I’ve been thinking…my classroom needs more poetry.

Alright, I will finally admit it.

No judgement, please.

Poetry is not my favorite.

Sometimes it scares me, sometimes it frustrates me, sometimes I am moved by it, sometimes I push it aside for my own comfort in the classroom.  That stops this year.  Just because poetry may be my weakness, doesn’t mean my classroom shouldn’t be filled with it.   More poetry is a goal of mine this year–more sharing of a poem just because, more independent reading selections of poetry, more writing beside and around, just…more.

In effort to ease myself and students back into the school groove and make good on my commitment, I will began this year where I left off last year, with Book Spine Poetry.  Perfect as a summative piece, an introduction to poetry, an introduction to more titles, or a one class period creation, Book Spine Poetry is a fun, low-prep activity that calls upon student’s critical thinking and creativity.  Book Spine Poetry requires students to use the titles of books to create an original piece of unique poetry, similar to Blackout or Found Poetry.

Screenshots 3TT

Emily analyzed Sethe’s killing of the crawling already? girl as an act of resistance against the cycle of slavery and the love between mother and child in Beloved.

My AP Literature students created original spine poems after their exam in May as a fun, creative way to close out the year.  Students were asked to create a poem of at least eight lines (eight spines) relating to a character, big idea, conflict, etc of a text they read in AP Lit this year, take a picture, then write a 1 pager that explains the connections and deeper meaning (Note:  I did allow students to add “filler” words, like pronouns or prepositions, so their Spine Poem was more clear and fluid). Spine Poetry also lends itself to teachers moving out of the way and letting students create, connect, and analyze due to the range of choice.  Additionally, Spine Poetry feels like an easy entry for students who, like me, may not enjoy poetry or consider themselves a poet (although these samples definitely scream “poet” to me!).

Largely, students created poems for the novel or poem that resonated with them the most that year, whether it was The Handmaid’s Tale in a Book Club or our study of Beloved, which turned into a fun reflection of the year.  When we shared our poems as a class, it was interesting to listen to different students who wrote about different aspects of the same text.

Above:  Elliot and Alysa’s different interpretations of Crake from Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake.

Amaia reflected when sharing with her peers: “It would have been easy to write an original poem and then connect the poem to a character or whatever because I could control the words.  Having to find titles that made sense was more challenging, but made it fun.”  Amaia dropped knowledge on me all year in AP Lit, so I will trust this kernel of wisdom:  Poetry as fun.

This style of poem creation has the potential to be so much:  a fun activity when you have a bonus day or two, a sub-plan, an assessment, an assignment, a spark to discussions or conferences, even as a means to connect multiple texts.  Book Spine Poetry literally puts more books in students’ hands as they search for poem lines, too! You could plan this writing activity to introduce students to a genre during book shopping or as a means to add more “To Read” titles from your classroom library (just be prepared for some re-stocking and organizing).

Above left:  Aria wrote about Gatsby’s quest for Daisy in three stanzas (note the spines turned around to create stanzas).  Above right:  Sandra, who selected Frankenstein as a challenge choice read and read “King Lear’ in class, created a poem that connected both texts’ discussions of revenge and madness.

I will keep you posted through my intentional poetry endeavors.  I already have new titles for the poetry section of my classroom library, a poem to start the new school year, bookmarked poems to write around, and quick writes to spark poetic responses.  Any advice, suggestions, wisdom, favorite poets or poems?  Let me know.

Maggie Lopez is spending the last few weeks of summer traveling to see her sister, savoring the long days of sunshine and mornings without rush or routine.  She wishes all of her digital colleagues a wonder end to summer and start of the year.  You can find her on Twitter @meglopez0.


Pop Up Peer Editing Lab

I am always striving to have students meet the standard for writing volume Kelly Gallagher challenges teachers to assign students.  Gallagher argues that students should be writing FOUR TIMES the amount that teachers are grading.  Between quick writes, timed essays for AP, work-shopped poems, creatives pieces, blog posts, reflections, and topic journals, you’d think we would all come pretty close to that ratio.  And I bet most of us are.

A colleague who teaches history has been striving to also be a teacher of literacy (YES!) which has lead to great conversations and collaboration.   In the fall, as his students were drafting research papers, he said, “How do you do it? I can’t give them all the feedback they need.”

I chuckled to myself, thinking of all the paper-management survival tactics we English teachers have.  Then it dawned on me–I have classes of talented, capable writers, why not allow my junior and senior students give feedback to lower classmen?  Wouldn’t that be another form of workshop writing?

Thus the Pop Up Peer Editing Lab was born in Room 20.

Thankfully my school is service-minded, so students readily agreed to be the outsourced editors for teachers.  I let teachers know that we, the English students in Room 20, would be happy to help revise and suggest edits on any writing as a way to improve our skills as writers and give back to our school community.  All we requested from teachers was a bit of turnaround time and paper copies (I know–paper! Who knew that is what these digital natives would prefer!  When asked, many students echoed the belief I likely share with many of you:  paper feedback is more authentic and creates connections).  To date, my students have edited lab reports, history research, art analysis, even middle school writing, in addition to what we do during our time together.

And you know what, it is actually easier DONE than said.  Yep, you read that right!

I think of the Pop Up Peer Editing Lab like a pop up restaurant or store around Chicago, opening when demand is high before closing to move on to a new location, during which demand increases again.  To make this happen, I frame 10-20 minutes, depending on the writing type and how many drafts we have, where I can in our workshop schedule.  Some days this counts for our writing mini-lesson or writing time if we are between class drafts.

As a community of writers, we begin by reviewing the actual assignment students received and the rubric which leads to us generating a list of essential “look fors” and suggestions we are likely all going to make.  To workshop writers, this is like a reverse-mentor text where students are thinking of what an exemplary draft would look like and contain based on the rubric.  After students edit, I merely give the annotated drafts back to the teacher. Voila! As a colleague, I am helping my peers become literacy teachers while my students are helping their peers become better writers.

Peer editing, as we know, helps student writers to develop writing and revision skills through a different lens, taking on the role of an editor and teacher of writing.  The Pop Up Lab has been a useful formative assessment of writing skills for my students because they need to understand the content to teach it through feedback.



A Lab Editor’s suggestion to an ESL student which includes a notice of passive voice, something the Lab Editor Kelsey has been working on in her own writing.

Additionally, the Pop Up Lab edits have given me formative data about what students are noticing and the moves they’re making in their own writing to elevate it.  I often circulate multiple copies of the same draft, then compare the edits and note trends.  The trends help me determine mini lessons or concepts to review, as well as what is sticking with students from modeling and practicing in our notebooks.

We have played around with revision and editing using discipline-specific teacher rubrics, Kelly Gallagher’s RADaR model of revision from Write Like This, Bless-Press-Address from the NWP, Push & Pull, but many times students edit and suggest revisions based on our initial list and their own knowledge.  You could, of course, always ask teachers precisely what they want to get out of the outsourced feedback.  To build this community of peer editing, my upcoming goal is to collaborate on scheduling so my students and their peer writers can hold a conference, supporting talk around writing and revision while strengthening our writing community.

Would outsourced editing and revision suggestions work in your school?  How would you adapt this “pop up” college-style writing lab to suit the needs of your colleagues while challenging your students?

Maggie Lopez is almost done editing her English III, English IV, and AP Language & Composition students’ essays for the year, and just when she finally mastered reading each students’ timed essay handwriting.  Follow her as she moves to Salt Lake City to start a new adventure @meglopez0.

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