Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Poetry Revolution

As many of you know, I spent five weeks in Chicago this summer at DePaul University. I participated in a conference called "Say Something Wonderful: Teaching the Pleasures of Poetry." Poetry was not something I knew much about prior to this summer. But I learned a lot and am trying to implement as much as I can. I'm not exactly sure how this is going to happen, but we're off to a good start.

Yesterday, we read a silly poem by Dennis Lee called "Alligator Pie." The kids liked this one a lot. We spent a few minutes discussing it and then I asked students to write their own version. They've done well with this, although a number of them have yet to turn them in.

Today, we read one of my favorite poems, "Dreams," by one of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes. If you aren't familiar with it, here it is:

By Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

After reading it, I asked some questions such as:
  • How many stanzas does this poem have?
  • What are the metaphors?
  • What parts are repeated? Does the repeated part change in any way?
  • What words don't you know?
  • Do any words have more than one possible meaning?
The students responded to this activity very enthusiastically. Some even noticed things about the poem that I hadn't noticed before!

My goal is to use poems regularly to teach analytic thinking, grammar, vocabulary, and other important comprehension skills. As we come across great poems, I'll pass them along through the blog so the discussion can continue at home.


Anonymous said...

It's a great poem. I would like to discuss how dreams are thwarted or killed and how education along with our own actions impact our dreams.

Anonymous said...

Great poem! Will this discussion go along with the students hopes and goals for the year? Could you explain the concept behind the composition books? My student has been bring it home this week and the writing in it is not good in my opinion. What are the plans for improving all the students writing this year that will prepare them for middle school?

Ben Curran said...

In terms of our discussion, we also talked about how there are two kinds of dreams, not just the ones we have when we sleep. We decided that this poem is probably not about sleeping! I don't think we directly tied it in to hopes and goals. We really could have talked about this "little" poem for another 30 minutes. Unfortunately, our tight schedule doesn't allow for it.

As for notebooks, we'll have 4 altogether...the writer's notebook (composition book), the poetry notebook (blue spiral), Slice of Life notebook (which students should provide), and reader's notebook (kept at school most of the time). Chances are the writing you saw was a rough draft of something, so don't be too alarmed.

Writing is a huge part of our curriculum and is covered in every subject. We'll teach different genres (myth, legend, etc), poetry, and the writing process (revision, editing, etc.) and track their progress closely.

Hope that answers your questions. I could talk about writing all day, but I'll stop now! :)