A sub-goal of this year for me has been to encourage students to reflect on their work, their schooling, etc. To take the time to do that and learn from experiences. Given this, I thought it would be fun to take the idea of capturing all the people and events around a basketball season and switch it to a year of school—to have students write poems reflecting on the school year. To do this, the next couple days I will use a series of writing prompts and have students write poems about their year and share ideas in their journals (we have short days due to sophomore standardized testing, so the prompts and sharing will work perfectly in the 45 minute time frame!). Eventually they will choose one of these to revise into a finished product to hand in (and I may put together a little book for them with all the poems and their final essays).
Poet Baron Wormser, when he was at our school doing a workshop for teachers, told us that "every poem is a prompt for writing." For today, we will use the poem “School Gym, January” from Jack Ridl's Losing Season as the prompt, a poem that, as its title suggests, describes the school gym in January, and through the imagery provides a particular theme and tone about the atmosphere around the gym and the people. For the first twenty minutes we will read and analyze the poem as a class, specifically looking at how the poem is structured, and how the specific moments contribute to the overall meaning (this is a specific shift in Reading Standard 5). In real terms, we will look at how the descriptions are structured, what they are about, the word choices, etc., and how all of these speak to an overall idea about the role of the gym to the people there. We covered a lot of ground yesterday with poetry analysis, so this isn't so much a particular teaching moment as much as it is review--a continuation of the Socratic seminar with this particular poem. Also, I know the kids are looking forward to doing some creative writing, so we will cover just enough to get the prompt before letting them get to writing.
Alternate Poem: Since we just read the Jack Ridl book, I wanted to use a couple of his poems as prompts for writing. However, there are many poems that have a similar shape of describing a space and moving to some bigger idea about the human condition. A fantastic one I've used with other classes is James Wright's "Lying in a Hammock on William Duffy's Farm":
For this one I will often bring students outside since that is the imagery of the piece, so they can start their poem "Sitting on the Bleachers of the Mohawk Baseball Field" or something like that.
Their task now is to choose a space in school and write their own “School [Place] in a [Month] poem. They will take about 15-20 minutes to write, at which time they will share (this class has bonded very well and are all willing to share like this; in a class with more reluctant students, I might have them share with a partner or in small groups—I think it is important to share their work because the idea of sharing or “publishing” provides an authentic experience and motivation, but I don’t want them NOT to write for fear of saying it out loud to the class). I will also write and share to model participation and feeling okay about reading your work after a first draft (I try not to go first, but will if the class needs a nudge).
Next Steps: Tomorrow we will do some work with figurative language as part of some more creative writing and sharing.
Update: Attached here is a sample TheStairwellNovember.docxfrom a student based on this prompt; she had shared it with me on google Drive and I commented; in this version she "resolved" a number of the comments, so they aren't there anymore, but had to do mostly with punctuation.
In my more traditional English classes I use a lot of poetry and always have students write; in fact I’ve done a similar descriptive exercise with James Wright’s “Lying on a Hammock. . . “, so I went in to this lesson confident that it would be successful—and it was. We had a nice discussion regarding the series of images and descriptions and how they build to develop meaning and tone. The students seemed to enjoy writing and sharing, although they were surprisingly a little sheepish at first when sharing, which was surprising, given how often they’ve read and peer edited each other’s essays over the year (and it was the most accomplished poet in the class who was one of the more reluctant ones! We were in a different classroom today because my class was used for testing, and the teacher whose classroom we were in was also there; I wonder if that changed the dynamic enough to cause the reluctance). Nevertheless, they wrote some good pieces, given the time frame they had—we’ll see if they use any of this set for their final draft (I did not collect these, since I heard them all, and I don’t want the pressure of assessment messing up their creativity!).