Reading, Writing, & Religion

English Language Arts & Queer Christian Musings

Archive for the tag “poetry”

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!

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!

Post Navigation