Tuesday, April 13, 2021

2021 Post #30 -- "Remember" by Joy Harjo: A Salve for Seniors

by Oona Marie Abrams

I first heard Joy Harjo’s “Remember” recited by Georgia Heard at NCTE 2019. The line I immediately fell into was “Remember your birth, how your mother struggled to give you form and breath.” My eyes welled up, in fact, to hear the line read aloud. It mirrored my birth story: one month premature, cord wrapped around my neck, emergency caesarean. I thought also in the moment I read the poem of my house-bound mother, recovering far too slowly from knee replacement surgery. Through 45 years in a matter of seconds, Harjo’s words connected me to her.

One word, one phrase, one line is often all it takes. Poetry is an explosion of grace into the mundane.

The act of remembering was especially important to my seniors in the spring of 2020 without the rituals that (let’s be honest!) are mostly what senior year is about. The fashion show, the prom, the awards ceremonies, the senior picnic: all pulled from the roster. I shared this poem and the story above with my seniors in late May. Unmuting their microphones, they shared their favorite lines in a “whip-around” and were also invited (but not required) to type into the chat why that was their selection. What followed was such a range of treasured memories and stories from their lives. I then invited students to do a short write beside the poem, which they could later extend upon as a longer piece in their portfolios. Below are some lines from those short writes, some of which became the genesis for other written pieces:
  • Remember that first F on a test
  • Remember the birds picking at the bread we gave away
  • Remember playing varsity, the green line dominating the ice
  • Remember the friends you’ve lost, the friends you still have
  • Remember something embarrassing, even if you may not want to
  • Remember the rage that fueled your determination
  • Remember when we used to argue over the smallest things
  • Remember when our decisions did not affect others
  • Remember the Starbucks trips that made the school day worth it
  • Remember all those practices where we said we’d quit but never did
  • Remember that stuffed animal that you refused to leave at home
  • Remember your first time you looked at somebody differently.
  • Remember when we made super buttery popcorn
Try to model your own personal connection with the poem; one time-efficient way to do this is by putting your annotated poem or writer’s notebook under a document camera. We’re all strapped for time these days! Just make your connections and responses as transparent as possible so students can do their best work. Happy sharing!

P.S. Joy Harjo read this poem aloud for PBS Kids and talks a little about poetry.  Find the video here.  

Further Reading:





Oona Marie Abrams (@oonziela) is one of the co-organizers of NerdCampNJ. She lives and teaches in northern New Jersey.

Monday, April 12, 2021

2021 Post #29 -- Dive Into Unfathomable Life

 by Stacey Smith

In 1996, Wislawa Syzmborska won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her ability to ask existential questions of the world around her with deep empathy and untangled language. In a world currently shrouded by the unknown, Szymborska’s poem “Utopia” is a fitting dive into how a perfect place does not exist, and we should not only face, but embrace the reality of our now—and find meaning in the experiences we’ve had during this uniquely trying year.

It is easy for us and our students to focus on the what ifs, the ideals of what could be, the way the world was before the pandemic. In reading “Utopia”, we have the ability to both explore those ideals that we want to map out on our island, but also to address them as potentially unrealistic and detrimental to our real growth as people, as learners, and as a community. Sometimes our ideals crush our hopes because we have created a world that isn’t reachable.

We want Szymborska’s poem to allow students to explore their “unfathomable life”—What did we have to let go of in the pandemic? During quarantine? As virtual learners vs. in person learners? What freedoms did we have to give up and how did that sacrifice pay off?

Start by reading “Utopia” out loud once through. Deliberately.

Then, read it again, and as you are reading, have the students think about what they had to let go of that existed pre-2020 (the “Trees of Understanding” and “Caves where Meaning Lies”).

Have students read the poem again on their own. Once they have finished reading, ask them to write in their journal some individual hopes they found in Post-2020 life (and potentially model your own version for them as well)—What have you left behind and how it has maybe made life better? How have you had to slow down? What have you seen by doing this? Have you become closer to people without the distractions of the world? Have you learned to communicate better? What freedoms did we have to give up and how did that sacrifice pay off?

Szymborska’s poem does not end in despair, but rather reminds us that hope is not lost— in the words of researcher Brené Brown, we have to be “bravely vulnerable” and accept that life is flawed, but we can find our own meaning and purpose beyond the safe, yet false utopias our imagination sometimes creates.


Further Reading:



Stacey Smith is a Freshman English teacher at Lenape Middle School in Doylestown, PA. When she’s not encouraging her students to be bravely vulnerable, she thrives on new experiences with food and travel and discovering the stories of anything vintage. You can find her occasionally on IG @ihatetoread

Sunday, April 11, 2021

2021 Post #28 -- Musings On Mother's Hands


by Nawal Qarooni Casiano

A creator’s ability to hone in on one object, item or body part and describe its weight, meaning and importance is a skill that student writers, too, can replicate in their craft. It’s one that can lead to homages and odes, broadening gratitude for things that might go unnoticed without a keen writer’s eye. In its simplest form, it can lead to emotional musings about individualized objects that beg for reflection.

Nate Marshall, in his poem titled "my mother’s hands" from his latest poetry book, Finna, brings alive descriptions of hands as a salve in hardship, outlining childhood memories in a small slice of time.

In the classroom, we might share this poem and ask students:
  • How does his mother’s hands care for him?
  • What message does he glean from his mother’s massage?
  • How does he use repetition in the poem?
Once students have had time to digest and discuss the poem, we might ask them to generate their own lists of items, objects or body parts that are especially meaningful, and carry emotion or story. When I feel stuck generating ideas, I close my eyes and recall moments where I cried or felt like screaming; where I was worried or scared. In a simple T-chart, model brainstorming like this aloud.

For example, I would include:

my daughter’s slim wrists → carries emotions about my last daughter.
my grandmother’s headscarf → flashbacks to memories of her laughter and everyday smiles.
my father’s handlebar mustache→ and how it represents, for me, what he wanted but didn’t achieve in life.

These body and item connections evoke strong emotion and memory that support the creation of poetry similar to Nate Marshall’s. Once students brainstorm lists, set a timer and ask that they try their hand at a poem- perhaps weaving in repetition, perhaps never sharing it. I leave it up to students whether or not they choose to share. Yes, there’s power in having an audience and writers are fueled by feedback but at the same time, some writing is personal, cathartic, and for the creator alone.


Further reading:




Nawal Qarooni Casiano is an educator, writer and literacy coach based out of Chicago, IL. She designs learning experiences alongside teachers and is mother to four multilingual, multiethnic kids, who very much shape the way she understands learning. You can read more about her work at NQCLiteracy.com and follow her on Twitter @NQCLiteracy.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

2021 Post #27 -- A Happy Reunion, Rich in Words

 by Brett Vogelsinger

Family reunions have not been the same this past year.  The physical travel and proximity, the largeness that these gatherings entail for some: all of this became suddenly forbidden. It has become an act of love to stay apart, to visit via teleconference.  

We all look forward to those reunions resuming, whether with the family we are born into or the family we make for ourselves.  Rita Dove's beautiful poem, "Family Reunion" is rich in flavor and love, in family history and personal idiosyncrasy. In a way that is subtle and warm, the poem fits this year's theme as a poem of hope and encouragement. 

When I read this poem with my class this year, I said: "Did you notice how many fun words she includes in this poem?  What are some words we don't hear everyday but are just fun to hear in this poem?  What are the words that bring out the joy of this reunion? Listen for this when we read it aloud second time."

My students each made a quick list. Many included the following:

yakking

potluck

hatchety

barbecue

drawl

battalion

quicksand

"demolish" instead of "eat"

We shared our lists, added to them, and talked about why these words stood out to us. Their rarity, their sound, their playfulness appeal to us as readers. 

We were in the midst of writing our own memoirs, so I said to my students, "Don't forget that when you write.  Reach for words you know but don't use everyday.  If it's a fun, joyful moment like this, pick words that reflect that mood.  If it's a somber moment, choose words with a heavier sound to reflect that mood.  And never underestimate the power of a good food image! But for now . . . maybe choose one word from your list that you enjoyed reading and might be able to weave into your writing today. Find a home for it in your work!"

Simply inviting students to borrow language from poets and to transfer some words into their own context enriches the vocabulary in our students' writing. This is a can-do kind of challenge that everyone can succeed at in their revision, learning from the craft of published poets.  

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, Sevenatenineand contributes monthly posts at Moving Writers. Follow him on Twitter @theVogelman.

Friday, April 9, 2021

2021 Post #26 -- A Phone-Scroll Self-Portrait

 by Brett Vogelsinger

Every teenager -- and most adults -- can be seen in their native habitats scrolling through their phones sometimes.  While the term "doomscrolling" has emerged as an etymological outcropping of our lives over the past year, there can also be a pleasanter sort of scroll to try on your phone. Wandering through photos of better times you have almost forgotten about can bring a sense of warmth to a cold and lonely season. 

Jonathan Potter's poem, "Self-Portrait with Wife" is an excellent example of the power words have when they are inspired by and create images.  

Potter's poem seems simple enough, at first, a list of the details of an image of two people with photographic accuracy.  But the words used to capture these images are powerfully suggestive of backstory and plot: "our bed of bliss," "the laundry basket empty," "your son's painting" and "the almost hidden books." What do each of these snippets suggest about these characters?  What do they show but never tell us about the people in the portrait? 

Challenge students to scroll through their own phone and find a "self-portrait" with another person.  Capture the details in the photo with words, even the unintended details of the background, clothing, positioning, and light.  Suggest some of the history of these two people without telling the reader about them.  What might their footwear (or lack of it) imply, like it does in the poem we just read?  What fragment of a story do the surroundings of these people tell, like that smudge on the mirror in Jonathan Potter's poem? Has anything been cropped from this photo, and what might this suggest to a reader, if we let them in on that secret? 

Every developing artist creates a self-portrait at some point.  Developing poets can too.  Make it a self-portrait with a second person, and possible plots emerge at the edges.  

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, Sevenatenineand contributes monthly posts at Moving Writers. Follow him on Twitter @theVogelman.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

2021 Post #25 -- Achieving Victory

by Nathan Harris

Earlier this school year, I introduced my eighth graders to “Victory”, a poem by Sherman Alexie. I asked six volunteers to read it aloud to the rest of the class (one student per quatrain), and then I asked them to read it to themselves while answering one question in their notebook: Why does the father weep? A large number of students thought that the father wept because he was ashamed of and disappointed in his son’s actions, whereas a smaller number of students were able to correctly recognize that the father wept out of shame for his own inability to provide the best for his son.

I then briefly lectured to my students about the concept of identity, which had been a topic of ongoing conversations in my classroom since we read The Outsiders. My students were first reminded that part of our identity is written without our say: who are parents and family are, how and where we are raised, and everything that comes with the ripple effect from those circumstances and decisions. None of us can alter the exposition of our lives.

But then I present the most encouraging news of all: the story of their lives is still largely unwritten. Just like Ponyboy Curtis and the boy from the poem, my 13 and 14-year-old students are realizing that the biggest part of their identities is going to be shaped by their own decisions going forward. No matter their beginnings, all of my students are now old enough and capable enough to make decisions that can put them in a position to be happy, maximize their talents, and achieve their own victories as they do their best to write the rest of their life story.

Further Reading:



My name is Nate Harris, and I am in my seventh year of teaching English Language Arts at the middle school level. I am excited and humbled to be a part of a collection of inspirational ideas. I have not had any social media since my senior year of college, but I can be reached at nharris@cbsd.org.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

2021 Post #24 -- Poetry For Athletes

 by Brett Vogelsinger

Sports provide abundant space for words.  The sports fans in our classroom often read and listen to more analysis than the rest of our students. I encourage them to write analysis pieces in their weekly writer's notebook entries.  Sports Illustrated contains some complex writing and The Player's Tribune features pieces written by athletes.  So students who feel like sports is their main reason for coming to school never need to feel left out in an English class. 

Since I am not a big sports fan, I occasionally have to remind myself of the importance of including sports poems in our classroom life.  Not everyone feels as moved by Mary Oliver's description of a meadow as I do, so variety matters when it comes to a daily poetry routine.  

The poem "Makin Jump Shots" by Michael S. Harper is a poem that is rich in movement and the potential to teach inference as a reading skill or showing vs. telling as a writing skill.

After our first read aloud of this poem in class and before inviting a student to read it a second time, I ask students to think about this:  What does the poet show us about this basketball player but never really tell us about him?  What do we have to infer?  

Students may comment on the setting (likely a public park) the skills (he seems good) or the demeanor (he seems confident) of the player.  

After a student shares a conclusion, I am always sure to ask them, "What words does the poet use that help you to draw that conclusion?" 

When it comes to inferential thinking, a broader and important question is "How does inference make reading and writing more enjoyable?"  

Learning to read between the lines add to our joy.  If reading were a sport, this would be the skill that separates a spectator from a participant.

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, Sevenatenineand contributes monthly posts at Moving Writers. Follow him on Twitter @theVogelman.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

2021 Post #23 -- Growth


by Susan Barber

Nikki Giovanni is one of my favorite poets: she has stood the test of time, speaks truth, and continues to teach at Virginia Tech today. I love the way she plays with words and images and makes the abstract and sometimes difficult topic accessible and inviting. Today’s poem, “BLK History Month”, was published in 2002 but speaks to ideas that are relevant today.


Encourage students to:

1. Take a piece of paper and fold it in half. Fold it in half again until the paper is divided into four squares.

2. Read the poem aloud. “BLK History Month”

3. Illustrate the three images Giovanni uses to draw a parallel to Black History Month and write what you consider to be the most important words associated with each image in the same square.

4. In the fourth square, respond to any of the following questions:
  • What do you notice about the words you chose as the most important? What connections can you make between these words and Black History Month?
  • How does Giovanni’s choice to use the word “not” throughout this poem strengthen the message?
  • How does the work of the wind, the rain, and the sun build on each other? What is the relationship between them?
I think this poem offers encouragement in that even though we do not always see movement, that doesn’t mean growth is not happening.

What acts toward social justice can you do to “carry seeds . . . dampen the ground . . . encourage the seeds to root . . . warm the earth . . . kiss the seedlings?”

Does the way we choose to live each day tell others: “You’re As Good As Anybody Else / You’ve Got A Place Here, Too?”

Further Reading: 



Susan Barber is an English teacher at Grady High School in Atlanta, GA. You can find her on Twitter and IG or sharing what’s happening in her classroom on APLitHelp.com.

Monday, April 5, 2021

2021 Post #22 -- Your World

by Shawn O'Brien

The most valuable experiences in the classroom are those that help us to learn more about ourselves and what we really aspire to. For that reason, big questions can come up in English class. One of the biggest comes up early in my courses: “Are your choices making you more or less of the person that you hope to be?”

We talk about respect. We talk about humanity. We talk about doing the hard work to really climb, rather than allowing ourselves the all-too-easy slide down the proverbial mountain of our potential.

Here is where Harlem Renaissance poet Georgia Douglas Johnson comes in, as she concisely paints a powerful picture in “Your World” that begs the question: “How long will you allow fear and doubt to hold you back?”

After a reading of the poem, I ask students to respond privately to a couple simple prompts that help us to dive deeper into discussions about writing, about identity, and about courage.

  • Please share your thoughts on "Your World" by Georgia Douglas Johnson. Please use at least one short quote from the poem to illustrate your feeling and insight.
  • What do you feel Johnson has to say in "Your World" about self-respect? What does she have to say about the human experience? Please include at least one short quote from the poem as you explain.

Johnson’s piece, being both short and profound, makes for a great exercise in selecting strong quotes, and learning to incorporate them into a piece of writing.

With such a minimal commitment of time, a little work on “Your World” pays off big.

Further Reading: 



Shawn O’Brien is an English teacher at Central Bucks High School West in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Students find Mr. O. particularly passionate about hip-hop, philosophy, junk food, comics, and The Legend of Zelda. He’s been known to occasionally share some of those passions, and to promote West events, on Instagram and Twitter.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

2021 Post #21 -- Murmuration

by Sarah Gross

British poet Linda France created “Murmuration”, a collective poem, as a way to celebrate the natural world and help people recognize the ongoing climate crisis. Hundreds of people submitted lines of poetry and France joined them together into a stunning poem that celebrates nature. The five hundred submissions, married to each other line by line, create the language equivalent of a flock of birds diving and soaring, rising and flying, floating together; it’s a murmuration. Artist Kate Sweeney then created an animated film that brings the poem to life.

A celebration of nature, “Murmuration” is a gorgeous collection of images and language that reminds readers of the interconnectedness of the environment. Despite the climate crisis we are facing, readers are left with a sense of hope and wonder after reading/watching.


After watching the animated poem, explain to your students how France and Sweeney worked with lines submitted by the general public to create a poem celebrating nature and the environment. What would the challenges be in this kind of work? What are the benefits of creating a collaborative poem to address our relationship with nature?

Then challenge your students to create their own class “Murmuration”. Ask your students to compose a few lines using France’s original prompt.

Students should compose 1-3 lines of any length. The lines must celebrate the natural world and can begin with either “Because I love…” or “What if…” If they need inspiration, tell students to think about their favorite outdoor spaces. It could be their yard, the schoolyard, a lot on their street, or even a tree, flower, or bird in their neighborhood.

Have students submit their line(s) to a shared document or survey form. Together you can combine all of the lines into a collaborative class poem. Depending on how much time you have, you can revise the poem, mix lines together, and maybe even create illustrations! You could even create an animated slideshow to share your class poem with the wider world!

Further Reading: 


Sarah Gross is one of the co-organizers of NerdCampNJ. She teaches in central New Jersey and loves spending time outdoors. Follow her on Twitter @thereadingzone

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Post #20 -- Learning Beside Oregon's Poet Laureate, Anis Mojgani

by Penny Kittle

I am from the green of Oregon in mid-June when the sun is up early and the trout are biting in every pond. I was born and raised in the beauty of my favorite state, and it still sings inside of me. So I was thrilled, as you can imagine, when I learned that a favorite poet of mine, Anis Mojgani, had been chosen as the 10th annual Oregon Poet Laureate. He follows the two-year-term of Kim Stafford, son of legendary William Stafford, who served in the role for 15 years. Oregonians know poetry: it is in the sky in September, at Cannon Beach just after a wild windstorm, and in the view from the summit of Mt. Tabor where I walk each morning on my annual trip home.

Mojgani is a two-time National Slam Poetry Champion, and you simply must watch his 2010 performance of “Shake the Dust” on YouTube. Click now and find it. I’ll wait. Anis brings such a gentle compassion to this poem. Students respond to his call for imagining the lives and struggles of others. They want to write next to this poem.



I have used Mojgani’s poem in middle and high school classrooms for the last 11 years. I give each student a copy of the words to the poem, and then I show Anis’s performance of it. I want students to have the words when they are ready to write. Following his performance, I open my notebook and tell students I’m going to imitate his poem with my own lines:


For the new student who doesn’t know where to sit at lunch, shake the dust.

For the grandmother lonely in her room in a nursing home, shake the dust.


With each line, I tell students, I imagine someone I know who is hurting and write for them.

We all write together. The room fills with words spinning from hearts to paper. We imagine, we write, we fiddle with language and lines, and we create something beautiful in our notebooks. There is no grade, no rubric, just an opportunity to write our thinking. This essential daily practice in first draft writing builds confidence. Imitation allows all students to feel successful as they begin to trust their words and ideas on the page.

After several minutes, I ask students to underline a few lines they feel capture something important. We end this practice with a whip share—where each student has the chance to read a line or two out to the class (or pass, of course.) I love to gather these notebooks and create a class poem from their lines, which I share the next day. Community poems bind us together.

You can learn more about Anis Mojgani and his poetic genius at thepianofarm.com. Or follow him on Twitter @mojgani, Instagram @thepianofarm, or Facebook Anis Mojgani.

Further Reading:




Penny Kittle teaches freshman composition at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. She was a teacher and literacy coach in public schools for 34 years, 21 of those spent at Kennett High School in North Conway. She is the co-author of 180 Days with Kelly Gallagher, and is the author of Book Love, and Write Beside Them, which won the James Britton award.

Friday, April 2, 2021

2021 Post #19 Written to Inspire Your Younger Self

 by Brett Vogelsinger

How many times in life do adults wish to go back and ask for a redo in their younger years?  How often do we wish we could time-travel and offer that younger version of ourselves some sage advice?  

This poem, "Seventeen" by Rudy Francisco imagines this possibility.  While the poem is about building up the courage to talk to someone you like and maybe even love, it is also about so much more.  It is about the social hierarchy of high school, male body image, introversion, and confidence, and Francisco's acrobatic skill with simile.  


After listening to this poem, ask your students to write a note, a letter, a poem, a list that they would give to a younger self.  In my school, grades 7-9, it is creatively fruitful to ask my ninth-graders to write to their seventh-grade selves.  Can you use a simile or two like Rudy Francisco does to bring to life what you felt back then or to add dimension to the wisdom you are able to pass on now as an older-but-wiser version of yourself?

I find that sometimes in workshops like this it is better to ask (or cajole) a few volunteers to share their work in class rather than insist everyone turn to a partner and read their writing out loud.  I let my students know this before they write so that they can feel comfortable expressing even thoughts and ideas they feel are deeply private.  The writer's notebook can be a space to write with such candor, but only if our students know how, when, and why they are expected to share, and what to do when they feel they cannot share. 

Depending on the number of volunteers to share with an audience, I might have a little time left for a deeper question raised by this poem:  How does our life experience shape our identity?  

Further Reading:

If you like this poem, check out another post featuring Francisco's "My Honest Poem" from earlier this year on Go Poems.  


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, Sevenatenineand contributes monthly posts at Moving Writers. Follow him on Twitter @theVogelman.
  

Thursday, April 1, 2021

2021 Post #18 -- Deserving Praise

by Joel Garza

In difficult times, it can be valuable to remember who deserves our praise.  Invite your students into a poem that illuminates this a bit more, and then invite them to write their own poetry in response. 

Watch Gómez's reading of the poem "Praise" on the Button Poetry YouTube channel. 





 As you listen, have a pencil out to write down your responses to a couple of questions: What are two things (individual lines, individual images, individual word choices) that really pop for you on the ear? What are two things (body language, hand gesture) that really caught your eye?

As you reread & annotate Gómez’s “Praise”, keep your literary antennae up for some of his poetic choices.

Repetition: This poem is driven by a lengthy list of “Because” clauses. What was it like to wait for the “Because” clauses to resolve, to process each one on its own? Perhaps there was a single “Because” that stood out to you--which one, and why?

Relationships: This is a poem about the fullness of loves--romantic love, parental love, friendship, etc. Do you see any kind of order to the relationships the speaker mentions? If so, what kind of order? If not, what do you make of that lack of order or hierarchy?

Structure: This poem moves in waves. What’s the impact of that shape for you as a reader?

Few of us think of ourselves as poets. But we all have a perspective that is worthwhile—and not just worthwhile to ourselves. We all can make meaning in our lives, even if that meaning is not always joyful or clear. Consider which of these writing prompts is the easiest gateway to knowing yourself & loving yourself, to knowing others & understanding—if not loving—others, and then respond to it.

Repetition & relationships: Who are, say, seven people in your life that deserve praise? Write them down--any order you wish. What’s each one’s “Because” for you? Write it down--no matter how small, how unique to you, how much it mean lean on a language (like Gómez’s Spanish) that some readers might not understand.
 
Structure: Mindful of these people and the “because” of each, what’s the shape that might best honor them & you are because of them? This poem moves in waves. Maybe you surf those waves in your writing. Or maybe your people are all around the world--consider then a draft that looks like a map with a continent for each person. Or something else entirely!

Further Reading:





The lesson was written by Joel Garza, Upper School English chair at Greenhill School and cofounder of #THEBOOKCHAT.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

2021 Post #17 -- A Poem a Day (The Same Poem a Day)

by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell

A year ago, at the start of the pandemic in the U.S., we wrote a guest post entitled “In This Together,” celebrating the teachers and administrators who have risen to do heroic things on a daily basis to help families in their learning communities. We praised families, too, for stepping up to comfort and educate children and lamented over the jumbled mix of emotions that we all were feeling over the COVID-19 situation. We urged readers to seek relief in poetry for several reasons, such as the way poems often point to the good things in life, especially the small good things, bringing us slivers of hope and joy when we are lost.

Fully a year later, we feel the same way about the ability of poetry to provide relief, but we’ll admit that the message of optimism might be wearing thin—especially for students. How many times can they hear “things will be better” before they tune us out?

More than we might think. A few years ago the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research released a study that shared the following: people often replay a favorite song hundreds of times. The study’s authors called this “extreme re-listening” and suggested that people do not tire of listening to songs that they choose voluntarily. We think it’s time to apply this concept to the sharing of poetry, especially with poems that incorporate movement and can provide a quick “brain break.” One exemplary poem for this purpose is “Everyday Use” by Zetta Elliot from HOP TO IT: Poems to Get You Moving, our latest anthology (featuring 100 poems by 90 poets). You can read the text of the poem here, but we hope you’ll also play the video of Zetta Elliott reading her poem. It takes less than a minute, so you can even play it daily for a week, or several times in a day—and then give the link to it to your students for them to play (when they feel like it) at home.



You might even want to give students a homework assignment simply to listen to a favorite poem—any poem—three times in a day. You can provide them with a list of audio or video links gathered from Poets.org, PoetryFoundation.org, PoetryMinute.org, or in the Poetry Video Library at No Water River; you can also find many poetry readings at our Pomelo Books Vimeo site. To give you a start, here are links to several additional poems from HOP TO IT, read by the poets themselves, that will lend themselves well to some extreme re-listening (and brain breaks) at home.


“Any Weather” by Rebecca Balcárcel https://vimeo.com/477187936

“At the Eye” by Padma Venkatraman: https://vimeo.com/477200215

“Chair Dancing” by Xelena González: https://vimeo.com/476495197

“Clear, Cool Blue” by Jacqueline Jules: https://vimeo.com/477197161

“I Smile with My Eyes” by David McMullin: https://vimeo.com/476499247

“The Artist” by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie: https://vimeo.com/504939468

As we said last year, if any of these poems resonates especially strongly with your students, please spread the word. We are still #inthistogether.



Further Reading:



Sylvia Vardell is Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University; her current work focuses on poetry for children, including the nationally recognized blog, Poetry for Children. Janet Wong is the author of more than thirty books for children and teens on a wide variety of subjects, including identity (A Suitcase of Seaweed & MORE). Together, Vardell and Wong are the forces behind the Poetry Friday books published by Pomelo Books.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

2021 Post #16 -- A Meditation on the Wild Things

 by Brett Vogelsinger

Listing images, objects, and ideas in our Writer's Notebook is always a fun way to get the internal gears turning and ready to write. To introduce Wendell Berry's poem "The Peace of Wild Things," I start by asking my students to write "wild things" in their notebooks and take two minutes to list anything that comes to mind under that heading.  Under the document camera, I start my own list each period. 

A toddler throwing a tantrum?  A rushing river? Yellowstone?  Animal from The Muppets? A herd of deer?  A raucous concert? (And yes, I might be slipping in a review of our recent vocabulary word "raucous" on that last one!)

It's intriguing how the word "wild" can bring to mind things that are quiet or loud, outdoors or indoors, human or otherwise.  

We watch the video animation of Wendell Berry's poem, read by the poet:


We watch the poem a second time, and this time I encourage students to start a second list, this time capturing a few key words that they find striking in the poem.  Words like heron, grief, day-blind, and grace might make their lists. 

Briefly, we discuss this: Can things be at the same time wild and peaceful? How is it that the poem refers to wild things and is yet so still?  

It is not uncommon for Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are to come up in this conversation. 

Finally, in our notebooks, we take a few minutes to write about one of the wild things on our list.  There is no pressure to make our words take the form of a poem or sound anything like Wendell Berry's. His poem is a backdrop for our thinking.  

I do invite students to consider whether there is something surprising or ironic about the wild thing they chose to elaborate on in their notebooks.  Might they borrow one of Wendell Berry's words we listed to write about it? Do they find peace in their wild thing, or something else?  

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, Sevenatenineand contributes monthly posts at Moving Writers. Follow him on Twitter @theVogelman.

Monday, March 29, 2021

2021 Post #15 -- Moving Advice

by Ken Bui

Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son” is an uplifting poem centered around a mother imparting wisdom and advice to her son. It’s about adversity. It’s about grit. It’s about courage. When I share this short poem with students, I always admire how much conversation can stem from its mere 20 lines.

Fittingly – seeing as the poem features the image of a staircase – invite students to think about all the ways the speaker “moves” and “shifts” through the advice to her son. To do so, consider the following questions or quick activities to frame the conversation your students could have:
  • What is the mother’s advice to her son?
  • What imagery or figurative language drives that message?
    • Alternatively, can students complete a quick doodle of any of the images that catch their attention?
  • How do verbs capture not only the mother’s movement, but the movement of the poem’s lines?
  • How do punctuation and line breaks contribute to the pace of the mother’s story/advice?
    • Or alternatively, where does the poem pause? Slow down? Quicken or build?
  • Consider if and where the speaker shifts the language. If you had to break up the poem into three parts or stanzas, where would you do so and why?
    • Have students draw lines to divide up the poem!



While students appreciate and discover how the speaker “moves” through the poem, they may also be “moved” by its tender yet frank sentiment on perseverance. 

Further Reading:




Ken Bui is an English teacher at Central Bucks High School South in Warrington, Pennsylvania. He enjoys teaching a variety of courses such as English 11, AP English Language & Composition, Creative Writing, and Debate. He is also a contributing writer for Moving Writers. You can find him on Twitter @kenbuiCBSD.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

2021 Post #14 -- Memories of Home

by Suzanne Dailey

Stories are hidden in the nooks and crannies of our home. Oftentimes, these stories happen when we are doing ordinary things.

I remember my family room growing up. Brown carpet with designs pressed into the surface, covering an original wood floor from the 1800s and dark paneling from the 1970s. And the little space near the downstairs closet that was the p-e-r-f-e-c-t hiding spot for jumping out at someone and scaring my brother – especially when he was carrying something in his hands!

My favorite room was our kitchen tucked in the back of the house. Yellow linoleum floor, cream colored stove, and cabinets that never fully shut, especially in the winter. Yellow linoleum floor, cream colored stove, and cabinets that never fully shut, especially in winter. It’s where I smelled apple pie in autumn, assembled gingerbread houses in winter, dyed Easter eggs in spring, and snuck popsicles in summer.

We spend a lot of time at home making memories that stay in our hearts forever. Some fill our hearts, and some break them.

What are the emotions or memories that live in your home? Maybe it’s a moment of love or a rainy day or the sound of music or a time you heard lifechanging news. Some of these emotions or memories may come to you easily, while some of you may need help accessing the stories in your minds and hearts.

As a class, read the poem "Daily" by Naomi Shihab Nye.

After sharing the poem, I might say to students, "Try drawing your house and jot down some of the memories you’ve created in the space you call home. Then find a story that’s hidden in the nooks and crannies of your home. Some memories may be seemingly insignificant at first glance, like my memory of sneaking popsicles in the kitchen each summer. But if you get still and really think about it, there are stories there."

I remember enjoying that popsicle sitting under our “snowball tree” dressed in terrycloth shorts, grass-stained bare feet, and a blue t-shirt from my Grandpa that said, I’m a Georgia Peach! Some of my favorite memories from home are in my backyard as a young kid. It’s why I find so much peace in nature as an adult.

Draw your home, get still, and find the stories hidden in the nooks and crannies. Your heart will thank you.

Using a document camera/blank document, model drawing a part of your home, and as you draw, naturally tell a summarized story that “lives” in those areas.

Set a timer for about 5-7 minutes, so students can draw their home. As they are drawing, create a quick write for one of the stories you shared earlier using the format of "Daily": 

These meals we eat
gathered around the garage sale refinished table

These games we play and play until there’s a winner
Tattered boxes with missing pieces in the living room


After students have drawn their home, share your quick write and invite them to do a 3-4 minute quick write as well. As they are writing, choose another story from your home and do an additional quick write.

Invite students to share their quick write, asking classmates share a question or compliment. Invite students to do an additional quick write for another space at their home (inside or outside!) to see if there is a possible story hidden in their home.

Further Reading: 


Suzanne Dailey is a staff developer in the Central Bucks School District.  You can learn more about her work at www.suzannedailey.com and check out her Teach Happier podcast.  

Saturday, March 27, 2021

2021 Post #13 -- Diving Into Gratititude

 by Rebekah O'Dell

During "Pandemic School" -- a term my colleague coined to encapsulate the general chaos and turmoil we are all experiencing this school year -- I have been trying to model specific, concrete gratitude for my students.

“I’m so thankful I get to see your entire faces today,” I said in our first class meeting during a sudden virtual pivot.

“I’m so glad we’re all back together again, even if it’s behind plexiglass and masks,” I said our first day back at school.

“I’m excited we get to figure out together how to make our language field guides digital this year!” I feigned.

I do this because I need it. Because, this year, gratitude is not always my first language. Because I want it to become a language students start to practice when they need help, too.

Gratitude is a fake-it-’til-you-make it sport. We become more grateful and experience the myriad mental and physical health benefits that gratitude affords not because we are always feeling it but because it’s a discipline.

And, like any discipline, we sometimes do it through gritted teeth.

One particularly bleak winter morning, I came across the poem “Winter Thanks” by Marcus Jackson.

What struck me was the specificity. Unlike some other gratitude poems, this poem isn’t sweeping in its scope. Instead, it gets highly specific about one thing the poet is grateful for in the winter: heat. Jackson drills down, stretching and pulling his thankfulness apart to examine what it’s made of.

This poem provides a great lesson on zooming in and getting specific.

Here’s how I used it with my students:

First, we read the poem, and I asked students the question I always ask students about everything we read: What do you notice?

Students immediately noticed that all of the items discussed in the poem have to do with heat, which is something you would naturally be thankful for in winter. They smartly said it’s like Jackson “zooms in” on all the things that make heat, that give him heat in the cold winter months, and he describes each one very specifically.

They noticed the formal tone that “sounds like church” and the repetition of the word “praise”.

Then, I asked students to try their own, using these instructions:
  • Think of something you’re thankful for right now.
  • Now, zoom in. Break that down into 8-10 smaller aspects or elements.
  • Describe each of those elements in a phrase that: describes its appearance, describes its function, describes its behavior, describes its feeling, describes its sound
  • Now, string them together -- adding line breaks + repeating “praise” at the beginning of each new element you describe.
Jackson’s easily-recognizable frame provides a template into which students can fit their own thinking and quickly end up with a successful poem of their own in about 10-15 minutes.

Further Reading: 



 

Rebekah O’Dell teaches middle school English in Richmond, Virginia. She is the co-founder of MovingWriters.org and the author of a number of professional books. You can find her on Twitter @RebekahODell1 and at movingwriters.org.

Friday, March 26, 2021

2021 Post #12 -- Instagram Poems of Empowerment

by Allison Marchetti

In the age of social media, most of us have been the recipient of an unkind message or comment. Deleting or ignoring these messages can help take away the sting, but oftentimes the hurt from words lingers. In her incredible new book of poems, What Kind of Woman, Kate Baer takes the raw material of Instagram haters and transforms their disparaging words into new poems that empower, embolden, and better serve the recipient than the original message.

Baer’s Instagram rewrites look a lot like the newspaper blackout poems popularized by Austin Kleon (Steal Like an Artist), but instead of using newspaper and magazine articles, she uses the direct messages she receives. For example, in the poem “I hope this finds you,” Baer transforms a message in which a follower encourages her to take a detox cleanse to shed her extra weight. Using the same words in the same order, plus the power of erasure, she dissolves the original message into just 12 words that speak the power of learning to love the bodies we live in. Another poem, “It is unbearable” turns a message that criticizes Baer’s work into a feminist overture.

How might these poems of transformation help our students who are barraged by digital messages that might not be serving them? Here’s how a study of Baer’s work might go:

Pull up Baer’s instagram feed and share some examples of her Instagram blackout poems. You can tell you’re looking at a blackout poem because the post will contain two slides: the first slide is the new poem, the second slide is the original message.

Invite students to discuss her work: what makes these poetic responses so powerful? How do you think Baer goes about choosing which words to keep and retract?

Invite students to pull up or remember a hateful message they or a friend has received. Alternatively, allow them to scroll the profiles of Instagram influencers in search of hateful comments -- sadly, there is no shortage of them.

Give students time to talk in groups about the original message and how they might go about transforming these messages of hate into poems of empowerment. Give students time to write, share, and write some more.

The next day, students can share the original message alongside the new poem in a gallery style walk (either virtual or in person).

Further Reading:

  

Allison Marchetti (@allisonmarchett) is co-author with Rebekah O’Dell of WRITING WITH MENTORS, BEYOND LITERARY ANALYSIS and A TEACHER’S GUIDE TO MENTOR TEXTS (March 2021). She is the co-founder of Moving Writers, a blog for secondary writing teachers. She lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

2021 Post #11 -- Discovering Juxtaposition



by John Waite



The poem “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski features simple language but enough linguistic flourishes and ambiguities to put it in the sweet spot for high school students. His theme or message is stated immediately, so students should not have difficulty locating that.

In teaching poetry, my goal is to give students strategies that they can use as they approach any poem. Here are some of the strategies they would use as they worked with the poem.

Have students look for juxtaposition. For instance, the use of “dank” and “darkness” juxtaposed with the instances of “light” in the poem. Another instance would be the idea that you “can’t beat death but / you can beat death in life.” How does juxtaposition help Bukowski create meaning?

Have students debate which word in the poem is the “most important” to the poem’s meaning. They could choose their own word to argue, or you could give them options like “sometimes,” “delight,” and “life.”

Have students look for repetition (of ideas, words, images, forms, etc.) What in the poem repeats? What is the effect of that repetition?

Before giving the poem to students, the teacher replaces some of the important words in the poem with blank spaces (a strategy related to what is called “cloze reading”). Have students predict what words go in the blanks. Then have students compare and contrast their choices with the actual words, considering why the poet made the choices they made.

If you don’t want to do cloze reading as detailed above, have students try to replace words in the poem after they have read it. Why do different words not have the same effect as the ones the author chose?

Have the students mark the poem for lines or images that seem positive, negative, ambiguous, or neutral. What trends do they see? What do these trends tell them about how the poem works?

Possible discussion/investigatory questions specific to this poem include:

  1. What does the word “dank” mean? Why did he choose that specific word? Over, say, “Dark.”
  2. What do you think the author means by “light” in line 5? What different types of light could there be?
  3. What do you think the author means in line 13? Why do you think he includes the word “sometimes”?
  4. How do you relate the tone of the title with the rest of the poem? Why does he not repeat the word “laughing” elsewhere in the poem?
Further Reading:



John Waite is a teacher at Downers Grove North High School in Downers Grove, Il. He is a licensed Reading Specialist and National Board Certified Teacher. Reach John at jwaite@csd99.org.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

2021 Post #10 -- A Miniature Autobiography

by Don Kemball

"Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" by Portia Nelson is one of my favourite poems for discussing the topic of hope.  

What captures me most is that it begins in despair -- but an ignorant sort. A place where you do not realize you are the problem. It builds slowly, finding the solution through struggle. Yet the poem ends with this incredibly powerful message -- that you can take any problem in your life and turn it on its end. You CAN find a way through and be successful.

Once my class has read the poem and broken it down using the SWIFT technique, I give them a short period to jot down a problem they are having -- one they truly feel is insurmountable. Then they look at it through the lens of the poem and look for a solution they haven’t thought of before. Do they keep walking down that same street? Can they find another?

Some years we extend the activity by sitting in a circle and sharing our problems in a general nature. We listen and reflect. Sometimes we give advice. But usually we just sit silently and appreciate each other and the courage it takes to share. Needless to say, this is not a September activity. I usually save this for the darkest part of the year when many people feel the lack of sunlight.

Further Reading: 



Don Kemball works as a teacher for the York Region District School Board just North of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has been using a poem-a-day strategy for almost 10 years with his class and is not sure how he could live without it. Find him on Twitter @dkemball