Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Cleveland Elementary School Day 4 teaching notes: HOPE, Acrostix 3/2/21 Journal

3/2 We begin class with housekeeping: I remind my students that they need to use only one Google document with their full name at the top of the page, not several documents. They also need to date each day’s work. I expect at least two poems per day.  I still cannot open any of their documents, nor do I have permission. We are working on it. But for now, the only way I can observe their work is if they screenshare their document when they read.

I remind them that they have two writing times. 1. during freewrite, when we review and share last week’s work. A freewrite could also be brand new work. It’s a good chance to revisit some of the previous week’s poetry lessons and redo them, but you don’t have to. The only thing I am looking for is strong images, and comparisons. The worksheets are there to help you if you need starter lines. During freewrite, I tell them you can write about anything you want, you do not have to revisit an old poetry lesson. Make sure you use comparisons. 2. The new day’s poetry lesson.

Last week we looked at a poem by Emily Dickinson. I tell the students the story of Emily, who was a recluse in her own home, she, who had only 10 poems published during her lifetime, changed the shape of poetry, especially American poetry. And here we are, all of us recluses, we are all Emily, alone in our secret gardens of the mind. I repeat a line, Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. We hear poems from India, Justin, and Connor, who share their work from last week.

We begin our five-minute freewrite. This time I tell them they are race car drivers and they must start their engines. So we all go vroom vroom vroom like motorcycles. We shake out our hands, flibbert our lips, we get ready to grab the wheel and we takeoff with screeching tires burning rubber, madly writing for five minutes as fast as we can. I say, write faster than you can think

I set the timer and write:

Imagine Emily in a white room
wrestling with words.
Sunlight seeps in through lace curtains
The garden beckons, spring unfurls its finery,
seeking the warmth of the sun.
Emily tends to her garden and her words take root
in the depths of the soul, to offer solace
and nourishment during these darkest of times.


Natalie reads a shyness poem, India reads a poem about a lake. Olive read a poem about poetry using an acrostic. Now I know which lesson to teach today. And I thank her for it. Sarah who is in the midst of a move and cannot access her work, dictates me a poem:

hope is a flower waiting to bloom,
hope is in the garden,
and it soon will rise like a balloon
to the sky. It floats away to another country
where someone will find it
and maybe they will share it.

After each student reads, they get to be a teacher in charge and choose the next student to share their work. They can either share something from last week, or from this week. Anthony created new work, but didn’t want share it, I tell him that’s ok—it’s good just to hear from him.

Today’s lesson we go over the concept of acrostics, and read the sample poems on the shared worksheet. I tell them that David Lawton used a dictionary when he got stuck. He used words he didn’t know. I point out that each line is an image. A picture with words. The poem does not need to relate the the hidden spine word.

We note that sometimes poets used their names, but Dr. Mapps’ second graders wrote about the coronavirus. So, we concluded that anything is possible, and that the acrostic is merely a spine by which to hang a poem. We could hide the spine word, even change the letters if needs be. The only allegiance to the poetry lesson is that they write a strong poem with strong images and comparisons.

They have 10 minutes to write before recess, but we lose three minutes shuffling around, repeating instructions. Mrs. Henry’s group meets separately in a breakout room.

I write about hope, as it seems to be on all our minds these days.

Here, amid the pale greenery of midwinter,
Orange blossoms struggle to reach
the secret heart of the sun.
Poppies remind the sun of its filial duty to return
Every year, relentless time. The wheel of the year.


Then it’s time for recess—15 minutes flies by in no time. At least I got everyone writing by 9:35, an improvement from last week. I need them to get through the creativity gate by 9:30. But Zoom teaching always takes much longer than expected.

After recess is sharing time. Those who are still working on their poems can continue to write. I remind them that I need two poems a day, maybe more. Usually the next poem you write is stronger than the first one.

India reads a stellar poem that begins with I went walking and wandering. She may as well be channeling Keats. Just Wow! Olive wrote a Monday ditty that desperately needed images. Her poem about the cat almost works. I suggest that she adds a comparison for every line so that I can see the picture. I tell her that I am dyslexic, I remember the day I learned to read, at the end of 3rd Grade. And that I need to be able to see what she is seeing, and the only way I can see it is if she paints a picture with words. She gets it.

Today is Emily‘s birthday, she wrote something about if the flower blooms. It has potential. Not all students share their document on the screen. It certainly helps me to be able to see their poems on the page in order to comment on them. I explain to them that this process is called editing and it is a left brain process versus a right brain process. Writing comes from the part of the brain where you don’t think. Bergen totally gets this and shares his experiences. Editing comes from the other side of the brain where logic and rules live. Poetry is a marriage of the two sides of the brain.

Victoria is into rap and you can hear it in her voice—however, I talk about appropriateness, and school setting, and that she needs to rethink her subject matter. Scatology is not a good idea. However, she is welcome to write about anything she wants in her journal.

Bergen, an interesting writer, is very much the stream of conscious poet. I ask him where he thinks his ocean poem really begins, as it goes through so many images. I said I really began to listen when he talked about the color red. That it really took off because he started using images and comparisons. He said, yeah that’s where he felt it began too. He talks about the process, how all these images are floating in his head and he can barely get them all down in time. I said that’s exactly what poetry is a voice inside your head wanting out. I said you can throw away the first part of the poem if you want, or you can go back and strengthen it. When you revise something like that, always save an original copy. He said, getting a poem is like a new life growing.

Atziri writes about sunflowers. Her work is always amazing. She writes everything in longhand. I explain the soothing process of writing, how it comforrts your brain. I said there are many ways to write, dictation, longhand, or, on the computer. And each process has its own unique voice and style. But when I am troubled, I find that the physical act of writing longhand physically soothes my brain. I tell her the importance of keeping a journal, showing her one of mine from 1983, and I tell her that in 10-30 years from now, she will look at what she wrote and be astonished. I said but date everything. Everything.

Connor said that last week he was onto a really good idea and he wrote all this stuff down, and then he accidentally erased everything. We commiserate. I tell him the story of writing the perfect blogpost and then having the whole thing erased and, how hard it is to go back and resurrect something like that. I asked him if it would be easier for him to write and longhand first.

Laxmi read a poem about Hawaii, she had some strong ideas and I asked her to expand her poem to also include images. There was a word I did not know at the end of the poem. She explains that it’s a type of sushi made with Spam. And I said I need to be able to see the picture. Always take care of your audience. Describe how its saltiness against the tongue is like the ocean.

There were several students we had not heard from: Kristin, Kennedy, We need you to be part of the process too. Youhao shared a line, but he is still working on it. 

I said, we have 10 minutes independent study time before class is over. I asked students to catch up and to finish their work. This, after I had shared with them one of the anthologies, and I reiterated my expectations of their work. That I would be choosing three strong poems, they would each get a page to illustrate, that’s why it’s so important to keep writing, so that we have a good backlog of poems to choose from.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I shared a little local history about Bob the Bear, an orphaned grizzly cub raised by Alfred Kent who outgrew his house. So Alfred and Bob took a train to the Chicago Zoo. And ever time Alfred went back east, he stopped off to visit Bob the Bear who would give him a bear hug.

I roared and gave them all a cyber hug, blowing kisses to them. Sure, the story is a throwaway, but I try to drop gratis stories into my narrative whenever possible because I figure they will forget most of what I teach them, but they will never forget about the story of finding a forever home for Bob the Bear. Poetry is like that. Finding a forever home for your words. It is a strong day, a good day we thank each other, and bow. And sign off.

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