Growing Understanding of Genre Through a Poem Reading Frenzy

poem-reading-frenzy

About ten days ago, I planned and implemented a “poem reading frenzy” for my middle school writers as part of my efforts to expose them to many kinds of poems, especially since the genre is new to them as readers and writers.  Like many of you, I think giving our students to read like writers and an opportunity to notice qualities of a genre of writing is essential in a writing studio.  The “reading frenzy” idea comes from my friend and fellow colleague Nancy Steineke; the basic premise of this activity is to give students an opportunity to read, explore, ponder,  and rank texts, such as informational articles or in this case, poems.

My Original Plan for Learning

When I planned the activity, I picked 8 poems for each grade level (grades 6, 7, and 8); I thought that I had picked a solid range of texts that would be on their reading level and expose each group of students to different styles of poems.  My game plan was:

1 .  Distribute the packets of poems to each student; each student would have the opportunity to read the poems quietly to himself or herself.

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2.  Rank the poems from favorite to least favorite using the form below.

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3.  Do some light annotation of the student’s favorite poem using the model I provided to each table group of students; this model was housed in my “shop ticket” pouches.  I made extra copies of all the poems so that students could have his/her own copy to mark up and annotate.  In addition, I kept these “noticing” prompts on the board for annotating:

annotating-a-poem

4.  Use the FSLL method of noticing qualities about a poem; I asked students to choose any talking points from the list of questions provided and complete the blank FSLL chart on the back of the “ranking” handout. I provided a completed example in the “shop ticket” pouches along with the example of the annotated poem.

Below are the examples I gave table groups to share and use for reference in my neon shop ticket pouches:

annotated-poem-from-hamilton

fsll-method-model-from-hamilton

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My day started with my 8th grade classes.  Since we had previously done some light annotation and used the FSLL method a few weeks ago in small groups, I started the class period with a quick overview and review of our annotating strategies and FSLL method.

*An important note about the FSLL method—this method is a strategy I discovered in June 2016 in one of my Facebook groups for the Heinemann Units of Study.  I am embarrassed to say that I am not able to backtrack through all the discussions to give appropriate credit to the teacher who posted her photos of her students’ work using this method, and since she never posted a blog post over the summer with a link to any additional details, I don’t have anything to point you back to for more details.  However, I developed my own original graphic organizer for the FSLL method based off the photos she posted of student work; you can see the guiding handout and a blank graphic organizer below:

 

Adjusting the Activity by Responding to Student Needs

By the end of my first class (Period 8-2), I realized three important things I didn’t anticipate but probably should have:

  1.  The students were struggling with reading and understanding the poems even though I thought I had picked accessible reading levels and short, readable poems.  I should have anticipated they might need them read aloud since they were still newbies to the genre and the ways we read a poem, especially when the thought carries across multiple lines.
  2.  Even though I thought I had been VERY clear about the ranking system in my written and oral instructions (1 is the favorite poem, 8 is your least favorite—rank them 1 to 8), at least 3/4 of the class did not understand these instructions.
  3. The students were spending an inordinate amount of time copying the titles of poems into the ranking chart.

As a result, they barely even made it to annotating their poems and needed a second day of class to complete the activity, something I thought would doable in one period.

At the end of period 8-2, I quickly decided to punt and make some adjustments for the 6th and 7th grade classes:

  1.  Revamp the ranking template/handout to  include the names of the poems so students would not have to write them down.  Here is an example of how I did this for 7th grade:

2.   I decided to read aloud each poem 2x to help students really “hear” the poems and hopefully better understand each one.

3.  I reminded students that we didn’t have to completely understand a poem to appreciate or enjoy it.

These adjustments seem to make a big difference, especially for my 6th graders.   My 6-3 class clapped enthusiastically every time I read a poem from their packet, and they were eager to rank their choices!  Each student got to take a copy of his/her favorite poem to mark up/annotate; they also were quite earnest in their efforts to choose two points of “noticings” for their selected poems.   I was surprised and impressed that of all my classes, this class had the greatest spread of “favorite poems”—-favorites tended to lean toward 2-3 poems in all my other classes in every grade level/section.

For my 6-6 class who needs a little more scaffolding, we read the poems together, and they got to annotate/mark up each poem.  Because these activities took the entire period, I modified the assignment for them and didn’t ask them to do a FSLL chart, especially since they did a lot of this work orally in our individual to pair to group share during class.   Like my 6-3 students, this class seemed to take great delight in hearing and discussing the poems.

Another part of the activity that was a big hit with both classes:  I included a two-voice bilingual poem and asked a student to volunteer with me.  The class LOVED hearing another student read the poem with me since both my student volunteers took on the Spanish speaking part and showed off their linguistic expertise! Both 6th grade classes LOVED the activity and thoroughly enjoyed a diverse range of poems.

Even with the modifications, the my efforts to do this activity with 7th grade were challenging because we had to move to a different location so that our new writing studio furniture could be set up since it had arrived mid-day.  If you’ve taught middle school, you know that any disruption of the normal routine usually results in unusual behavior or student difficulty in staying focused.   Though the circumstances were not ideal and probably impacted the quality of the learning experience, my 7th graders were able to finish their annotations and begin their FSLL charts in class; they completed these on a subsequent class day.

Below is the rubric I created to assess their work; I made some slight modifications for my 7th graders and 6-3 class, but you can see the basic elements I looked at in their annotations and FSLL responses in this 8th grade assessment rubric:

Looking Ahead and Additional Modifications

I am planning on doing a modified version of this activity again with my students next week as we look at “Where I’m From” poems (a post will be forthcoming on this poem study).  Here are a few things I’ll be sure to do:

  • I will reduce the number of mentor poems from 8 to 4
  • I will read all the poems aloud
  • We’ll annotate using a modified write-around text on text activity where students can do collaborative annotations (I’ve blogged extensively about this strategy from Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke in the past)
  • We’ll use a graphic organizer to capture and record our noticings about these kinds of poems

I am hoping that with these adjustments, my 7th and 8th graders will be as enthusiastic about the activity as my 6th graders were.  What additional modifications would you make, or how are you doing reading frenzies with your middle school or upper elementary age students?

Creative Writing with Color Poems

color-poetry

A few weeks ago, several readers inquired about the color poems I did with my middle school students.  The “color poem” strategy/formula is one that I learned in a class on teaching poetry at the University of Georgia; it’s one that provides structure for beginning poets but is flexible enough for more advanced writers to run with and exercise their poetic license.

Until this year, I had only used this strategy with high schoolers; they typically picked right up on the formula.  I discovered this fall that some younger learners may need more scaffolding even if you give them concrete examples that you have written and examples from other students.  I modified my handouts to include the following materials:

  • A general overview of the assignment with two examples/mentor poems/texts
  • A “writing plan” that includes some reflection questions to help the poet get started with a second page that has a modified copy of the “formula” that students can use as a template if needed
  • A reflection handout that students can complete once they have finished their final draft

All documents are downloadable as PDFs below.

Here is a sampler of poems written by my students using this strategy:

Most of my students initially found this challenging but were pleasantly surprised by the quality of their writing.   In the end, many of my students were proud of their work (as they should have been!) because this was the first poem they had ever written.

Are any of you using this strategy or a variation of it with your students?  What do you do to scaffold students who might need a little more support to get started?

Using Photographs to Dwell in Poems

As I was working belatedly yesterday on adding some new features to one of my National Poetry Month displays on the exterior of the library, I began thinking about what I might feature in addition to student created poems, quotes about poetry, and images of favorite poetry books.  Perhaps because I was surrounded by Ms. Frost’s 9th Honors Literature/Composition students with whom I’ve been immersed in presentation zen this past week, it occurred to me it might be fun to combine favorite lines of poetry or short poems with a carefully selected photograph to unpack a feeling, idea, or image I associated with the lines of poetry or short poem.

After I completed a few slides in PowerPoint, I shared what I had created with Ms. Frost, and she was so excited about what she saw that she plans to work with the library and use this approach to help students dwell in poems by focusing on key lines and images to tease out the concepts of imagery, connotation, and mood.  We plan to use student created slides and convert them into picture files that can then be printed as flyers or posters for hanging or display on art easels to feature throughout the library; we’ll also be sure to include an artistic tag to give students credit for their creation.  I also see this kind of activity as another learning exercise in visual thinking that can be used for a poetry immersion unit and an entry point into discovering new poems.

I hope you enjoy the slides I’ve created so far—to be able to immerse myself in this kind of thinking and content creation was therapeutic for me intellectually and emotionally.  Most of my days are spent as an instructional librarian (which I LOVE), but I relished the opportunity to use most of the workday for content creation as it was great mind candy for me and ultimately, a springboard to a wonderful conversation for some new collaborative efforts with Ms. Frost and her students.  I’ll be working with the wonderful Joy Mabry at our district “Teacher Center” to create poster sized prints of these slides as well as the student generated content to help celebrate and honor poetry year round—I’ll blog an update as soon as we have the new creative works up and on display in the library!

Another source of inspiration came today during a Google chat with my good friend and colleague Diane Cordell, an amazing librarian and lifelong learner.  Diane shared a poetry reading created with  VoiceThread, and I thought how cool it would be for students to choose a poem (either one they have composed or one of their choosing) to read and to add images to represent the poem; they could then narrate these poems individually, with a partner, or as a small group.  I see this kind of learning activity as another way of students remixing and interpreting poetry through sound and audio!

What ways are you using visual literacy or multimedia as an entry point to poetry?

Poetry Reading 2.0: Poetry Slidecast, Mrs. Nayman’s 1st period!

On Wednesday, April 29, Mrs. Nayman’s 1st period 11th American Literature/Composition students shared poems inspired by personal photographs @ The Unquiet Library!  You can enjoy the slidecast below to see their photos and hear each student read his/her poem.  Simply click the green button, and the slides will automatically play and advance themselves.

It took me awhile to get the hang of syncing the mp3 audio to each slide, but after some trial and error, I think I have it.  I hope to improve my syncing skills as I work on the next two poetry podcasts/slidecasts for 2nd and 7th periods.

I am also making class books of each set of poems for the poetry reading—one set for the library, and one set for Mrs. Nayman’s classroom; many thanks to Mrs. Joy Mabry of the Cherokee County School District Teacher Center for her help with this endeavor!    The photos from the day are also housed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/8166472@N03/sets/72157617481444372/ .  We also have the student poems hanging from our poetry clothesline.

For help on creating the Slidecasts, try these resources:

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