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Archive for the tag “poem”

A Fibonacci Poem Lesson

I became the Director of Secondary English Language Arts for the Oklahoma State Department of Education in July 2018. My friends have often asked me, “Do you miss the classroom?” I certainly miss getting to teach students, and I recently had an opportunity to teach a lesson at my former school district of thirteen years.

Katy Carmincke invited me to be a guest teacher for her Creative Writing 2 students at Deer Creek High School. I taught some of these students in Creative Writing 1 two years ago. I immediately knew I would teach a poem of some kind. I landed on Sherman Alexie’s Fibonacci sequence poem “Requiem for a Pay Phone,” published in Shampoo in 2009. I liked this as a mentor text because of its surprising and strange organization of stanzas based on syllable growth and reduction. Take a read:

I wanted my lesson to be as student-driven as possible, so I developed a lesson with an inquiry approach. As far as handouts, I needed the original poem, and then I created another handout that included the poem with alternate line and stanza breaks, an explanation of the Fibonacci sequence, and some definitions for requiem and elegy.

The day of the lesson was a Friday. I arrived at the end of lunch, a couple minutes before the bell rang for class. Mrs. Carmincke introduced me to her students, and then I took over. The class was fifty minutes long.

I began the lesson by explaining that we would be studying a poem. First, I wanted students to simply listen to it, to focus on its content. (I didn’t want them to get distracted by the unique structure quite yet.) I read the poem aloud, and then asked students to turn and talk with a neighbor about what they noticed about the poem’s speaker and anything else about the poem. Then we shared out as a whole class. One student said, “So it’s gonna be one of those poems.” I nudged her to explain more. “You know, like it’s a romance thing. He likes her and doesn’t want her to get with other guys,” she said.

Then I passed out the original poem to students. Now they could see the Fibonacci structure, even if they didn’t know the formula quite yet. I wanted them to discover that on their own. Once everyone had a copy of the poem, I said we needed to hear the poem again. Since students had already heard me read, I felt confident that a student could now read it fairly well. I asked for a volunteer and got one. She was one of my former students who sometimes had a stutter, but she read the poem smoothly. Then I asked students to use their pencils, pencils, and/or highlighters to annotate the poem. “Mark anything that stands out to you, that you are curious about,” I said. Once they had had some time on their own, I asked them to compare their notes with a partner and to add any further annotations to the poem. Then we shared aloud as a whole class.

Students pointed out a number of things:

  • the way the stanzas get bigger and then smaller
  • the use of “all that” at the beginning and end of the poem
  • how the beginning and ending of the poem are the most powerful
  • the wonderful phrase “mosquito dark”
  • theories on who the speaker was–including wondering if he was a psychotic ex or if he was engaging in self sabotage
  • how the broken lines and stanzas reinforce an idea of cut-up thoughts
  • how the pay phone could be a symbol for a deep desire

Students had not gotten precise enough about the Fibonacci sequence yet, so I asked them to count the number of syllables in each stanza. I modeled a couple lines for them: “All–one. That–one. Autumn–two. I walked from–three. Now look at the bottom of the poem. Is there a pattern you see?” I asked. As students continued to count and label the stanza’s syllables, the room buzzed louder with energy and excitement. “At this point do you even need to count the syllables for the longest stanzas?” I asked. “All you need to do is some basic math: 13 plus 21 is…34.”

By this point, the class period was winding down. We had been interrupted by the intercom for the principal to announce the school’s teacher of the year. I had been so involved in the lesson that I had not been paying attention to time. We only had about fifteen minutes left. I had to abandon my plan to have students determine a definition for what a requiem was.

Now that students had investigated the Fibonacci sequences, I wanted to show them the poem in a different format. I had reformatted it to reflect a more traditional structure with relatively equal line lengths organized into five stanzas:

I passed out the second handout and asked students to compare and contrast the two different versions. Students agreed that the original poem by Alexie had more emotion and that his structure helped to create a more interesting and relatable speaker. I had had a guiding question prepared for this (How do the Fibonacci breaks affect/change/impact the poem?), but students basically got there on my own without any nudging.

Finally, I had students brainstorm some ways to use this poem as some inspiration for their own writing. I stressed to them they did not have to respond by writing a poem; they could write anything. I felt that an obvious answer would be to write a requiem for another inanimate object, but none of the students landed on that. Instead, they came up with these four ideas:

  1. Through prose, write the back story that informs this poem.
  2. Use a specific/unique form of structure to create emotion in a piece of writing.
  3. Write the scene of dialogue for the very last time the speaker called and learned to let go. (Students had decided this was a doomed relationship.)
  4. Write another Fibonacci sequence poem from the perspective of the person being called.

At some point toward the end of the lesson, as students continued to theorize about the obsessive and perhaps creepy nature of the poem’s speaker, I could not help but reveal to them that Sherman Alexie has admitted to harassing women. This news broke during the #MeToo movement, and I was absolutely devastated to hear the news. I wrote my master’s paper over Alexie. As a class, we talked about what it means to like an author or actor’s work versus the author or actor themself. Bill Cosby came up as an example.

We concluded the class with a group picture. I was struck with how very quickly the fifty minutes flew by. We didn’t even have time to write anything in response, which I really would have liked. If this were my classroom, we would have taken some time the following class period to write in response to “Requiem for a Pay Phone.” Alas, I had to bid farewell, but it was so wonderful to be back in the classroom, albeit for less than an hour.

Creative Writing 2 students at Deer Creek High School

Go Poems

muchwow

When I taught Pre-AP and on-level English 2, I devoted the start of each Thursday’s class to a poem. Nothing intimidating. Just some quick reading and discussion. Maybe a tiny bit of analysis. Once a nine weeks, I might invite students to imitate the poem through writing. Too many students (and teachers!) are intimidated by poetry, and I love discovering what poetry can do through only a couple of lines. I relied a lot on American Life in Poetry and The Writer’s Almanac for beautiful, accessible poems for my students.

My teacher buddy Brett Vogelsinger from Pennsylvania is a rock star. He starts every English class with a poem. He’s also currently in the midst of a special event blog, called Go Poems. Brett explains:

To celebrate National Poetry Month in April 2017, this event blog will present a poem and a “springboard” into a discussion, activity, or lesson plan each day.  These poems can be used at the beginning of class to essentially say “go!” to close reading, creativity, and critical thinking. Hence the title of this blog: Go Poems. 

Brett asked me to write a post for Go Poems. I ended up writing two. Today, Brett features my first post about a reversible poem by Brian Bilston called “Refugees.” Check it out!

Blackout Poets Week in Review

A lot of planning went into Blackout Poets week, and I give Lesley Mosher credit for coming up with the initial idea. It never would have crossed my mind to host a week of blackout poetry on Twitter and Instagram. It seems like such a daunting task! In 2014, it’s very possible, though, with two hard-working teachers, collaborating through the power of the Internet.

We began our work with a series of emails, which morphed into an ever-growing Google Document. Along the way, we dreamed big and tried to get Austin Kleon to host an #engchat Twitter chat on blackout poetry. Austin was gracious enough to respond to my email request, but he was in the midst of touring with his newest book and couldn’t make any promises. Fortunately, Lesley and I were offered the #engchat hosting gig for March 17, and we are grateful to Meenoo Rami for the opportunity to talk poetry with passionate educators. If you missed the chat, it’s available online in the #engchat archives.

Lesley and I spread the word of #blackoutpoets week through social media and our respective blogs, and we waited. Would students and teachers post? Would we end up featuring only our own students’ work?

As you saw throughout last week,  students and teachers of various grades and subjects turned into blackout poets. You can see the highlighted poets in these blog posts:

A big thank you to everyone who participated. Lesley and I have already agreed to host this week again next year. We hope if you participated this year that you’ll do so again in 2015. And in case you missed your chance, please join us next year.

The spring can get very busy, so if you’d rather do some blackout poetry earlier on in the year, that’s great. Just remember to share some of the poems during #blackoutpoets week. The tentative date is April 6-10, 2015. Until then, keep writing and reading!

Monday’s Blackout Poems

It’s the first day of #blackout poets week on Twitter and Instagram. Lesley Mosher and I will be posting some standout poems each day from those who are participating. Today we’re featuring blackout poems from a middle school student, a high school student, and a teacher. Congrats to everyone!

blackoutpoetofthedayLeah, a student in Michael Billotti‘s class, is our middle school blackout poet of the day. Here’s her poem:

Billotti MS blackout

Our high school blackout poet comes from Jenn Wofle‘s classroom. The poem is based on Lois Lowry’s book The Giver.

wolfe HS blackout

Our teacher blackout poet is Joy Kirr, who even blogged about her process of creating the poem.

kirr teacher blackout

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.

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?

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