Reading, Writing, & Religion

English Language Arts & Queer Christian Musings

Archive for the tag “literature”

Wanted: Blackout Poets

Blackout Poetry Week
April 7-11, 2014
Use #blackoutpoets on Twitter and Instagram

blackout poets logo

Fellow teacher and poetry enthusiast Lesley Mosher and I  invite all educators, students, and authors to help celebrate poetry in the classroom by participating in a worldwide blackout poetry event on Twitter and Instagram. Remember to tag all your posts with #blackoutpoets. You can find more information about how cool blackout poetry is by reading blog posts by Lesley and me. We also created some special examples based on the literature for the grades we teach. Lesley created this poem from A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd.

Middle Grade Example

Lesley

I made a blackout poem from Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.

YA Example

Jason

We’d love for you and your students to create blackout poems from your favorite novels, newspaper articles, or any piece of writing lying around your home. Students from all over the world will be participating and sharing their love of words. See you on Twitter and Instagram!

Please contact @blackoutpoets, @lesleymosher, or me for more information.

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Weekly Poems for Spring 2014

After the December #titletalk chat on Twitter, I cemented my resolution to introduce more poetry into my Pre-AP English 2 classroom. I am going to modify my weekly schedule of how I start each class with a literacy activity. Instead of giving two book talks a week, I will now just give one on Tuesdays, and Thursdays will now be reserved for a weekly poem.

Looking back on the fall 2013 semester, I’m not happy with how much poetry I shared with my students. In late September we studied three poems all titled “Mockingbird” at the start of our To Kill a Mockingbird unit.  In the middle of October we studied “Miscegenation” by Natasha Trethewey as part of our examination of TKaM‘s Dolphus Raymond. In November we read “The Black Walnut Tree” by Mary Oliver as a model for an AP-style essay over “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden and “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke. Additionally, one of the ten required genres students read was a collection of poems. They had to find at least two poems they liked/understood and one poem they disliked/did not understand for our book chat. That’s quite a few poems, I suppose, when you count the poetry collections (if students got around to them), but I want to share more poems as a classroom community.

For spring 2014, students will get a weekly poem, which is something I can’t say for last semester. Most of the poems I selected are fairly easy to understand, but they do great things with figurative language and have a lot of heart. I can’t decide if I will just display them on the SmartBoard or if I will make copies for all students to have and annotate. Since I have some students also enrolled in my Creative 1 and 2 classes, I chose poems I have not used in those classes.

Without further ado, I present in order the 19 weekly poems of the 2014 spring semester in Pre-AP English 2:

I have around 275 poems saved in a folder on my laptop that I’ve collected over 9 years of teaching. Many of the poems from my list above come from The Writer’s Almanac, whose podcast I listen to regularly. You’ll notice that in general the list is in alphabetical order by poem title, which is how the poems are organized in my folder. I placed “It’s Raining in Love” around Valentine’s Day and “Shakespearean Sonnet” during the Julius Caesar unit. Otherwise, the poems don’t really tie to a particular time of year, at least intentionally.

Unintentionally, I selected 12 poems by men and only 7 by women. Perhaps I can help balance things out when I continue the weekly poem in the fall. I already have my eyes on Rita Dove’s “First Book,” Jill Osier’s “Requiem,” Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Torn Map,” and Lisel Mueller’s “Things.”

What about you? How do you use poetry in your classroom? Do you save it all up for April, National Poetry Month? Or do you, like me, try to pepper in poems throughout the year? Or do you avoid poetry altogether?

Mockingbird Poems

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.

2nd Hour

  • 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.

6th Hour

  • 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

Favorite Podcasts

I resisted getting an iPod when they became popular when I was in college. Even when I started teaching in 2005, I thought I could live without one, or any MP3 player for that matter. A few years into teaching, though, I asked for an iPod for my big Christmas present from my parents. They got me an 8GB black iPod mini–at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what it is.

Overtime, I expanded the use of my iPod from just listening to music by subscribing to podcasts. I quickly found Grammar Girl‘s podcast along with NPR’s podcast featuring education news. I also discovered why Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion is so popular. I rounded out my initial subscriptions with This American Life, another classic. While walking my dog, I could stay current on issues relevant to my profession as well as just enjoy some news and entertainment.

More recently, I discovered The Moth, which was featured on This American Life. The Moth features storytellers telling their stories live on stage, and they often deeply moving / hilarious / surprising.

My friend Maggie posted a picture of the Selected Shorts podcast’s logo on Instagram a few months ago, and I’ve found those podcasts to be equally entertaining, although a little challenging at times since the literature can be complex at times, and it’s hard for me not to have the text right in front of me.

Somehow a few years ago I stumbled upon Amanda Nelson’s blog, Dead White Guys or her Twitter. She was hilarious and bookish, and she wrote for a website called BookRiot, which recently started a very informative and entertaining podcast. I found out that Rebecca Schinsky, one of BookRiot’s hosts, also contributes to the Bookrageous podcast, which has quickly become one of my favorite book-related podcasts. Rebecca and her two colleagues/friends, Josh and Jenn, bring such a fun energy to their discussions about books, and there are many podcasts in the archives.

*     *     *

This summer I wanted to expand my podcast subscriptions. I reached out to Twitter (Thanks, Kevin!), and I also just browsed the iTunes library. Here are a few more podcasts that you might want to consider adding to your list of must-listen-to podcasts. I’ve organized them by topic.

POETRY

  • NewsHour Poetry Series | PBS Poetry Series | PBS
  • IndieFeed: Performance Poetry
  • Poem of the Day (Poetry Foundation)
  • Slate’s Poetry Podcast
  • All of these short podcasts can be found through Stitcher, a free iPhone app that automatically downloads podcasts. You can skip the syncing and just listen to them on your phone as you get ready in the morning. I’m still downloading in iTunes in case I want to keep any of them long-term.

BOOKS

  • The Lit Show
  • NPR: Books Podcast
  • ReadWriteThink – Text Messages: Recommendations for Adolescent Readers!
  • I’m so glad that Kevin told me about Text Messages because it fills what I thought was a void: a podcast about young adult literature. There are a few others out there, but Text Messages is definitely the best one. I still kind of think there’s room for another one. I just don’t know if should devote the time to tackling it. Me? A podcaster? We’ll see. 🙂

LANGUAGE & LITERATURE

  • Slate Presents Lexicon Valley
  • That’s What They Say
  • Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac Podcast
  • New Yorker: Fiction

I’m not sure if I have time for another podcast, but I’m willing to listen to your recommendations. What are some of your favorite podcasts?

Inaugural Poets

Four years ago I remember Elizabeth Alexander reading her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama’s first inauguration. My first reaction to the poem was a little like this:

mckayladisappointed

As I reread and studied the poem, though, I grew to like it more and more because it speaks to our identity as Americans. Just hearing a poem read aloud once is not the same as pouring over it on the page. Of course, I’ve heard poems before that I liked right from the start, but sometimes poems grow on you.

Alexander is only the fourth poet to read at a presidential inauguration. And earlier today, the fifth inaugural poet, Richard Blanco, read his poem. According to The New York Times, Blanco wrote three poems for the inauguration, and Obama’s team selected the one for him to read to the nation. (I want to know what the other two poems were!)

The inaugural poets and their poems are:

  1. Robert Frost, “The Gift Outright” & “Dedication” (Kennedy, 1961)
  2. Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning” (Clinton, 1993)
  3. Miller Williams, “Of History and Hope” (Clinton, 1997)
  4. Elizabeth Alexander, “Praise Song for the Day” (Obama, 2009)
  5. Richard Blanco, “One Today” (Obama, 2013)

Frost is the most well-known of the five, one of our nation’s greatest poets. Kennedy asked Frost if he would recite a new poem for his inauguration, but suggested he use “The Gift Outright,” a poem he’d already written, as a backup. Kennedy even went so far as to suggest a revision of the final line of the poem. Frost wrote “Dedication” specifically for the occasion, but the the sunny, snowy day kept him from being able to read the words (Frost was 86 at the time), so he recited “The Gift Outright” from memory, including the modified, final line. That’s why Frost has two poems listed.

Angelou is best known for her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which I still haven’t read. I own a copy. Maybe I’ll read it this year.

Williams was an Arkansas man like Clinton. I have not read any of his other poems, and I don’t think I’ve come across any of his other poetry in anthologies or literary journals.

Alexander was the second black woman chosen as an inaugural poet. She has quite a few poems available on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Blanco as a gay Latino expands the diversity of the inaugural poet. Named after Richard Nixon, at 44, Blanco is also the youngest poet ever selected. He’s on Twitter as well, and some of his poems, including a chapbook, are available online. Here’s a word cloud of Blanco’s “One Today” I created with Wordle:

One_Today_USA_colors

During this semester, try incorporating one the inaugural poems or poets into one of your lessons. April is National Poetry Month, so that’s a good time to introduce your students to one of our nation’s historic poets. I’ll probably use “One Today” in my sophomore English classroom. I’ll post about how it goes when the time comes.

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