Monday, October 27, 2014

Shakespeare: Digital Resources for Teaching / Learning

Friday, October 24, 2014

A writing lesson: poetry of many voices

I taught a class Wednesday that I can't stop thinking about. I typed up the lesson and reflected on it here. I hope other teachers find it as student-generated, powerful, fun, and thought-provoking as we did.

Context: students have already read our core text (The First Part Last by Angela Johnson) and last night's reading was a chapter from Writing to Change the World on 'Poetic Inquiry.'

Remediation & Meaning: Composing Activity

  • Get in small groups, 3-4 I'd say is good, though one was 6 and that was fine
  • Tell students: take a piece of paper, tear it into 6 pieces (any shape, any size) - write something on each of those pieces (my constraints: one thing from The First Part Last, one thing from Chapter 5, and then whatever you want on the other four. This allows some common language, some low-risk review opportunities, and for students to bring in favorite quotations/song lyrics/recent conversations/etc.)
  • In their groups, students go around and share their pieces of texts
  • Then, each group does their own Yankee swap (also called White Elephant, I just learned). If you haven't done one, it's that holiday game where one person starts (ex. person with next birthday) and they get to ‘choose’ one piece of writing from anyone in the group and swap it with one of theirs. Next person goes - they can ‘take back’ the piece if they want it. Third person, same, etc. So, in theory, everyone has a new piece of writing in front of them, unless they swapped back for their own piece (which, if they really liked it, is absolutely fine)
  • As this is happening, I go around and I 'give’ a text to each student. This can be any bit of text - I brought in old issues of Time Magazine and tore out pages and distributed one to each student
  • Students now have 1) writing pieces of their own, 2) new piece 'given to them' from someone else, 3) a piece text from me. Now, they compose a found poem. (My constraints: they have to use at least those three resources, but any part of them - a word or phrase is good). They can add anything else they want to add, and visually organize their poem how they'd like. There is no wrong answer, the point is to create a poem that organically rises from the student and their texts.
  • Review and Reactions: Student shares poem with their group and gets feedback from each of the group members. If this activity goes beyond the day, you might have them revise / re-write or
  • Whole-group debrief (some questions, but I think the discussion will run itself)
    • what did you notice about this as 'a writing process'? how was it similar / different to what you normally do?
    • what was feedback like? what did you notice about how your peers responded?
    • how / why might this activity inform your writing in the future?

I can easily see this as a period-long lesson in a high school classroom (ours was part of a longer block). In about an hour, there was time to 'go find' texts for the initial six pieces (these could also be brought in for homework), time to create, time to share, time to compose, and time to reflect. I had music on for various parts of the class, and even created my own found poem from bits of their conversations. 

Facilitation note: I started with whole-class directions, but then as each group set a different pace, gave the subsequent steps to them as they encountered them. 

It really struck me how this lesson invited students to open up. First, they could bring in 'any text' so students wrote down movie quotations, song lyrics, what their mom said to them that morning, and so on. The sharing time was a way for them to get to know each other, and eavesdropping during the Yankee Swap produced such gems as "I'll trade your Thoreau for my 'I'm just in it right now'". There was a quiet intensity when everyone was composing their found poems - opening up the genre gave students a space to 'play' and I could go around and ask questions and nudge here and there. When groups shared back, the members could hear how 'their texts' had been incorporated into the final poem. And the discussion after, about how the experience of writing was so different than normal, reminded me that creativity and rigor don't need to be only in academic forms.

All in all, a lovely morning creating and thinking and reflecting on the nature of writing.