Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Day 3: Words, words, words

Today was another interesting day; as always, not quite what I expected!

I received an email from Mandy this morning, telling me she would feel fine about talking to the students about using certain language in their poems. I felt relieved, and she later told me that she's had to have this coversation with people before.

We started with the writing prompt with the first group, then Mandy talked about how yesterday there was a word used that wasn't school appropriate, but not only that--as writers we need to be aware of audience and offending other people. We cannot use racist or homophobic language and there will be a zero tolerance policy; if it happens again, there would be consequences. We also talked about respect and when Gwen began speaking out of turn, Krista (the one who used the inappropriate word) said, "Yeah, Gwen, you're not being respectful!"

Then we went into talking about the cinquain and they created their own. Everyone was so quiet and working--I was so thrilled at how well things had been going! Mandy then had a great activity to teach the villanelle. She cut up a poem and had them try to figure out how to put it together in two groups while sitting on the floor (I had them count off to try to split up some of the chatty kids). She then started giving them hints about the rules and patterns of the poem, so they could rearrange the poem. I glanced at some of the poems left out on the table and discovered that one of the boys had used the word "fag." After the talk.

I told Mandy I would be right back and spoke with the acting principal for intersession, Mr. Parker. He's also the contact (head of?) special education person. I told him what happened, what I discovered--what do we do? He said that we ought to talk to that person (take him aside) and ask him what he means by the word--what is the intention behind it?

I went back to the classroom and another boy wanted me to help him pick a poem to use for workshop tomorrow. This kid is really really sweet, and I think he's going to turn into a fabulous adult, and when I saw the same word used in his poem, I was so disappointed. I talked to him--"What's this word? Didn't we talk about this word as a class? OK, why did you use this word?" He said that he saw the guy next to him (this is the fourth kid now that has used the word) using it and he was mad at someone, so he used it. I said to Mandy, "I think we all need to have another talk." I felt like I was going to throw up, I felt so terrible!

We finished up work on the villanelle and she began the conversation by saying--"OK, maybe I was a little vague in my meaning." She specificially said this is the word we can't use--faggot--and this is why. I jumped in--I need to be a part of this conversation and learn how to talk to them about serious issues--and talked about how it demeans another culture and how you would be offended if you talked about the different cultures you belong to (by the way, this is a very culturally diverse class). I said they have a responsibility to think about the meaning behind each word--they are smart and can come up with alternatives.

Otherwise, the class went really well.

The second class was a little faster than the others in doing work. Of course, we didn't have the same "talk" with them and it's a smaller group. One of the students, the very smart one with a few issues (has an IEP) gave me a tough time. He kept drawing, which I can understand... he was bored with the material and when they were trying to figure out the poem, his group members disregarded his feedback. (It was very smart--he said they should look at punctuation and capitolization--after all, poems use punctuation too!) He brought his notebook to the table and wouldn't work on his final poem, so I had to ask him to give it to me. The day before that worked--I collected three various objects that he kept playing with and he was willing. Today he refused and covered the notebook with his body. My tone change and I told him that I wasn't "messing around," and still he refused, and I felt like a fool, but I did something that worked--have him put the notebook on the chair next to him and neither of us would touch it until the end of the lesson. It worked!

These are the bad points of the lesson though. Or rather, these were the difficult moments in the day that we had to troubleshoot, and I think we can up with pretty meaningful and useful solutions. The class really really went well; the kids were quieter than usual and the second class has a few students that have told me they really like writing poetry and like the class. I am surprised at how un-self-concious they are in wanting to read what they have written, even if it is completely un-interesting. I think it's fabulous how excited they are about the material and willing to find the patterns in the form.

Tomorrow, we are going to do a workshop. Mandy is going to put together a handout on appropriate behavior and how a workshop should be run. The poet reads their work, we comment, they are quiet through the whole ordeal, we are respectful and constructive, and the writer has a chance to respond after the group is done commenting. I have their poems and will make copies tomorrow morning, and we'll take about twenty minutes to read through them and write out comments. Workshopping could take the whole class, but if we have extra time, we haven't done the sestina yet, and I have an activity where they will write a line of a poem, pass the poem along and write another line, fold over the first line, pass it along, etc. So all they get is the previous line, so they can see where the poem might go!

This, of course, means I don't have to worry about making any handouts. There is just one for tomorrow and Mandy is putting it together!

I took a nap today, so I think I'll have trouble getting myself to sleep. Maybe I'll (gasp) read for fun. Or maybe I'll work on reading To Kill a Mockingbird, which I will be teaching in the spring at Roseville High School. (I plan to read each book about eighteen million times. This first time I'm reading for a refresher, vocabulary terms, and journal topics.)

No comments: