Today, I had the opportunity to listen to 3 presentations at the Heart of Texas Writing Project. Below are my notes for one of them entitled “Poetry Pass: Exploring Poetic Style,” facilitated by Lynn Masterson (University of Texas at Austin) and Julia Haug (McNeil High School, Roundrock, Tx).

Since teaching poetry is fun, especially for early writers and English as a second language learners, I always would make sure to work it in early on, building up to longer narrative pieces over time. In the presentation I had the good fortune to attend today, Lynn and Julia introduced me to Amy Buckner’s Notebook KnowHow: Strategies for the Writers Notebook.

Julia pointed out that it included real world application of how you make the transition from notebook writing to drafting to publication. The session facilitators were quick to point out that while colleagues have an idea about, or are in awe of, poetry, few know how to teach it. For struggling readers, writers working with poetry, you don’t have to deal with too much at once. Writing poetry allows you to focus on one feeling or image…we need to help people get away from the “scary poetry” idea (which I hadn’t encountered, but I could imagine that some would rather not explore poetry).

Part of the strategy, or activity, as Lynn pointed out, focused on a process of discussing a poet’s work who has always been loved by young readers–the work of e.e. cummings. The process below comes out of Notebook KnowHow, at least as I understood the gist of the presentation today at the Heart of Texas Writing Project Spring Conference.

Process for Working with Poems:

  1. Enjoy the text. After every student has received a copy of a set of poems by the author, put their name at the top of the page, the workshop facilitator read the poem to the students. The instructions for the students are to “Listen and enjoy the text.”
  2. Map the text. Now that students have heard the poems read to them, read it aloud to them again, this time with the students circling words that are “pulling, speaking to” them, that draw their eye or attention. “Write questions out” that you have.
  3. Share text mapping. Now that students have had a chance to write on their sheet of paper with the poems printed on them, pass the sheet to someone else in the group (we were seated four to a table). Encourage others to write their observations on the poem.
  4. Share text mapping again. Students pass the poem sheets again and discuss the pairing of the poems….
  5. Reflect on comments. Papers are returned to their owners.Students are asked to reflect on the comments written on their own pieces of paper, left there by the others in the group. 
  6. Debrief with the teacher. The teacher makes two columns on the chalkboard, identifying in the first column, the author and in the second, the Author’s Style. The Author Style Chart is something that can be put in the back of a student’s writing notebook and added to as students read different authors. Students can also emulate different author’s styles and develop a greater repertoire of styles to use in their own writing.
Reflections on the Session:
As I wrote quickly to keep up with the main points, I found that this approach would be helpful in a class of teaching poetry. One observation I have to share is that I was given 3 poems of cummings on one page. I quickly mixed the first two poems as being “together,” even though one was in the top left of the page, the other mid-way down on the far right, and the last being in the bottom left corner. I managed to make comments–funny enough–that connected the two poems together.
While having 3 poems on one page was helpful when doing style analysis, I didn’t have a clear understanding of what we were setting out to do. I’m sure this was my fault as a writing teacher gone from the classroom too long. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if a middle school learner is going to know that we’re doing style analysis and that’s why all 3 poems are on one page, or try to match the disparate poems together in his head, as I did. Of course, MS students are smarter than me these days! (Smile)
Thanks to Julia and Lynn for sharing their wisdom in regards to teaching poetry!

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