Tag Archives: Poetry

“For everyone”

Increasing Literacy

I confess

writing poetry is how I digress-

and then, it leaves my desk

a mess!

Poem inspired by the simple examples in Lois Lowry’s  novel Gooney Bird is so Absurd – a story set in a Grade 2 classroom that invites both adults and children to view the inside of an elementary class in action.  For any adult who wishes to peek inside her child’s classroom, this story will provide many a chuckle and is “just right” for emerging readers to connect with character and plot.  It also works as a primer for how to increase Literacy at home; the simple use of couplets, the encouraging of the children’s efforts, the genuine enjoyment in demonstrating how the many voices in a classroom respond to direction.  Perhaps what I liked best is that in this day and age when we profess to being about “diversity” it is fun to read a story where the children’s comments are believable and the multiple perspectives simply expressed.

I immersed myself in children’s novels these past few weeks, marveling at how some managed to convey really “big ideas” and encourage a reader of any age to “care”.  Another book that impressed: Stealing Home by Ellen Schwartz.  This one is geared to slightly older children and set in 1947- with the story of Jackie Robinson as a backdrop for the main character developing and finding both himself and his own home.  Fans of baseball will be asked to consider the importance of radio (technology at the time) as well as being given insight into what is really behind major events like “Black History Month”.  Ms. Schwartz also shares insight into a Jewish family in Brooklyn’s 1940s – as a cross cultural novel the book displays understanding of “miscommunication” and suggests how inter-generational bonds can be formed.

The Secret Garden now this one is a step back in time and for readers who already possess a strong vocabulary and who read regardless of the dialects and who can become curious about the formal and very full descriptions of time, place, and characters.  It is important to remember that writers in the last century were focusing on sharing a story, not gearing their writing to a specific age group- so many of the books which I found in the “children’s” section of the library weren’t originally written with a particular genre in mind.  The book being about friendships formed and new beginnings, can definitely be shared as an in class study for junior and even senior high school students- in the older grades there would be the opportunity to look into the politics subtly expressed.  Too often it seems books with deeper social/cultural meaning are currently being relegated as “children’s stories” which has a double sided sword.  Children do indeed absorb the nuances in a story and the extra curious will try to learn more about a particular time period or why characters may have behaved or been expected to behave in a certain way.  But older students with the deeper knowledge base may shy away from reading a novel that is labelled “children’s” even if also called a classic and then become stuck between what is available in the young adult sections- and what is enforced- that is, chosen by a teacher for classroom study.  It is a bit of a truism that reading makes readers.

As an adult I continue to be thrilled when I can find a book on Project Gutenberg, or quickly use the internet to source a topic, and am all in favour of encouraging students to value reading in all its various dimensions however there is simply something intrinsic to the feel of a book- and to the value that can be gained through taking the time to connect with voices that travel across time and space and into one’s psyche; when a novel’s characters no longer appear as words on a page but indeed become examples of people worth caring about -this happens.  And that is what is meant by how reading may encourage empathy.

Next week: some classics reviewed

Remembering “why”.

The things we remember:

today is November 11, officially Armistice day, and across the globe many communities are paying respects to soldiers – be it the soldiers recalled from the events of WW1 or soldiers who still must fight in a military in 2014.

In Ontario much talk is going back and forth over the value of making the day a National event- since some Canadian provinces already observe the day as a full day of remembrance and use the time up to November 11 to teach about not only the horrors of World Wars but also the hopes that are generated by activists for peace- Planting seeds of peace, encouraging inquiry, focusing on the present generation and all that it may accomplish is an act of doing and making- combining two terms in popular usage today, and sharing that basic desire – that somehow, horrific events are not only not forgotten, but that the meaning of words like “freedom”, “citizenship” and “rights and responsibilities” aren’t just words to be matched up on a test but words that have value, that carry promise, that offer a lifestyle within an ideology of purpose.  Not everyone will grow up to be prime minister, or president, or even interested in the political forum.  But everyone growing up in a world where there may still be a threat of global violence ought to be made aware of how many people have -over generations- risked everything, in the hopes of building ( making and doing ) places where the opportunity to attempt harmonious living will be a mandate for social action.

We memorized poems when I was in school, and the Remembrance Day full school assembly meant total involvement- K-6th grade for at least a month before – from the Canadian Thanksgiving in October, through to the November event.  And through these activities we built up a variety of skills-  plugging a sentence from a poem into Google pulled up the full piece; imagine being nine years old and able to use the word “damn” in front of the whole school because it was central to the poem being recited-  “Men who could stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking…”  demagogue- vocabulary building, poem credit goes to Josiah Gilbert Holland, author,  time: American Civil War- linking then the concept of Remembrance to beyond one specific point in time and beyond one specific place.  English Literature, social studies, geography, history, public speaking and drama class rolled into one action.  Granted, as an adult I know now that my elementary school (public) would have been labelled “progressive” ; and I am aware of how much design went into encouraging us to become makers and doers, to question as well as observe, to participate in the lesson by moving beyond the rote aspect of committing to memory, and to attempt ourselves to evoke the need to care within our listeners- the majority of whom were peers.  “Lest we forget” always meant much more than wearing a poppy- it included actively collaborating on projects designed to encourage respect for ourselves, for each other, and for our world. 

A Lesson outline for Steam; all ages

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” -Rabindranath Tagore

“ Rabindrath Tagore- he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.[4] In translation his poetry was viewed as spiritual and mercurial; however, his “elegant prose and magical poetry” remain largely unknown outside Bengal”
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Word painting: what image is created; when you listen, what do you see?

Say the phrase two or three times, how is the person expressing the idea/ feeling? How can you tell? What words require shape in the actual illustration?

Could there be a metaphor inside the following: “sunset sky”

Remember that for poetry to “work” it must be accessible on two levels; first as an actual literal read through- where we imagine the evening of a day and the sky- what colours, what energy, what may have cleared in the air?

The second level requires a second reading, this time as figurative or metaphorical speech; when do writers speak of clouds? What else may clouds symbolize? What is the writer saying about these clouds?

Please remember that when as readers we interpret poetry, we are offering suggestions relating to the author’s writing- we are relating to the words, and the images the words suggest, but we can’t be definite – our “guesses” relate to feelings, and poetry captures emotions…

Now, read it once more. Has knowing anything about the author helped in understanding the poem? Why might the writing be deemed “magical”?

–Science- recall what are clouds- how may clouds add colour?

Please illustrate the image twice- First as a literal image- what colour are “regular” clouds – and an evening sky…

Second illustration: please share how you would like to interpret the words via painting, drawing, chalk, etc.

Would love to see any images created! Thank you 🙂

Talking and Walking- in another’s shoes…

A wonderful on-going project in Toronto involves encouraging immigrant women to share their stories via a pair of shoes, reminiscent of “if these walls could talk…” only with the shoes actually becoming the focal point for the story telling.  What a lovely reminder for what really is the concept of empathy– the ability to not only give someone the opportunity to share stories, but for others to take a moment and attempt to understand the stories, and then, to grasp at the significance of the stories being told.   Like many a person, I too have a “junk drawer”, one of those places that collects what a person is not yet ready to throw out.  Objects in that drawer hold little significance for anyone else, but like the shoes on display, (see: http://www.batashoemuseum.ca/snapshot_exhibits/theshoeproject/index.shtml   to read each of the short stories gathered over the three years of the project), may remind me of events, people, and life’s changes.  With the school year coming to a close, it seems a lovely idea to have students write about something that they might have found when cleaning out desks, lockers, or even helping in the lunch room or gym.  Over the years I have used a beautiful book by Sherri Fitch – If You Could Wear My Sneakers – main poem found here: http://www.edu.pe.ca/vrcs/resources/poetry/text/poems/what%27s%20fair/ifyoucould.html , to discuss children’s rights and matched this set of rhyming tales to other courses, political science and social science, not only the writing lesson of a language arts class, and not only with younger students.  Sometimes a little bit of nonsense rhyme allows the older student to relax about what is really a very complex topic.  For how difficult it truly can be to move beyond labels, stereotypes, cliques (think school- really), professional titles (think work and socializing, please), and other inscribed role playing that individuals are expected to comply with.  To shake it up a bit, and if the students don’t object, objects could be placed in a giant container and then redistributed- two stories per object, one by the original owner and one made-up tale by whomever pulled it out of the “hat”. With one overriding rule prior to the sharing of the stories- no criticisms of the tales.  Respect being tantamount to encouraging empathy, beginning as young as possible sounds like a plan. 

 

to read the Toronto Star write up go here:http://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2014/06/03/the_shoe_project_lets_listeners_walk_a_mile_in_an_immigrants_shoes.html

 

 

 

 

 

William Stafford’s ANY MORNING- ideal weekend thoughts to share :)

ANY MORNING

by William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

 

 

“Any Morning” by William Stafford from Ohio Review Volume 50 (1993). © 1993 by William Stafford.

 

Higher level thinking test questions: understanding and teaching

Books, Books, Books.  They were, and still are to be found in my home: magazines, journals, posters too.  Like the internet, books are connected, with ideas referencing backward through time.  For a reader, these connections can be a reason for recognizing the “new” ideas, or the new challenges, and even if one doesn’t enter into the conversation directly, the connections provide understanding and put into context what the author may have had in mind. – Fancy Literary Term: allusions- dictionary definition, simplified, to refer (back) to something else- a pre-internet form of links or “buttons” .  However there is a second implication in the term “allude” and it can be suggesting “implying”.  Students do need to understand both the actual reference in a piece of writing and the implications that a reader may infer, if learners are going to be able to “make sense” of formal Reading Comprehension tests- regardless of if the test is called “Common Core” in the States or E.Q.A.O. in Canada or given any other title in any other country.  Reading Comprehension testing and students scores improve when Poetry is both offered and shared in the learning process.

Why Poetry, and not merely any other form of writing, when poetry or analyzing a poem may only be a small portion of the exam/test itself? It is impossible to teach poetry without getting into or allowing for personal responses, opinions based on the combination of emotional response and the actual words on the page. Poems that “work” do so on many levels, allowing a variety of ages, and readers, to “enter into the imagery”, and be absorbed by the rhythm, before the analysis.  Poems that “work” may also be read from both the literal and the figurative (stance) – demanding a lesson into second readings, a scavenger hunt of sorts for clues within the writing which begins the practical aspect of what many readers do on automatic pilot: read it again. 

Descriptions on tests qualify questions, only a few instruct young learners to offer “proof” from the test reading or their own personal experiences.  The majority of questions aim to demonstrate that students were in fact tested, that the learner knew how to respond to a similar type of question.  And it is a “taken for granted” that as an educator one might be annoyed at the style or implication teaching to the test demands.  Yet I am not, for test taking needn’t be an overwhelming threat to one’s ability to demonstrate knowledge, nor ought it to be a frightening experience.  First the test itself needs to be placed in context,  that learners might see it as a positive challenge- give students a brand new piece of technology and ask them to “figure it out”, or a new game, or a new way of walking to school- each is a challenge- that requires putting together the old way – what one knows, with the new object- what one is trying to make sense of.  If the testing challenges do annoy me at all, it is in their very lack of “higher level” thinking questions;  learners of all ages do want a challenge to be challenge worthy- the prize is so much more satisfying then.