Last Thursday was another assignment due date, and as expected, missing work came flooding in. Unfortunately, despite my conversations with parents and students, there were still a few zeroes. The best I can do is keep parents informed and focus on the next week. This week, we’re into poetry.
Poetry Scavenger Hunt Revisited
Since this assignment was due, most of the students participated in it. I had 27 terms for students to choose from, and only two students chose the same term as another student. The actual discussion board thread wasn’t one of the most engaging, but many students reflected about the assignment or the term in the original post.
This assignment definitely reinforces information the students know well and potentially exposes them to terms they haven’t studied; although there is no way to verify that. Poetry terms might not have been the best match, so I’ll keep the scavenger hunt model in mind for other applications.
Much of the poetry quiz in the content focuses on meter and line length. Most of it, I feel, is a quiz on Greek and Latin numerical prefixes. Perhaps this helps students remember iambic pentameter better? Despite the emphasis on meter, there isn’t much in the content about how to read poetry, or how poets use meter to reinforce a poem’s words or meaning. The content is also low on poetry examples. I’ll admit, I have a little bit of an expert bias regarding poetry; under my belt there are several semesters of Shakespeare, Modern British and American Poetry, Contemporary Poetry, and an undergraduate thesis on the little-known British poet Stevie Smith. What I had forgotten since teaching middle school Language Arts was all this information was still waiting for me.
So, for the synchronous session, we talked poetry.
Talking “The Raven”
To begin talking about “The Raven,” which was the only assigned poem students had to read, I wanted to know what questions students had. I’m glad I asked because what followed was a chance for me to focus on some key stanzas that are confusing, specifically 16 and 17. Then, because I know learning what “the balm of Gilead” isn’t the most riveting of conversations, I shared The Simpson’s “Treehouse of Horror” clip from Season 2 of “The Raven.”
Yes, it’s a cartoon, and as it played, I wondered why I keep returning to that particular adaptation when YouTube must have dozens of “The Raven” adaptations and readings. What makes The Simpson’s clip valuable is it uses a set of culturally familiar characters to present difficult content. For example, students might miss the fact that Lenore was the speaker’s deceased love, but when you have Homer look up at Marge’s picture, that relationship is explained in a second. All because viewers familiar with the Simpson’s family know that Marge is Homer’s wife.
Or, as a student put it:
Mainly the overall thing was easier to comprehend because I have seen the Simpsons once or twice so it is familiar and it is easier to digest the poem with this interpretation.
Imagery and Meter
Following “The Raven,” we looked at Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” to focus on imagery. I’m not sure why, but imagery is a commonly confused term in English. Students believe that telling the reader a character saw, heard, felt, etc. something is the same as showing it. Time and again, students will identify abstract nouns and characters’ reactions instead of concrete nouns and vivid adjectives.
Thus, Whitman. Sure there are probably other poems that might have been better, but this fit my ideal length, and it also allowed me to show students how poets will vary the line length.
For meter, I admit, I was mostly trying to help students become aware that it was a thing. A thing poets did on purpose. After breezing through iambs, trochees, anapests, and dactyls, we dove into “The Tyger” to show the sharp, intense trochees. Then to “The Span of Life” for how poets use alliteration and meter to reinforce meaning.
On Friday’s, my News Item follows a form (I’m noticing that I’ve gotten into a habit of structuring my emails and news items): Highlights and Next Steps. Since some students didn’t struggle with imagery, I wanted to publicly praise them while also showing the rest a couple examples and one explanation. Thus:
Can I still bask in the glow of a successful Poetry Terms Scavenger Hunt?
- Plan another creative or collaborative activity for students.
- Teach e e cumming’s “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r“
- Increase student attendance at the synchronous session.
- Find a fun way to review subject/verb agreement.