Saturday, January 21, 2017

Poetry stations

A snippet from students at different stations
I really hate delving into a unit immediately after break. I have foreign exchange students who usually miss the first week back, students transfer from other classes, and they aren't always back in the educational groove right away.

This year, before getting back into poetry, I spent a day helping students start their year with no regrets and learning about their poetic pasts.

Then we jump into poetic stations. I've done stations before but this time I set them up slightly differently than I normally did. Stations were throughout my classroom more or less in a circular arrangement. Students started at one station with a partner. After about seven minutes, students were able to move on. Before moving on, one student at each station moved to clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. This way they are able to work with different students throughout the day. It also meant for new students, they got a chance to meet everyone in the class (be it only for 5-7 minutes).

My poetic station this year varied a bit from last year because I built off of what they revealed in their poetic journeys.

Students racing with Quizlet!
  1. Students expressed fear over needing to know literary terms. So, another Station was two of my yearbook computers set up with a Quizlet Figurative Language set. Students made note of words they didn't know, and raced their partner for the fastest time. Many students said that they were impressed by how many of these words they already knew. 
    • This was effective because students expressed a fear of needing to remember all of the literary terms. This showed them that they already knew many of them as we'd used them the previous semester. The students that were less sure have access to this Quizlet and can practice on their own in free time or at home.
    • This was hit or miss as far as enjoying it. Some students LOVED it because they races with their partners. If they weren't close with their partners then they enjoyed this station less. 
  2. Several students said that poetry is old and no one talks like that anymore. So, one of the stations was "Hip-Hop or Shakespeare" inspired by Akala's TED Talk. Students looked at lines either from a song or Shakespeare and talked to their partner about which one was which and why. After writing down their guesses, they got to see the answers.  Then they wrote one more response about which one surprised them more and why. This helped students see that we still use vocabulary like this today and poets from the past discuss topics we find just as passionate now. 
    • As I circulated the room I heard some great discussions here!
  3. Another common thread was students said they didn't understand what made a poem good or bad, so at another station they watched a clip from the Dead Poet's Society. They summarized it, said what the teacher felt about poetry and stated if they agreed or disagreed. 
    • This was a close second for their favorite station. Students thought the scene was very funny, and they agreed with the teacher.
  4. To get a little more non-fiction in, they answered questions from a non-fiction text about science and language arts being mutually exclusive. Not only did they practice SAT-like questions,  but they read more about the information emphasized in their textbook. 
There were a few other stations (based on the textbook and rhyme scheme) but these haven't changed in the past few years. The stations mentioned above were specifically added (or altered) based on students' poetic journeys. This was a great way to ease them into poetry and students could tell that I took time to cater to their needs, and that they appreciated.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Using Prism with Poetry

I teach "The Rubaiyat" to my World Literature class. I LOVE IT. I love introducing students to poetry from so far away and so long ago that still has messages for today.

However,  it is an older poem that takes a bit of work interpreting, and for many of my transfer and exchange students, it serves as their first official poetry lesson. So, before we jump into the world of Persian Poetry, we start with something a bit easier: Bon Jovi's, "It's My Life."

My class experiencing Bon Jovi.
Despite being so old there's a pager in the music video, students really like this song! Plus the message is very similar to The Rubaiyat, and it's filled with figurative language.

We start by watching the music video and talking about what the "plot" is. Then we review literary devices and on their own students find as many of them as they can. Ater five minutes I let them pair up to compare and share. Finally, ONE of them gets out a computer, and they head to Prism and create an account.

Then I share this link where I uploaded the lyrics to the song and picked three different categories. You could make these whatever you wanted. I've done this with connotation (positive, neutral, negative) and literal vs. figurative language.

After a quick demo, where I show students how to highlight, erase, and switch highlighters, they are on their own! I have them go through the poem. With a partner, they decide what color different sentences and phrases need to be highlighted.

In this case, I made it a little tricky. I didn't just mark things metaphors or similes I moved those into different categories (figurative language, clever writing, word choice). This meant with some things (like allusions) they had to figure out where it fit best. Once they finish they click "Save highlights."

In the end, you can show the visual representation of what everyone marked. It highlights the words according to the majority. So you can see in the example that gonna is marked as figurative language by most students. However, some marked it for word choice and some clever writing.

This provides a great visualization and allows us to discuss this as a class, which we did. Students pointed out that gonna was a great example of informal diction making this a very informal.

Overall this is a very easy to use

Now, some teachers consider a flaw of PRISM to be that you can't see what each student did individually. That's true! If you really want to see what each student did you can have them screen shot their page and submit that to you, but I care more about the quality of conversations they have with their partner. So more than needing to see what they highlighted, I walk around and make note of their discussions.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Create Class Culture and Flush Regrets Down the Toilet

To start this activity students entered class with a "to do" list on the board. Each student desk had two markers and two to three squares of toilet paper.

Step 1. The "To Do list" on the board had four steps
  • Sit where there is toilet paper (do NOT, crumple, play, or blow your nose with it)
  • 2016 review
  • Field Trip
  • Start 2017
Students took their seats and I explained that I know a lot of them had an amazing 2016, whereas others may have some regrets.

I showed them my piece of toilet paper which said "Procrastination." I explained that procrastination was a real regret of mine and I felt that if I had managed my time better, then I would have had a better 2016. As a result, this year I vowed to get started on things as soon as they were assigned.

Step 2. 

I gave students some time to write down their own regrets and then they had the option to share. Students were invited to share as much or as little as they wanted. Some students talked for quite a bit, and others shared just a word or two.

As they shared, I'd ask who felt similarly, and what solutions we could offer that would help all students.

This is an important part because we are building a class of empathy and helping. We relate to one another and our struggles and share our experiences to improve everyone's life.

  • They regret eating so much junk food
    • Eat more food from home.
    • Bring less money to school
  • They regret not doing their homework
    • Actually writing down assignments in their planners
  • A few of my exchange students regret choosing to study abroad. (sad!)
    • We talked about why they regretted it. They missed their family. Speaking in English all the time was hard. While some students had some advice, I think overall it was a good chance for them to empathize with another student.
  • Less social media
    • I shared a few add-ons that I like (like Dayboard which makes them achieve five things before they can access social media)
Step 3. Field Trip!
We headed to the unisex bathrooms right by my class. Everyone tossed their regrets in the toilet and we literally flushed them away.

Step 4. Returning to class, I asked them to remember this and try to stay focused on making 2017 the best time ever!

I love this activity because it's quick, memorable, students love it, it helped build classroom culture, and it was an easy way to ease students back into the classroom after two weeks off for Christmas break.

I encourage you to give this it try in your class. No need to wait until January 2018 to use this in class. Give it a shot after a rough week, a bad unit, or any other time you just want to help students turn over a new leaf.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Starting with students' poetic journeys

A big focus in my graduate classes this year, and the topic of several workshops I've attended has been on making sure lessons start with student as the center rather than the content as the center.

In my World Literature classes we are about to embark on studying "The Rubaiyat" which I really like. It's an area of literature that I don't feel we cover a lot, and the themes are very applicable today. Plus, it's chock-full of literary elements so students really can practice identifying those and more importantly why they feel those were used.

However keeping in mind my new mindset, I decided to start off by having students create their own poetic journey. 

To start I told them I wanted them to create their poetic journey and passed out paper and markers. Then we brainstormed what they may want to address in their journey. One class came up with:
  • What do you know about poetry?
  • What poems / poets do you like?
  • What poems /poets do you hate?
  • How have you been taught poetry?
  • Can poetry really be analyzed or isn't all art beautiful in its own way?
  • Does music count as poetry? What about movies?
We talked about how they did not need to answer all these questions and I again emphasized that I did not want essays. I wanted them to show me their journey with symbols, images or small words and phrases. They would be presenting these informally to the class.  

I kept it pretty loose for a lot of reasons.

First of all many of my students are exchange students so they actually spent the winter break back in their home countries so I wanted to give them a day to kind of just casually remember the expectations of my class before delving back into academic English.

Secondly, I really wanted students to have a chance to get creative with this. I did walk around and help or guide students that were really just wanting to write down answers.

Finally, students had a tendency to read when presenting so by removing the words from the paper it created a more natural "talking about" rather than "reading from" tone.

As they worked, I walked around to guide students. One student took this very literally and she drew a literal path. The start of the path included a snowflake (the first poem she remembered). Further down the path she had the word THOU in big block letters and then she crossed it out (when presenting she explained that she did not like Shakespeare and that type of poetry.

I had another student who was from China and said "You know, I think that my journey is more about discovering the difference between Chinese and American poetry, so is it okay if I sort of compare  them?"
Part of the Chinese s American poetry

Another student asked if he could write a poem that talks about his poetic journey, so we had a lot of different things going on.

In the end I feel like students walked away with a feeling of student voice that they had contributed to the lesson and learned a bit about other classmates. I walked away with a series of misconceptions about poetry that I would be sure to focus on. For example, many students said that poetry is filled with words they don't understand and that it has to rhyme. However, they also pointed out that poetry is subjective which I think was good but they recognize that different people can interpret things differently.

This gives me a great jumping off point. Next class we'll do stations on the background of the poem, and I'll have a chance to tweak my lessons with The Rubaiyat to address the concept and the misconceptions that were brought up today during class.

Would you be willing to try this in your class? Why or why not? Suggestions for how I could make it better? Share in the comments!

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