Wednesday, April 13, 2022

2022 The Final Post -- Burning the Candle at Both Ends

 by Brett Vogelsinger

The poem "First Fig" by Edna St. Vincent Millay is so well-known it has become idiomatic.  Whenever we say "I'm burning the candle at both ends," we are citing this tiny poem. 

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

The poem speaks truth.  Often when we are giving our loveliest light, it is at some expense. There is always the looming specter of burnout. 

I find that students do not know this idiom, even though many of them, overscheduled and exhausted, already know inside what it means.  

I share this image with them and ask, "When you 'burn the candle at both ends,' how does it burn differently than if you burnt it at one end?"

Image source fineartamerica.com



They quickly understand the point: the candle expires more quickly.  We read this poem. We discuss what it means.  We write in our notebooks some musing about what might help us to avoid burnout. 

Friends, this is the final post in a six-year project.  It brings the ideas on this site to a grand total of 180, an homage to Billy Collins wonderful poet laureate project, Poetry 180.  

I'm burning the candle at both ends as we speak, in the throes of the biggest writing project I have ever tackled!  This time next year, if all goes according to schedule, my first book will be out, published by Corwin.  It's called Poetry Pauses: Using Poems to Improve Writing in All Genres.  I hope you'll read it.  It's a deeper dive into how teachers with or without a Poem of the Day routine can use poetry as a centerpiece in their writing instruction, a way to highlight the kinds of thinking and moves we value in every genre. 

This blog will live on here, and perhaps in some other iteration with the content alive, well, and useful, I hope.  The search feature should take you to specific poets, teachers, skills, and resources quite easily.  

Thanks for being a reader of Go Poems.  Take good care of your candle.  Read good poems and share them. 

Further Reading: 



Brett Vogelsinger is a ninth grade English teacher and NBCT at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA. He is the founding editor of Go Poems, author of the upcoming book Poetry Pauses from Corwin Press, facilitates his school's literary magazine, Sevenatenine, and contributes monthly posts at Moving Writers. Follow him on Twitter @theVogelman.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

2022 Post #29 -- Discover Something New

 by Brett Vogelsinger

Believe it or not, the least-used shelf in my classroom library is the poetry shelf.  I share a poem every day of the school year with my students, and most find it to be an enjoyable routine.  But when it comes time to make a choice for independent reading, poetry collections and anthologies are never their first choice. (Novels-in-verse, however, are a different story; they tend to fly off their shelf!)

One day during National Poetry Month, I pull the books from that shelf and scatter them across the desks for the students arrive.  Click the link in the tweet below to see a video of what this looks like!



 Each student has at least two poetry books on their desk. On the board I have two definitions:

  • Poetry anthology: a book of poems by various poets around a theme
  • Poetry collection: a book of poems written by the same poet
"Check the books on your desk," I say. "Can you tell which type of books you have right now?"
I continue, "Pick one of these books, and let's take five minutes of silent reading.  If the first one doesn't grab your attention at all, you have a second book available too. In that short time, find a poem or part of a poem that you'd like to share aloud. First we'll share with a seat partner, then a second time with a different person of your choice."

By the time our Poem of the Day routine is complete on this day, the students have read/heard a minimum of three poems and experienced the joy of choice reading, all in a short span of time at the start of class. The room is full of discovery. Maybe they will even sign out one of the books from that unfrequented poetry shelf in my classroom library!

If you do not have a poetry section in your classroom library, try this activity with the help of your school librarian and a squeaky cart that brings the book to your room.  Some teachers call this sort of thing a book tasting and fill the room with red-checkered tablecloths to add the ambiance. 

Since no particular link to a poem is featured in this post, below are links to five poetry books I think would make a good start to a classroom poetry library for middle or high school. Dust regularly. Read daily. 

Further Reading: 







Brett Vogelsinger is a ninth grade English teacher and NBCT at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA. He is the founding editor of Go Poems, facilitates his school's literary magazine, Sevenatenine, and contributes monthly posts at Moving Writers. Follow him on Twitter @theVogelman.  His new book for teachers, Poetry Pauses, will be available from Corwin Press just in time for National Poetry Month 2023.  

Monday, April 11, 2022

2022 Post #28 -- Poetry Rocks!

by Aubrey Sebestyen

“It’s so boring.”

“I never understand it.”

“Not really my thing.”

Each year, my sophomores express their…misgivings with studying poetry. I know sighs of resignation are coming before the word “poetry” even escapes my lips.

“Poetry’s not your thing, huh?” I ask one who I notice has a set of AirPods sitting on her desk or (gasp!) an earbud in one of her ears. “What are you listening to right now?”

Billie Eilish. Jack Harlow. Olivia Rodrigo. The names flow out of them.

“Oh good!” I respond. “Poets!” I receive some skeptical side-eye, but I take advantage of technology at my fingertips and quickly pull up the lyrics to a song by one of the named artists (a clean version, of course) and project it onto my whiteboard.

As teachers we know making our lessons relevant to our students is the hook that can entice them to engage fully with content, and to do so in a meaningful, effective way. We need not start with Shakespeare or Whitman; the skills one needs to analyze and appreciate poetry are far more important than learning about any one specific poem or poet. So we begin with music.

I ask if the song up on the board, whatever it is depending on students’ musical tastes that semester, is a poem. Inevitably, most say no, and we engage in a debate over what defines a poem. We discuss ballads and lyric poetry. Sonnets. Odes. Elegies. Poetry isn’t just musical – it is music.

I model how to annotate the lyrics, asking for their input on literary devices or figurative language they notice. Allusions are particularly fun if it means they must explain to Millennial ol’ me the Hollywood gossip they refer to.

Then it’s their turn. My students’ job is to select a song they enjoy, ensuring it is a clean, radio edit that I have pre-approved for class, and to apply either a TPCASTT (Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitude, Shifts, Title Reevaluation, Theme) or SOAPStone (Subject, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Speaker, Tone) analysis to the piece. They also must identify five different examples of unique literary devices or figurative language used in the song and be able explain how these contribute to the song’s theme, mood, or tone.

For the duration of the poetry unit, each student opens a class with their song-as-poetry analysis as the bell ringer (and sometimes get to play us out at the end of class with the song itself). It’s unique every day, is highly engaging, and reinforces their understanding of the elements necessary for poetry analysis. Best of all, it helps students see both “classic” poetry and modern music through a new and unifying lens. Rock on!

Further Reading:


Aubrey Sebestyen teaches 10th Grade English, AP Language and Composition, and PEN, an elective for academically gifted students, at Central Bucks High School East in Doylestown, PA, where she also serves as co-adviser for Phantasmagoria, a club celebrating student art, poetry, and music.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

2022 Post #27 -- "A House Divided"

by Susan Barber

I am teaching multicultural literature for the first time this year and wanted to start with a poem that would get our conversation going on the first day. When I reached out to my #TeachLivingPoets community, someone suggested “A House Divided” by Kyle Dargan, and I immediately knew this was our poem. While I turned this lesson into a lesson for an entire class period, this can easily be modified into a shorter lesson.

Here’s a 10 minute lesson:

Read aloud or project on your screen Dargan’s experience that led him to write this poem:

"I took Amtrak from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta for my brother's wedding. I'd never traveled that far south by train. I saw a familiar but antiquated ruralness—another iteration of America. On the return, I grabbed a seat next to a group of Alabamians on their way to Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. It seemed that, in the moment, there were so many different “Americas” colliding in the coach. While conversing about work over a dining car breakfast, one of the men, Mike Laus, offered a line about roofing someone had passed on to him. It struck me, and provided an entry point for musing on how little we see of, or believe in, each other's Americas." - Kyle Dargan


Read “A House Divided” aloud in small groups. Annotate with two different colors what the speaker notices about Your America and My America and discuss what insights about the two different Americas. 

For a link to an extended lesson with this poem, click here: “A House Divided” lesson.

Further Reading: 



Susan Barber teaches at Midtown High School in Atlanta, GA. She serves on the NCTE Secondary Steering Committee and as the College Board Advisor for AP Literature but is most excited about her work in Room E216.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

2022 Post #26 -- Go Inside a Stone

by Katherine Schulten

Back when I was a brand-new teacher in 1987, I had the life-changing good fortune to be part of the New York City Writing Project’s month-long summer institute, where I was introduced to ideas about teaching and learning that have been foundational to everything I’ve done professionally since.

One sweaty afternoon, to break up a day of sitting, reading and writing, the two facilitators introduced us to this exercise, which I immediately stole for my own classroom and used successfully for years.

Directions:

Begin by putting students into small groups, and giving everyone a copy of Charles Simic’s “Stone.” (Note: Though you can substitute any poem, this one has never failed me.)

Don’t read the poem aloud or tell your students anything about it. Just invite them to read it to themselves quietly at least twice, marking it up on a second read. For instance, they might underline the words, phrases and lines that stand out for them.

Then, give them the following instructions:

"You now have 30 minutes with your group to come up with a way to perform this poem that brings it alive for the class. You can do anything you want as long as you follow two rules: Every member of the group must be involved, and, at some point in the performance, we must experience the entire piece as it was originally written."

As they work, circulate and answer questions as needed. (My students always went into a frenzy of discussion and planning, calling me over for questions like, Can we use props? Make costumes? Add instruments? Percussion? Sing it? Incorporate dance moves? Repeat words? Sure, I’d say, whatever – as long as you follow the rules I’ve already given you.)

When the 30 minutes is up, establish an order in which the groups will perform. Then, sit back, watch and prepare to be amazed at all the different, yet intersecting, interpretations your students will offer. In fact, the real magic of the exercise might be how deftly it shows students that there is no one “right” reading, and that a good poem offers you something new every time you encounter it.

I’ve done this exercise in both 75 and 60 minute classes, and longer is better. But no matter how much time you have, save a few minutes for reflection at the end. You can ask, “What now stands out for you about this poem?” or “What do you want to remember about it?” and invite students to first write in response, then discuss as a class. Even after this reflection, however, don’t be surprised if your students come to class the next day still wanting to talk about “Stone” and process the experience.

Further Reading: 




Katherine Schulten has been an editor at The New York Times Learning Network since 2006. Before that, she spent 19 years in New York City public schools as an English teacher, school-newspaper adviser and literacy coach.

The Learning Network has scores of additional ideas for National Poetry Month. For instance, from now until April 21, your students are invited to contribute to a collective poem on the subject of “small kindnesses.

Friday, April 8, 2022

2022 Post #25 -- Jimmy Fallon

by Jason Hepler

Admission: while I am a middle-aged married man and father of four, I have had a man crush on Jimmy Fallon ever since his time on Saturday Night Live. Consequently, I was ecstatic when he became host of and have since watched every episode of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. All nine seasons, totaling 1627 episodes as of April 1, 2022 -though mostly after DVR’ing them.



As I write that, I am not sure if that is a badge of honor, find a hobby, or a need to seek counseling.

Regardless, I have seen and enjoyed them all. In addition to Jimmy’s charm and amicability, I love the witty writing, the childish sense of humor, and the creativity of skits such as “Tonight Show Superlatives,” “Freestyling with the Roots,” and Fallon and Kevin Bacon’s “First Drafts of Rock.”

Several of my favorite bits involve the use of random generator (as seen below).





While I know a random generator is not unique to Jimmy Fallon, it was while watching an episode, amidst my boyish giggling, where I thought, “This could work in English class!”

And thus, my Random Poetry Writing Assignment was born.

During National Poetry Month we read a poem a day, trying to explore and maybe even teach a little about a variety of genres. As the month nears its end, students take a turn with my randomizer. While I can’t afford fancy graphics or cool sound effects, the premise is simple: each student will draw a genre, a topic, and a silly word (though my generator has changed several times over the years by using a character from a novel, vocab words that we study, pop culture references, etc.).

They are then to compose a poem meeting the criteria of their randomizer. The combinations can provide a sense of -dare I say- fun: a limerick about pickles with the word whippersnapper, a narrative poem about slow Wifi that contains the word onomatopoeia, or a sonnet about hangnails including the word hullaballoo.

The assignment often forces them to explore definitions, revisit poetry/genre specifics, and tap into their creativity. Mostly, it allows them to interact with language -which is one goal of poetry. And the structure of it all usually turns out to be a winner in the kids’ eyes -which is the main goal of teaching anything really.

In addition to the randomizer idea that spawned from the show’s skits, I also show the spoken word performances that have appeared over the years. I always use the clips directly from The Tonight Show’s YouTube page to reinforce the notion of how mainstream poetry is.

Two of my favorites are Rudy Francisco’s performances from his collection Helium – “Complainers” and “Rifle II.” Both are very well received by students and have provided a myriad of discussion possibilities. And it almost always leads to requests for my copies of Helium.

His support for poetry and poets makes me only love him more. But I promise, it’s in a healthy, non-stalkerish kind of way.

Further Reading:


Jason Hepler is an eighth-grade English teacher and basketball coach in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

2022 Post #24 -- First They Came

by Kristy Trammel

For years I, like every other English teacher ever, shared Martin Niemoller’s, “First They Came” with students as they studied The Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel’s Night. I shared it with them, and we all marveled at its striking message. Students instantly understand its theme, its connection to our study of Holocaust literature, and its striking plea to our future selves that we never become bystanders in the face of tyranny and oppression regardless of our positions or power. But that was it. We passively marveled at it. What else was there to do with this poem? How could something so powerful not demand more time and attention? What discussion or activity wouldn’t ruin it, but rather, if possible, enhance its power? Currently my answer is the use of close reading and mimicry.


 First they read it once, and I ask them to look at the thematic connection to our unit--

Because I notice that it bolsters their confidence.

 

Then they read it again, and I ask them to look at its form—

Because I notice that they see consistent verbs creating repetition.

 

Then they read it a third time, and I ask them to look at the implied argument—

Because I notice that they then internalize its gravity.

 

Then they mimic the poem to create something borne of their experience—

and there is the action that fulfills the poem’s plea because they cease to be bystanders.

 

Struggling and strong students alike produce profound poetry when mimicking this form.  Provide the following framework to students, and some will produce their best work of the year.

 

First they ___________________________________, and I _____________________________--
Because I ______________________________.

 Then they ___________________________________, and I _____________________________-- 

Because I ________________________________________. 

Then they ___________________________________, and I _____________________________-- 
Because I ________________________________________.

Then they ___________________________________--and there was ___________________________________.


By writing this poem, students break the cycle of sitting silently in the classroom passively nodding at a poem’s simplistic yet powerful message and make use of that which the speaker implores them to use: their voice.

Further Reading: 



Kristy Trammel is a ninth-grade English teacher in Bucks County, PA.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

2022 Post #23 -- Golden Moment, Potent Ending

 by Brett Vogelsinger

When I first read Eve Ewing's poem "testify" on the Poem-a-Day email from poets.org, the bright optimism of the images at the heart of the poem, the friendly exchange between neighbors on a beautiful day, and the spiritual connotation of the word "testify" all left me enamored with the poem and encouraged by its words at the end of a particularly tough day of teaching. 

I shared it with two colleagues during our PLC time before sharing it with students, and found one of them brought an entirely different interpretation to the poem.  "All that repetition at the end . . . and then the last word, 'yet.' I find that ominous!" she said. 

On my first reading of the poem, I saw the conclusion of the poem as life-affirming, a sort of carpe diem, akin to the last few lines of Rudy Francisco's poem "Complainers."  But my colleague's reading complicated things.  And so did my students' reading of the poem. 

Most of them liked the poem but disliked the ending, finding the repetition neither life-affirming nor ominous but bothersome, without purpose.  "Oh, that much repetition is certainly not an accident.  Look at how the lines break.  Look at how much real estate this conclusion occupies. It matters.  This is purposeful!" I told them. We theorized about what that purpose might be. 

 Later, when I read it out loud in a professional development session after participants had a chance to read it silently, one teacher told me, "I pictured that part read much slower than you just read it," and when I reconceived the poem read with the ending at a different pace, it changed the poem again for me. 

Like all my favorite poems, this is a poem that gets more interesting each time I read it.  I feel like I understand it the first time, but then I keep understanding it more and differently as I read it again and hear how other people respond to it. 

And that is the lesson I share with this poem: that great poetry changes when you hold it to the light and look at it from different angles. There is not one path to understanding and interpreting it.  So if this poem is new to you too, don't overthink how to share it with students.  Just share it with them.  Ask what they like about it and what makes it different than other poems they have read.  Enjoy the authentic response and discussion that ensues, and enjoy how it shapes your own reading of this memorable poem.  

Further Reading:


Brett Vogelsinger is a ninth grade English teacher and NBCT at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA. He is the founding editor of Go Poems, facilitates his school's literary magazine, Sevenatenine, and contributes monthly posts at Moving Writers. Follow him on Twitter @theVogelman.