They Taught Me the Lesson Here: It’s About Time

Please tell me I am not the only one in a rush. Every spring I feel this pressure to teach more, do more, assign more. I know part of it is the AP exam date creeping closer and closer. I know my students are still not ready.

We still struggle with rhetorical analysis. Most students are getting better at recognizing devices in the texts of others, but when they try to analyze the effect? Well, the light bulb is still quite dim. And I have to practically beg to get students to add a device or two in their own writing. So many are afraid to take risks or to explore with words and sentences.

As a way to help students play with language, I turned to POETRY. (Yes, even in my primarily non-fiction AP Language class.)

We read Meg Kearney’s “Creed” poem together, and we talked through the moves she makes to craft it.

Students noticed the sound devices, the contradictions, the little story, the concrete details. They did a fine job of noticing.

But we have to do much more than notice. And that’s the hard part.

I found this “Creed” assignment by a Mrs. Rothbard online, which fit my hopes for my students exactly, and I asked students to read and study the poem themselves and then mirror the moves of our poet.

I still cannot believe how difficult this was for some of my students. Some simplified the assignment and just wrote their own lovely poems. Others made beautiful lists of their personal beliefs — but that was not the assignment. Others modeled Kearney’s first few lines and then rambled on about angst-filled beliefs that the student writers didn’t even care about when they read them to the class. (Note to self: Revision workshop must last much longer next year.)

But, some…some student writers took ownership of their own craft and composed lovely poems, modeled after our writing coach and poet Meg Kearney.

Here’s the links to JerashiaGuillermoNaWoon, Doreen, Josh, and Sydney-Marie‘s blogs where they posted their poems. They’d love it if you’d read them and maybe leave a comment (actually, they will probably die because they think publishing to the WWW makes them anonymous–so much scarier to read their poems aloud in class, which is a topic of another post I need to write.)

I learned some valuable things as a result of this writing task, and I am glad that my students talked to me about what worked and didn’t work for them. I am glad I took the time last week to let them talk.

The comment that will guide our learning the rest of the year came from a table in the back when one of my quiet ones said:

“Could we slow down? We need more time to write with you in the room to help us.”

Yes, I know that.

If I want to truly help my students grow as critical readers and writers, I must devote the time to letting them think, draft, read, write, revise, re-do, share, and all of this again and again with me in the room as their coach, their mentor, and their cheerleader.

My students need to talk to me and to their peers like I talk to my husband and my collaborators when I am writing.

I thought I had this down by now. But what I think is enough time is obviously not what my students think is enough time, so I’ll listen, and starting today.

Class time will be different.

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015


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3 thoughts on “They Taught Me the Lesson Here: It’s About Time

  1. jackiecatcher March 23, 2015 at 2:21 pm Reply

    Love this Amy! I am feeling the crunch of spring semester, so this is the perfect reminder to slow down and acknowledge the needs of our students.


  2. lizcmckenna March 23, 2015 at 11:06 am Reply

    This is always a struggle I have in my AP classes which are so driven by that deadline–finding the balance between reading and writing and being sure to give them time to explore and write in ways that are “low-stakes.” You’ve definitely got me thinking with this one, Amy!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. shanakarnes March 23, 2015 at 9:27 am Reply

    First of all, I LOVE your title here. What a clever play on words.

    Second of all…I think this is a really important distinction about the writing process. Yes, it might save us time to have students write for homework…but they really do need a writing mentor in the room to help them in important ways.

    Thanks, again, for writing a lovely, important piece!!

    Liked by 1 person

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