Tag Archives: writing poetry

Writing Heals. Writing Assignments Do Not

Last week I learned a valuable truth:  Even when we think they are not listening, sometimes students get it.

Let me back up.

The week before last I attended a department meeting where our district ELA coordinator shared the National Writing Project’s Case for Good Instruction, information I learned at my National Writing Project Summer Institute in ’09. It details the differences between When Writing is Assigned and When Writing is Taught. The discussion around me was interesting and peppered with excuses. I left wondering how teachers would answer these questions if they were on a quiz. How would you?

In your ELA class, do students:

  • have opportunities to create topics that matter to them?
  • understand audience and purpose for papers because they are specifically identified in assignments?
  • see you spending time teaching writing skills and strategies?
  • get writing models, assignments, and strategies to guide each of the different writing tasks?
  • reflect on significant growth — or lack of it — in specific writing skills?
  • hear words of encouragement cheering them on to revise, edit, and improve — and to correct drafts and then resubmit?
  • think about what they write through brainstorming, free writing, role-playing, discussion, or other prewriting activities?
  • celebrate what they, and you, write and make efforts to display and publish it?

I think the biggest excuse we give for leaning on assignments rather than acting on instruction is TIME.

“I can’t let students choose topics because they don’t know what to choose.”

“I can’t teach this novel if it takes so long to write a paper.”

“I can’t do my research paper if I give them time to resubmit. It already takes so long to grade the finished product.”

Maybe you are right. Maybe we have to give up things that we think are best practices for things that are better practices.

Student choice in writing topics is better practice.

Writing instruction with effective models, strategies, time to talk, and time to write are better practices.

Helping students revise, edit, and improve their writing during the writing process with a keen sense of audience and purpose are better practices.

conferringwithjulyssaOur students need time. They need our time. They need our attention and our careful consideration about the things that matter to them. We may have to let some things go in order to give our students what they need.

We learn valuable truths when we do. Last week my students performed (or presented) their poetic arguments. We spent weeks choosing topics, watching video performances, analyzing lyrics for structure and craft, thinking, drafting, talking, revising, studying models, reading each other’s writing, giving feedback, practicing mini-lessons on concrete details and using abstract language to create jaw-dropping imagery.

We were a community of writers, united in a task uniquely our own.

And that is the difference between When Writing is Assigned and When Writing is Taught.

During all that time, I didn’t think Stephanie was listening. She sat at her table, barely talking, sometimes writing, always sad. Then right before Christmas break I sat down and we talked. She showed me her draft, and it scared me. I knew she’d been depressed — her grandmother died at the beginning of the year, and the light left Stephanie’s eyes. I listened to her share her sorrow, her anxiety, the weight of her world , and I gave her my cell phone number with the promise she would call if her boots got too heavy. Thankfully, they didn’t.

Every one of my students who presented their poems sparkled with pride as they faced their classmates, even the ones whose knees knocked in fear. They wrote from their hearts about issues that matter to them personally. They wrote the most important arguments about mistaken perceptionholding grudges, self-hate and self-love, parental control and uncontrolled parents, lying and how we’re programmed to labelBlack Lives Matter and dying white privilege. They wrote about better education and the stress of getting educated, absent fathers, loving fathers, and parentless children and alcoholics who should have put down that drink at 21.

They wrote about sticking together.

And they wrote about self-destruction and depression and monsters. So many of them wore grooves in the floor with the spikes that hold them in place until the sadness drags them down under. They broke my heart.

writing-heals-quote

Writing to heal is better practice.

Please enjoy Stephanie’s poem. She calls it “Smile.”

 

Many students chose video presentations over live performances. I published several this morning on the 3TT Facebook page. Take a look.

Please share your thoughts on teaching writing. Leave a comment.

 

 

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love higher and harder than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

 

Mini-Lesson Monday: Imitating Poetry

Reading more poetry with my students has been a goal of mine these past few years, and it’s been a goal I feel has been readily achieved with ideas like creating Heart Books or reading novels in verse.

But writing poetry–well, that’s a different story.

Students who aren’t accustomed to writing poetry need a scaffold before they can leap into free verse composition without a topic, genre, or form prompt.  For this scaffold, I use imitation.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  Identify patterns of language, structure, and punctuation in a given poem; Modify the style of the given poem to suit your purpose; Create a poem in the style of a given poem.

41KeFnbnPfL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Lesson — Before the mini-lesson, I will have already booktalked two of Mary Oliver’s books–A Poetry Handbook and Dog Songs, which is always a favorite with my students.  As the mini-lesson begins, I’ll read to them from Oliver’s chapter on imitation.

“You would learn very little in this world if you were not allowed to imitate,” Oliver begins. “Before we can be poets, we must practice; imitation is a very good way of investigating the real thing.”

“I have some poems here today for us to imitate and investigate,” I follow up.  I pass out the following options, lately garnered from my incredible poetry seminar with Mary Ann Samyn:

“Read over these quickly, and choose one you’d like to imitate.  Then open to a fresh page in your notebook.”

“I’m going to write with you, and I’m going to choose ‘A Display of Mackerel,'” I say.  “It seems long, but look how short the lines and stanzas are.”  I put my chosen poem under the document camera.  “Now, this poem is about a display of fish, and I want to imitate it and write about a display of something.  There’s a pretty big display of colorful objects in my room…” I trail off.

“Your library!” Nathan helpfully supplies.

“Yep,” I agree.  “I’m going to imitate this poem and write about my bookshelf.  I’m just going to change a few words per line, but I’m going to keep all the punctuation and the numbers of words the same.  It’s so easy to write poetry this way.”

On the document camera, I begin my imitation next to Doty’s original:

They lie in parallel rows,                   They rest in slumped rows,

on ice, head to tail,                           on shelves, spine to spine,

each a foot of luminosity                   each a sheaf of wisdom

“See how easy that is?  I keep Doty’s structure, punctuation, and even some of his words.  I just change a few to make the poem about my display of books, rather than his display of mackerel.  Now you take a few minutes to give this a start.”

We set about writing together.

After 10-15 minutes, we each have a full imitation poem.  We break into small groups, working with others who imitated our same poem.  We read our poems aloud.  Feedback is given on what we notice–similarities to and diversions from the original, and the effects of both.

Follow-Up — We’ll practice imitation a few more times before we leap into writing poetry independently.  When we do, I’ll ask, as always, that my students create a small anthology of their work on that genre–some samples of their early forays into poetry through imitation, as well as a few examples of their own independent attempts.  I’ll definitely include my “A Display of Books” in my own anthology, as I find it a lovely description of my library that I’d like to preserve.

My Imitation Poem: “A Display of Books”
by Shana Karnes & Mark Doty

They rest in slumped rows,
on shelves, spine to spine,
each a sheaf of wisdom

creased with cracked spines,
which divide the plots’
most gripping sections

like bands of color
in a double rainbow.
Vibrant, luminous

prismatics: think indigo,
the wildly rainbowed
spectrum of a springtime rain,

think sun spearing through clouds.
Wonder, and wonder,
and all of them in every way

unique from one another
–everything about them
a onetime blend of letters. Thus,

they’re all creative expressions
of a million different souls,
each a tenuous effort

of the soul’s footprint,
writer’s essence. As if,
after a lifetime of drafting

at this printing, the author’s
taken irreversible steps,
each as permanent

in its inked completion
as the one next door
Suppose we were shoulder-to-shoulder,

like these, the same but different
from our universe
of neighbors—would you want

to be yourself only,
unduplicatable, doomed
to be in print? They’d prefer,

plainly, to be award winners,
forever honored. Even now
they seem to be straining

forward, heedless of their lifelessness.
They don’t care they’re ink
and simple paper,

just as, presumably,
they didn’t care that they were imagined:
all, all for all,

the rainbowed shelf
and its acres of brilliant words,
in which no verb is singular,

or every one is. How eager they seem,
even on shelves, to be different, selfish,
which is the price of publication.

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