire month dedicated to the promotion of poetry, stanzas and sonnets and scansion are part of our rhetoric as English teachers. Our professional duty. Teaching poetry is something we, as English teachers, are obliged to do.
Last week Aubrey provided great new resources to bring poetry instruction into the 21st century. This week, I’m going to examine several widely used lessons on teaching poetry and provide suggestions on how to revamp and revitalize them. While a lot of turn to several key lessons for poetry instruction (like drawing the poem and analyzing song lyrics as poems) these old standbys often don’t fully challenge our students or prepare them to fully analyze a challenging poem on their own. However, these lessons do have a lot of potential. This week I will be exploring three popular lessons for poetry instruction and will provide extensions or further activities to deepen student knowledge of the art that is poetry.
Friday Dialogue from
Your Two Favorite Educators
As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss the merits of poetry in the English classroom.
1. What are the largest obstacles to teaching poetry?
Emily: I think students are inherently afraid of poetry because they are afraid the poet is playing tricks on them. While they might understand each individual word in a poem, there is something about the compact form and typically rigid structure that makes students doubt whether or not they know what the words mean. They begin to think that every word is a symbol and get frustrated and just quit. The largest obstacle is helping students navigate through a tough poem with confidence.
Aubrey: I feel as if students split down the middle, it’s either fear or the definitive belief that “short” texts are synonymous with ease. It’s very difficult for me to guide both groups to a middle ground. Parsing poetry should be difficult but not every word is a symbol.
2. What merit is there to teaching poetry?
Emily: I love how tight and specific it is. Poems are like taking a novel and cutting it down to the bare bones. What a novelist can posit in 200 pages a poet can do in 14 lines. I think this is the biggest benefit. Students can hone similar skills they would with the book they never pick up because it is too long.
Aubrey: What I wouldn’t give for some concision in student writing. I’d also like poetry to prove to them that a small turn of phrase can pack an incredibly large wallop. So many of my students are hung up on the idea of more, more, more. Poetry teaches patience and the value of writing in “small spaces.” Read more
All of my best “material” has an element of shamelessness to it. I’m not talking about the curriculum I’ve created or the copious notes I’ve constructed. I’m not talking about how I tap my face while I grade or helicopter over students until they annotate. No, I am talking about how I “clown” literature. I pantomime and quip. I physically reenact Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, even Robert Penn Warren.
I am an embarrassment unto myself. Read more
Billy Collins is my favorite poet. This is neither unique or of great, vast insight. To deny Billy Collins is to deny the art of poetry, poet laureates and Poetry 180. But part of what truly makes me love Billy Collins is his role in shaping popular culture when it comes to poetry. Since this week’s posts examine poetry through the lens of media, Billy Collins is a worthy focus. More than anything else he is a poet in the public eye.
Collins is well-known. See his You Tube highlights or any of his featured spots on A Prairie Home Companion if you don’t believe it. But what makes him an appropriate topic for our focus this week on poetry and media literacy has to do with how we see his poetry “interpreted.”
Consider using the lesson below to supplement a poetry unit that already focuses on Billy Collins. Or, use one of his pieces of poetry as a starting point, and after introducing his work, use this lesson to raise larger questions about poet, media and culture. Read more
Often, I find that I’m forced to defend the teaching of poetry—to my students. It is as if they see poetry as frivolity, or worse, self-indulgence. In the world of Tumblr, Instagram, and Flipboard, where does poetry fit? Today begins our foray into resources that help teach students how poetry exists in spaces other than just textbooks and dusty bookstores.
One of the best ways to discuss poetry, popular culture and media literacy finds its shape in The Anthology of Really Important Modern Poetry: Timeless Poems by Snooki, John Boehner, Kanye West, and Other Well-Versed Celebrities. In this anthology, authors and siblings Kathryn and Ross Petras use the language of politicians and celebrities to create found poetry. The results are fabulous and humorous. While not all poems are appropriate for use in the classroom, there are enough to make the publication a useful resource. To begin, examine their Tumblr page. Each day, for National Poetry Month, they are posting one poem from the actual anthology. Then, peruse the two articles below that examine the poetry and purpose. Read more