HANDOUT: Mockingbird poems
My Pre-AP English 2 students are almost finished with Part 1of To Kill a Mockingbird. Before we even read the first chapter, though, we worked with some poetry. Knowing that my students rarely have the enthusiasm for poetry that I do, we began with a discussion of our beliefs and experiences with poetry. The responses I recorded fell all along a spectrum of YAY! and BOO! I only have two sections of English this year. I think you’ll recognize some of your students in these honest responses. I sometimes paraphrased what the students said, but other times I recorded what they said verbatim.
- In 8th grade, we wrote poetry. We were given rhyming and syllable restrictions.
- Don’t like reading old poetry (could barely understand vocabulary)
- Sometimes we have to read too much into a poem (grass is green, sky is blue—What was the poet really thinking?)
- Studying poetry felt required. The teacher wasn’t excited. It felt like the teacher didn’t really want to explain it because the students had little experience.
- Overused: “What is the author thinking?” Should be more like “What do you think?”
- Don’t like long poems
- Reading poetry > Writing poetry
- Don’t exactly like analyzing. Vague. Seems like you have to make things up.
- Don’t like poetry. Sucked at writing them. Not that deep for analyzing. Feel okay with comprehending.
- When you try to analyze, you get counted off for trying. Feel like there’s only one answer that the teacher got from the book.
- Poetry is great because it soothes the soul.
- Don’t like poetry because it’s hard to understand
- Kind of confusing, written in stanzas
- Writing poetry can be easy because you can make it rhyme.
- Like the symbolism of the poem: each word represents something
- Format has imagery, lots of description
- I don’t connect with poetry on a personal level with the poems I’ve read.
- I’ve written poetry for Valentine’s gifts and they’ve all failed. One girl crumpled up the poem and threw it in trash.
- Poetry can be interpreted in lots of ways. There’s more one right answer when it comes to analysis. We get counted wrong for our interpretations.
- Our teacher in 8th grade taught us how to write different formats of poetry.
- We did not really read or write poetry in 9th grade.
- Don’t like slam poetry.
- Don’t like rhyming poems. (Too Dr. Seussy / elementary)
- Poetry is a challenge. You have to think.
- We like to use rhyme when we write.
- Sometimes old poems have difficult vocabulary and the focus becomes more on the words than the actual poem’s meaning.
- Poetry seems old.
After our discussion about our beliefs and experiences with poetry, I told my students that they were going to read three poems, which all shared the same title. Before anyone could groan, I explained that the main goal was to simply read the poems and decided which one was their favorite and why. The focus would be comprehension and enjoyment (plus a little deeper thinking with rationalizing their choice). I encouraged students to read the poems aloud and to use the dictionaries on their smart phones if they encountered any words that stumped them. (Perhaps I should have provided some footnoted definitions for some of the words in Kay Ryan’s poem.) Since my students blazed through the poems quite quickly, I added another task of identifying a different poetic device in each poem.
My students read three poems, all titled “Mockingbird,” by Judith Harris, Carol V. Davis, and Kay Ryan, a nice connection to To Kill a Mockingbird. I like integrating poetry throughout the school year instead of saving it all for a huge unit during April, which is National Poetry Month.
Overwhelmingly the students selected the Davis poem as their favorite because it told a story. “But it’s so much longer than the other two!” I goaded my students. “But we understand it the best,” they countered. I explained that the Davis poem was the only narrative poem from the bunch.
The other two poems, which are more lyrical, were not chosen as favorites as often. The Harris poem was sometimes selected for its nice imagery and its concision. Kay Ryan’s poem, while very short, had the hardest vocabulary–distempered, pastiche, capriccios, dispatch, and brios–and was only selected by one group as being the favorite. They liked it because it was difficult. Remember, these are Pre-AP English 2 students.
Overall, I was pleased with this first activity with poetry for the school year. It was not intimidating, nor formulaic (TPCASTT, anyone?). How do you use poetry in your classroom? How do your students respond to poetry?
HANDOUT: Mockingbird poems