Monday, November 15, 2004

Day One at Crosswinds

The first day went well, I think. My first group of kids (which is from 9:40-11:00) is a bit more rowdy then the second group (which meets from 11:05-12:25). I had some trouble with the first group--they kept talking over me, and I had to keep telling them to be quiet. I understand that this isn't "real" school for them, and I know that a lot of this is testing boundaries, but whew! I think I'd rather my "bad" group be the first though--I can get it over with and end the day with them on a more positive note.

My schedule altered a little bit, but here are some of the activities we went through:

We did expectations, and I explained to them what I hoped they would turn in. I said they would do some freewriting, they would turn in six poems (one of each poetic form and one final poem that will be revised and workshopped), they would do a few worksheets related to technique, they would do a workshop, they would turn in a final poem, and they would do an oral reading.

We did haiku and most cried out, "But we did that in fifth grade!" Well, we do it again. Because it teaches us to be concise. It teaches us to capture a moment, a feeling, a beautiful sight. We wrote a haiku as a class. I had them read aloud (going in a circle) the haiku I copied from The Haiku Anthology (ed Cor van den Heuvel), which helped them see that the 5-7-5 is not a fast and furious rule. They wrote three haiku individually (some more, some less). One girl needed me to explain one of my favorite haiku that I handed out:

the blues singer

tells how bad it is

then the sax tells you too

Cor van den Heuven

We did free verse. I had them read the poems I posted yesterday. One girl thought e e cummings' poem about love was about a stalker. A classmate explained it: "You don't know what kind of relationship they have! They could be going out! They could be married!" (Imagine this with a little more attitude than the written word can produce. Snap, snap.) They thought Neruda's poem was sad and one boy said--"He wrote it about September 11th." Those of you that are family and friends know that I sent this poem out on the anniversary of 9/11, so it was really poignant that he made the connection so quickly. Of course, Neruda has been gone for so long, but I think it captures the sentiments I feel from remembering that day:

Keeping Quiet

Now we will count to twelve

and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,

let’s not speak in any language,

let’s stop for a second,

and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines;

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness…

If we were not so single-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves

with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us

as when everything seems dead in winter

and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.

~ Pablo Neruda, Extravagaria, translated by Alastair Reid

They freewrote from images I printed from One of the afternoon girls was resistant to any kind of restriction, so I told her to try and if it wasn't happening for her, then she could write what was on her mind. She wrote about a line and a half about the image and commenced to write about some sort of fantasy-type relationship ("Will you be there when I die?"). She had already admitted to liking things "dark," though she seemed cheerful enough. I know I went through one of those melodramatic phases in middle school. (I think it may have continued through high school!)

We set the writing exercise aside and did an activity that focused them on decisions when writing verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. This activity originated with my friend Karen Rigby, who happened to be Mandy's poetry teacher as an undergraduate! When looking at adjectives and adverbs, I wrote the five senses on the board--smell, taste, touch, sight, sound. I asked them to think of their favorite restaurant (when we did this as a micro-teaching last week, we instead had them think of Twin Cities bars) and think of words to describe it. We wrote all of those up on the board. Then I asked them to think of different ways to say the word "walking." If we had time, I probably would have had them write a poem using the words we wrote up on the board, so that was an added activity in case the lesson was going too quickly (bad time management is one of my biggest fears).

After that, I wrote on the board some of the sentences I came up with when I did the writing activity. I made them purposefully weak in adjectives and verbs, so as a class we revised it and then I re-read a new version and asked them what they thought of the changes. "That one's much better!"

After modeling, I had them look at their own writing and revise some of it. They're very resistant to change--they think this first draft is perfect and it "can't be described any more!" I understand the sentiment; my poetry professor Michael Dennis Browne used to say that a poem might need to sit and simmer for six months before we can return to it and give it the revision it needs. I'm asking them to think about revision fifteen minutes after the first draft. I'm asking them to work on finalizing (as close as possible) a piece by Friday (to turn in a draft on Wednesday and workshop on Thursday).

Tomorrow, Mandy and I will present sonnets (!) and sensory imagery. I have a few activities I'm excited to present, and I think writing the sonnet will take up a good deal of time. I've decided to have them warm up each day--so they will write silently for the first five minutes to a prompt (write about a time you regret). This can help them realize they can write very badly if they want--it doesn't have to be perfect every time, but something good can come from it! We'll move from that to discussing what is a sonnet, how to writ a sonnet, then read some examples (I checked out a few sonnet anthologies from the library). They will construct their own sonnet (topic: recall a moment from childhood--can be a good or bad memory) . We'll also do something with sensory imagery, although I'm not exactly sure what at this point. Mandy called about half an hour ago, and I think we're both going to try to do some web research! As of right now, I'm still working on the sonnet, but I'm sure I can scrounge up a few links to put here before I get some shuteye (I felt like I could pass out right where I was standing at work tonight! For those of you who don't know me personally, I work at a local bookstore and have been there for over four years now. I'm definitely a book addict and as my mother says, "It's like having a drunk tend bar").

Here's an idea for a sensory imagery writing prompt: Have them read a poem (any poem with a lot of images), then draw the poem on blank paper. (OK, this isn't my idea; it's been used in two of my poetry classes from my undergraduate days at the U of MN.) The students will then give me the images, and I will pass them out to different classmates. The students then have to write a new poem using these images.

Another activity I will have them do (tomorrow or the next day) is to have a sheet of paper with a lot of random words on it (blue crisp forgotten, etc.) and write a poem using these words in new combinations. I have four pages worth of words, so four different worksheets so far. I plan to keep working on them periodically so I can have about 30-35. This way, when I teach a full classroom, each person can have their own (though it is interesting to hear what students can get from the same page--see the different places the poem can go).

Here are some of the links I have explored for tomorrow's class:

Sonnet forms
Shakespearean sonnets
Sonnet structure
The Sonnet Challenge
Mosaic Listserv Tools: sensory imagery and other lessons

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