Room 313

adventures in teaching creative writing

Archive for the tag “poetry”

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!

Venn Diagram Poems

Without Twitter, I would not have discovered the concept of a Venn diagram poem. A couple nights ago before bed, I noticed that Joyce Carol Oates had retweeted what appeared to be a Venn diagram by Brian Bilston. Upon closer examination, it turned out to be a poem, which could be read three different ways:

At the Intersection

  1. him circle
  2. her circle
  3. the overlap

I knew immediately that I could challenge my Creative Writing 2 students with this writing task. I showed it to them on my SmartBoard and explained how it worked. Then I got a girl and a guy to come up and read the two different parts. They concluded by reading the overlapping section together.

To write their own Venn diagram poem, I told students to think about two characters who have something in common. This idea would go in the small overlapping section. From there, it was a matter of building off into two different characters. It seemed easier to me to write the right circle first and then write the one on the left. I cut students loose to begin their Venn diagram poem drafts.

Some struggled at first.

Squiggles

But then they started to get the hang of it. I really liked this poem about two friends, one of whom is about to move away.

Best Friends

One student captured the dynamic between a mother and daughter.

Mom Daughter

Even I got into the spirit of things and wrote a poem about school. I was having a bit of an Eeyore moment, and it felt good to write through my feelings–in Venn diagram form to boot!

Teacher Student

In order to type it up, I used PowerPoint, which has a circle maker. I wondered if I could just type the words and center them and add spaces, but my lines weren’t equally balanced between the circles, so I had to just space bar everything. It turned out pretty well.

Screenshot (106)

How will you use Venn diagram poetry in your classroom?

What I’ve Been Up To

Crickets have taken up roost on my blog, but I’ve returned after a nearly year-long hiatus. The main reason for my absence is I needed to focus on completely my master’s degree in English. I took a course in block two in fall 2014 [young adult lit], a SPOC (self-paced online course) mainly over Christmas break [steampunk lit], and a course in block one of spring 2015 [Native American lit]. As part of my final master’s project, I traveled to New Orleans in April 2015 as part of the Popular Culture Association national conference to present on a panel with Dr. Laura Bolf-Beliveau and Dr. Timothy Petete on Native American literature. Then I wrote my qualifying paper on diversity in creative writing with a case study on Sherman Alexie and successfully defended it. This was a shorter paper, one that I could one day submit to English Journal as an article. I graduated with my master’s degree in English (20th & 21st century literature) in May 2015. This was a big accomplishment for me because I was teaching the whole time I was working on this degree, which I started in 2007. After I racked up all my required hours, I began work on my master’s thesis, but I hit a roadblock. Ashamed of myself, I completely quit work for a few years to focus just on teaching, not knowing I was losing credit hours because I had a limited time frame. That’s why I had to take three more courses in this past year. I give credit to Dr. Bolf-Beliveau (who wasn’t even officially my advisor but is definitely my mentor) for getting me back on track and helping me form a workable plan. Going through this long journey has taught me to be more patient with my own students.

As student council co-sponsor at my high school, I oversaw our 15th annual Wonderful Week of Fundraising (WWF) where we raised over $100,000 for Hope Chest OKC in the first half of the spring semester. This was my last WWF with my co-sponsor who has now left DCHS for Francis Tuttle. I’m going to miss him, but I’m excited to work with my colleague who is joining me this fall.

I also oversaw a student teacher from OU, Melanie McNatt, in the spring 2015 semester. She was a stellar candidate who taught the Julius Caesar unit (her request) in Pre-AP English and the scriptwriting unit in creative writing. She introduced us to the very handy, free scriptwriting software website Celtx. Her excellent work scored her a job in the English department at DCHS, so she will be my colleague this fall. In fact, she and two of my colleagues, Gena and Dionne, are coming over to my house for brunch and curriculum discussion.

This summer, I led an EF group from DCHS to London, Paris, Switzerland (Lucerne), and Germany (Munich / Munchen). As part of a training program, EF flew me and other first-time teacher leaders to Paris over Valentine’s Day weekend. My group’s trip in Europe in June was pretty fantastic. My favorite country was Switzerland because it was so beautiful, but every country offered a new view of the world. It was such a good experience that I’m planning to lead a trip to Scotland and Ireland in summer 2016.

In late June I traveled to Chicago for the Poetry Foundation’s teacher institute. This was a fantastic learning opportunity with fellow enthusiastic teachers of poetry. We attended workshops with poets like Erik McHenry, Maggie Dietz, and Carl Phillips. The evenings were ours to explore the city, so I ate lots of good food (deep dish pizza, Little Italy, Thai food, Shake Shack) and saw lots of awesome sights (a Second City comedy show, Cloud Gate, Arts Institute of Chicago with American Gothic, Nighthawks, etc.). I even got to grab dinner with a former student who is now in college in Chicago. Chicago is now one of my favorite American cities, and I plan to return one day.

Looking back over the past ten months, I’m amazed at what all I accomplished and experienced. That’s not to say I didn’t experience any setbacks or failures, but 2015 is shaping up to be quite a year. I really don’t think I will ever travel this much again in such a short time frame in my life: Paris, New Orleans, London, Paris, Switzerland, Germany, and Chicago in less than five months!

As I return to my blog, I hope to share my thoughts and experiences on teaching English and creative writing. One day I’d like to write a high school creative writing textbook. Perhaps this blog could be a place for me to try out some sections / chapters for this future textbook.

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!

Wednesday’s Blackout Poems

It’s the middle of the week, and we still have teachers and students sharing their blackout poems on Twitter. This special #blackoutpoets week is a project between Lesley Mosher and me. Check out her blog for Tuesday’s featured blackout poems. We’re taking turns selecting some standout poems. To participate, all you have to do is tag your post with #blackoutpoets on Twitter. We also suggested Instagram, but we haven’t had any takers yet.

blackoutpoetofthedayWithout further ado, our first poem today comes from the Hawthorne Village sixth grade class, @HAWPS6 on Twitter. This student created a poem about gratitude, and even used four different words to create the new word must. Good job!

You Must Be Honest poem

Our next poem is by high school student J. Hoffmann who goes by @Jhoffnn on Twitter. He mined a passage from Jon Krakauer‘s Into the Wild to create a poem about the power of opportunity along with its occasional perils. It reads: “the tenure of joy that begins A doorway is stitched over gaping holes.”

Hoffmann poem

Our teacher poem is by Tim Pollock (@Mr_Pollock), who used Cormac McCarthy’s modern classic The Road to create some ominous verse. The tone in the poem matches the tone in the overall passage, which sometimes happens in blackout poetry. I like how Tim showcased which page he used from the novel by not marking it out.

Pollock poem

Finally, I could not end this post without highlighting the tremendous bulletin board that @HAWPS6 put together of all the students’ blackout poems from today. Check out their Twitter account to see pictures of their students in action, composing their poems outside in the nice spring weather.

Hawthorne bulletin board

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.

Discussion Questions for #engchat

Tomorrow evening (Monday, March 17) Lesley Mosher and I will be co-hosting the Twitter #engchat on how to incorporate poetry into the English classroom. The chat is from 7-8 EST, and I hope you’ll join us. We’ve made a tentative outline for our discussion. We probably won’t follow it to a tee, but this gives you a general idea of where we’re headed. We’ve been plotting and planning for a while now, and we’re so grateful to Meeno Rami, the founder of #engchat, for this opportunity.

7:00-7:10   How do you invite poetry into your classroom?

7:10-7:18   What obstacles do you face with poetry in your classroom?

7:18-7:25   What do you teach with poetry? What could you teach with poetry?

7:25-7:40   What types of poetry activities have your students loved?

7:40-7:50   What resources have you used with success?

7:50-8:00   Blackout Poetry Week information

Blackout Poetry #engchat

The weekly #engchat Twitter discussion will focus on blackout poetry on Monday, March 17, from 7-8pm EST. I will be co-hosting the chat with my Twitter pal Lesley Mosher. We’ve been planning some blackout poetry events for a while now to take place in April, which is National Poetry Month. Austin Kleon, author of Newspaper Blackout as well as the books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!, has agreed to try to drop in for part of the #engchat. We’ll be discussing what blackout poetry is, how to use it in the classroom, and what successes we’ve had with it, among other topics. I hope you’ll make time to join us!

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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