License to Poetry

 

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William Blake’s Ah! Sun-Flower: Poem Analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://schoolworkhelper.net/william-blakes-ah-sun-flower-poem-analysis/

In my youth poetry was as elusive to me as calculus. It seemed unnecessarily complex and celebrated by the elite of literature. I wasn’t fond of reading in general back then. I definitely wasn’t going to champion wrestling over the hidden meaning of a poem.

 

And, really, if you want us to know that the sunflower symbolizes the afterlife, William Blake, just say so! Are poets trying to be annoying? In the same way no one imagines ever actually using calculus, poetry seemed worthless to me.

Songs_of_Innocence_and_of_Experience,_copy_AA,_1826_(The_Fitzwilliam_Museum)_object_43_My_Pretty_Rose_Tree_(cropped).jpgThen I became an elementary teacher. Poems are everywhere! Teachers begin the day with them. They are read on the morning announcements. Magazines end with them. Children’s literature is littered with them. Come to find out, some of my favorite authors celebrate poetry throughout their texts. Roald Dahl’s novels are packed with poetry. How did I never see this?

 

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Searching my Google drive revealed this poem I wrote in 2013!

Beyond the fact that I wouldn’t be escaping poetry, two things happened. I realized that this was a weakness. If I were a musician, I was playing rock and roll, ignoring the tendon of blues music that connected the muscle of contemporary privilege culture to the soul of bone-crushing hardship. Disregarding poetry would leave my students malnourished in the area of literary arts. The second realization I discovered was how interesting poetry can be. Come to find out it was fun to read and surprisingly easy to write!

 

I will say that before delving into this topic, I had to let go of the idea that only smart people can understand or read poetry. The fact that I might not “get it,” and would therefore feel dumb was holding me back from reading poetry. The concept that if I couldn’t write great poetry it would reveal a deficient intellect had to be released. Had I been defensively shielding myself from feelings of inferiority by purposefully ignoring this artful literature? Coming to grips with this possibility was the key for unlocking a love of poetry. 

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The librarian pulled a ton of poetry books for kids to hunt the styles after learning about them.
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These screenshots show comments between the librarian and I in 2014.

The first thing I did was prepare to teach the subject that I knew precious little about. I find that teaching helps me learn. I shared this idea with my school librarian, and the two of us planned to collaborate on a fun project of teaching several styles of poetry to my class. I convinced the librarian to use Google slides to make a slideshow that we could both add information to simultaneously and from any device. She hadn’t used this tool before. Sharing the same love of learning, my librarian jumped right in to figuring out this great collaboration tool.

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Link to Styles of Poetry slideshow for anyone interested to use, copy, and share

I learned poetry. The librarian learned Google slides. And, together we developed an exciting and fun interactive lesson that I still use to this day! Students are given a graphic organizer that has the names of the styles of poetry that they are about to learn on one side, five empty stars next to the name, and lines for writing. As they learn about the styles, they rate how they like them. In addition to coloring in stars, students are to write down a reason as to why they like or dislike  a style. I guide them through this activity, sharing some of my own opinions. We explore examples of the poetry, and even try writing some of our own. 

 

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Blog post “Poetry is Classy” has a poem (“Spelling Story”) about the homonym spell. It teaches the importance of spelling while demonstrating poetry’s liberty for misspelling. 

I by no means consider myself an expert on poetry. I have not read very much of it. The main change is that I am not afraid of it anymore. I’ve even tried writing some.

It helps that my audience is eight and nine-year-olds! By penning my own poetry and sharing it with my class, I am modeling giving it a try, even if you’re not good at it.

 

 

Not only that, but it is truly fun. One of the things that I like about poetry is the ability to break the rules. Like many things, it is important to know the rules, before breaking them. And then you don’t destroy grammar as much as bend it. My third graders are still a little young to truly understand “poetic license,” but they get the idea of bending rules. That’s for sure!

 

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I devised this “Grammar City” two week lesson in 2015, making metaphors of constructing buildings to symbolize the structure inherent in writing.

How do you share poetry? Why do you teach it? Why do you think poetry is important?

 

 

Inspired Writing With Kidblog

What’s the best writing activity you’ve ever done with your class? Have you ever tricked your students into wanting to write a ton? How’d you do it? What do you use to inspire creative writing?

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I’ve never witnessed more passionate writing before or since.

The most entertaining writing I ever witnessed my students perform came as a spur of the moment activity. Completely unplanned, an explosion of blogging happened in my class, thanks to Kidblog and creativity. 

There are so many reasons that I love teaching third grade! One is that this is oftentimes the last year that personification is more than just a literary element. Leprechauns actually hide gold. There is a Tooth-fairy; “How else do you explain the money under my pillow–and, my tooth was gone!” I can get away with using puppets. Santa totally has a list, and he sends elves to check on things immediately after Thanksgiving.

Screen Shot 2020-04-04 at 7.18.40 PM.pngHolly is my classroom’s Elf on the Shelf. She appears every year on the first day of school after Thanksgiving. Most students know the rules already. Many have their own elf at home. Each year’s students behaves differently. One year the Polite Pirates (my students) absolutely fell in love with Holly! 

Throughout the day, while I was trying to teach, students were writing notes to Holly. They knew they couldn’t touch her, so they snuck the notes as close as they dared. There was an impressive pile at the end of the day.

What did I do with all of these notes? The tiny papers were full of love, teeming with curiosity, and fueled by Christmas magic. I brought them home, and Holly began a Kidblog profile within our classroom account. 

At 5AM Tuesday morning she began to type. She shared good tidings from Santa, whom she had visited during the night, as she does every evening between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Then she jumped right into thanking the Polite Pirates for all of their enthusiastic writing to her and began answering their questions.

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By making blogs “Public” parents and others without accounts can access Kidblog writing.

I don’t know how she did it, because you have to have a teacher profile to make your blogs in Kidblog “public”. Holly must have used some Christmas magic in order to foster faster reading of her blog. The students didn’t even have to log into their accounts before reading Holly’s message. 

The class had already been using Kidblog, so they were actively checking to see if friends had left comments when they found Holly’s new blog. Before morning announcements began the room was already a buzz with imaginative play. 

All in all, Holly wrote only nine blogs, but she replied to hundreds of comments! The variety of student writing was interesting. Some students wrote lengthy diary-style entries from home. Others had to jump right into their kidblog accounts right then and there to ask Holly, “How’d you do it? Are you real?” among other pertinent questions. Holly tended to reward students’ writing by mirroring their compositions with a similar amount of text, thought, and imagination. She was classy, creative, communicative, and caring. 

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Holly modeled friendship, as she became the students’ friend.
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Holly taught the students how to be friends.
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At times impromptu grammar lessons were shared.
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Holly took on the role of listening ear for some journaling writers.

In addition to her writing, Holly enjoyed taking pictures of her hiding spots. She’d leave clues in the header of her blogs as to where she was camped out for the day. 

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Viewing the classroom from an alternative perspective, Holly taught the Polite Pirates empathy.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) sub-standard 3.A reads, “Create experiences for learners to make positive, socially responsible contributions and exhibit empathetic behavior online that build relationships and community.” This falls under the category of Citizen. Not only did the Polite Pirates welcome Holly into the classroom as a legit member of the crew, but Holly helped eight and nine-year-olds see life from a different angle… It was new every day, in fact, whether she blogged or not! Also, Holly’s positive relationships with the shelf-elves of the students, modeled through her commenting on Polite Pirate inquiries, were lessons in themselves. 

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A passion for writing comes from passionate writing.

When Christmas vacation took Holly from us, the joy of winter break was bitter sweet. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed more passionate writing before or since. What have you used to inspire imaginative writing?

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This was a really fun and exciting teaching experience.

 

Problematic Writing

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Jodi Picoult

Have you ever heard of the Problem Novel? According to Amy Pattee’s (n.d.) blog about Problem Novels, this genre presents a hot button social issue, explores it from various angles and leaves the reader to make his/her own judgements in the end. Jodi Picoult is a master writer in this field.

I have read many Jodi Picoult books that would fit this definition. “The Tenth Circle” deals with sex. It’s hard to imagine a more touchy teenage topic! Picoult has you squirm in your seat as she wields her words, weaving a web of deceit and mistrust. What causes what in this seemingly cause/effect story? The problems paramount as infidelity matures into murder. Where does it stop? 

Another Picoult book, and one that made her mainstream, is “My Sister’s Keeper”. Made into a movie, this story is about a girl, Anna, entering her teen years having lived, it seems, only as a surrogate for her older sister, Kate. Kate has had Leukemia for years. She requires Anna’s help to stay alive. In fact, it feels like Anna was conceived in order to keep Kate alive! This life or death problem goes deeper as Anna tries to wrestle with her own identity. 

Problem writing can be dark. Picoult brings the reader to death’s door, and sometimes even allows you a peek inside. Amy Pattee mentions the book “The Girl in the Box” (1988, Joy St. Books) as an example. In this story a girl is kidnapped and placed in a cement cell. She never sees her captor or anyone else, is given water and only barely enough food for sustenance, has to use the bathroom in a plastic bag, but [apparently] has a typewriter and plenty of paper to document the whole experience. As I read Pattee’s description of this problem novel, I thought it was the perfect metaphor for authors exploring the deepest corners of thought. Ouida Sebestyen, author of “The Girl in the Box”, created this cement cell in his mind. Then he lived the horrors of this girl by imagining her feelings, fears, hopes, and actions. 

2319392409_0222e7006c_bWhat makes problem novels riveting is their realistic nature. The events and situations within these tales are only as captivating as they are imaginable. In Picoult’s “The Tenth Circle” the daughter of an adulterer is date-raped. As it turns out, the perpetrator is the young girl’s ex boyfriend. The teacher of story-telling knows that every tale must present a problem. The line between “Realistic Fiction” and a text being a “Problem Novel” lies in the intent of the text. While a Problem Novel would fall into the category of Realistic Fiction, in that it is believable, the all-consuming problem of the story has the reader completely wrapped up in constant conflict. You are  reading ONLY to find out the answer to the problem. And, be forewarned, the better the Problem Novel, the less likely you will be provided a solution!

This reminds me of my “Controversy Can Be Classy” project. The concepts that Picoult presents would be considered controversial, because of their reasonableness. Yacek speaks of a controversy as being “alive” when it is believable in his paper, Thinking Controversially: The Psychological Condition for Teaching Controversial Issues (2018). He explains that both sides of a problem must be a realistic solution. This is where the masterful writing of a good Problem Novel comes into play. The more realistic the problem, setting, and characters, the more empathetic the reader will be. 

6574157971_97ffd06208_b.jpgHave you read any good Problem Novels? What might attract someone to read this genre? Why would an author choose to write this type of book? How does reading a Problem Novel help you? 

Sources:

Pattee, A. (n.d.). YA or STFU: Got a Problem with Problem Novels? Retrieved March 22, 2020, from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/news-and-features/articles/ya-or-stfu-got-problem-problem-novels/#continue_reading_post

Yacek, D. (2018). Thinking Controversially: The Psychological Condition for Teaching Controversial Issues. Journal of Philosophy of Education,52(1), 71-86. Retrieved August 5, 2019.

Breaking Out the Controversy

 

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Use controversial opinion-writing to promote acceptance of feedback.

I am halfway through scoring and writing feedback for my third grade students, and it hits me: Writing opinions can be “controversial”. When you state what you believe, as opposed to a proven fact, you are providing a point of view that others may refute. 

 

Having finished typing feedback for all 27 kiddos, I am impressed with the arguments that my students used. The assignment was to share whether or not you thought the men who escaped Alcatraz in 1962 survived their daring prison-break. The December (2016)/January (2017) issue of StoryworksJr magazine had an article about the amazing true story of the one successful escape from the infamous “Rock” (Hopkinson, 2016). This article ends by telling students that no one knows if the prisoners survived the treacherous swim across the San Francisco Bay. It asks, “Do you think (they) made it out alive?”Screen Shot 2020-03-04 at 8.25.24 AM.png

Controversy

How is this controversial? David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson of the University of Minnesota published a landmark paper in 1979 titled “Conflict in the Classroom: Controversy and Learning.” In it they define controversy as an incompatible conceptual conflict that craves reconciliation. What question is more in need of answering than survival? Did the men make it? And, the two answers couldn’t be in more contrast with one another. 

The beauty of this particular assignment is that, although my students were asked a “Yes or No” question, they were required to back up their opinions with facts from the text. In this way, the kids invest in their answers. It causes them to interpret the text, seeing the trials of escape from the perspective of the prisoners. Students assumed a more active role in reading the text. Rather than looking back at the text to find answers to boring multiple-choice questions, students are hunting for ammunition to do battle against their idea-opponents.

This was a great assignment because it could go either way. There is plenty of evidence for both sides of the argument, which makes the cognitive fight even. And, because this assignment is so rich with ideas, it is extra easy to turn feedback into a communicative conversation, instead of straight “You did this well/You need to work on this.” I find myself writing things like “Have you thought of this angle?”

By conversing with students about what they wrote, an educator can ensure the acknowledgement of ideas for writing improvement. Instead of “You did this wrong” the educator can suggest, “If you want to persuade me to believe this, you should word it this way; You should include information from the text; You might want to explain yourself more.” 

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Best “Respond to Text” ever: So, did they survive or not?

With each new paragraph to grade, I look forward to seeing where my student stands on the issue. Sometimes, when I use controversy to teach, I will assign sides. I want the opposition to be even. A question will be posted in the Google Classroom. I make it so that students may be able to edit their answers, and they can read/reply to others. If you do this, you want the sides to be fairly even, so that no one feels overwhelmed with opposition. This particular project seemed to have opinions split down the middle, lending nicely to a balanced battle of wits.

I made sure to show my third graders a balance of points from the StoryworksJr text, too. As a class, we discussed some reasons it seemed unlikely the men survived the escape; They had to swim 1 ½ miles across shark-infested, freezing cold water, and that was after climbing a tall, sharp fence! When you are doing something daring and exciting, though, your body fills with adrenaline that can cause seemingly superhuman strength and endurance. With more back and forth ideas, we constructed a balance of ideas. 

Yacek explains the importance of having opposition on both sides of an argument in Thinking Controversially: The Psychological Condition for Teaching Controversial Issues (2018). He tells of a lesson he thought would spark controversy but fell flat because even the students who argued against the action didn’t truly believe it was a possibility. In order to foster the intellectual disequilibrium that Johnson & Johnson (1979) propose works best to arouse learning, students have to buy into their position. 

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Time to “break out” the classy controversy. 

For the prisoners, I suggested that these were tough men. The text had mentioned that they had successfully broken out of other prisons. That is why they had been sent to Alcatraz; “The Rock”! Just when you feel like everything is tipping toward a successful escape, however, there is the fact that it doesn’t matter how tough you are against hungry sharks and 1 ½ miles of open water! Also, don’t you think we would have heard of their survival? Everyone craves fame. “But, there was a letter written in 2015!” students exclaim through their essays. Yes, but this was a person who was looking for help paying for medical expenses. There is no proof that he was an escapee. And, the scale goes back and forth. 

We may never know if Frank Morris or the Anglin brothers made it to safety. One thing is for sure, my students’ reasoning and writing skills grew as a result of wrestling with the controversial idea. 

Sources

Hopkinson, D. (2016, December). Escape From Alcatraz. StoryworksJr, 4–9.
Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1979). Conflict in the Classroom: Controversy And Learning. Review of Educational Research,49(1), 51-70. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
Yacek, D. (2018). Thinking Controversially: The Psychological Condition for Teaching Controversial Issues. Journal of Philosophy of Education,52(1), 71-86. Retrieved August 5, 2019.

 

Critical Thinking is Classy

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 9.26.39 PMTo be able to critique something, one must have background knowledge. Unfortunately, some teachers focus solely on pouring information into their pupils (Watanabe-Crockett, 2015).

What Does Critical Thinking Look Like?

I tried something new this year to get kids to introduce themselves to each other. The class visited the art room outside of their typical art time. Kids were told that they were going to make a self portrait. The catch was that they could only use scrap paper and glue; no drawing utensils, no scissors, only their hands and glue. They had a blast tearing the paper and sticking it together. Making shapes round was tricky. Some students made their art three-dimensional. Some used nonconventional colors.

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Polite Pirates of Room 207 Make Self Portraits

After making the self portraits, students composed “Who Am I” riddle poems. They had to write down a list of sentences telling information about themselves that makes them unique from others in the class. They wrote their names on the back of the papers. I attached them to the self portraits. The kids got to read each other’s poems, guessing who fit the characteristics listed. The portraits were little more than clues, since they were not very realistic.

The project was not only presented several facets of critical thinking, but it also dressed up my room for Meet The Teacher Night! Parents loved trying to figure out which portrait/poem combination was their offspring:)

How to Foster Critical Thinking: Don’t Settle

When I have students figure out a math problem, I tell them to solve it multiple ways. This forces them to rethink the math. They are required to analyze the problem. My students are asked to not only “show their work”, but also explain how they arrived at their answers. When they share the process with a partner the two of them evaluate each other’s work. Having to find other ways to solve a math problem causes students to be creative, looking for novel ways to think about the numbers.

A way to inspire critical thinking during a writing assignment is through allowing students to view their peers’ written responses within Google Forms. When I administer an assessment through giving a quiz from Google classroom, I instruct my students to click on “See Previous Responses” upon submitting their quizzes. They are to read their classmates’ writing, evaluating the responses and comparing them with what they wrote. They may go back and add information to their own writing, then, adapting new ideas to the answer.

One More Thing: Call it what it is.

Watanabe-Crockett (2016) suggests actually using the term critical thinking. “How to Develop A Critical Thinking Mindset in Elementary Students” supplies a graphic aid from Andrew Churches that shows Bloom’s Taxonomy applied to technology. It has long lists of verbs under each thinking skill. It isn’t a bad idea to make a poster of this and put it on the wall.me

In order to critique something, one must create an opinion. With this end in mind, educators can work to teach students how to think critically in order to complete the task.

Sources:

Watanabe-Crockett, L. (2015, July 24). The Importance of Teaching Critical Thinking. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/the-importance-of-teaching-critical-thinking

Watanabe-Crockett, L. (2016, May 28). How to Develop A Critical Thinking Mindset in Elementary Students. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/critical-thinking-mindset-elementary-students