Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Cleveland Elementary School Day 5 teaching notes: Chain poems, 4th Grade, Oakland, journal

Day five, hump week. It’s four weeks until spring break. We chitchat and discuss the origin of April Fool’s Day, it falls on a Thursday. Ms. Loser tells us a story of how she once sent a memo out to her colleagues saying that there was no school on April Fools’ Day, and because they didn’t read to the end of the letter that said April Fool’s! everybody believed her and didn’t come to school. And then someone piped up, Don’t you have to wear green on April Fools’ Day? That made me laugh and then that was my entrance que, as I was waiting in the wings. I said you have to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. It represents freedom. It would be fun to do something with customs and aphorisms. I say, Thank you Connor, for the poetry lesson idea. He chuffs.

We go over last week’s work which were based on acrostics, and India reads a poem about a sparrow. Because I can see the document on the screen, I say make it look like a poem too. And so we add commas and line breaks. Atziri read a poem about sunflowers. Some of her lines are very long and we talk about indenting three spaces, or using the tab key when a line continues past the confines of the page. 

Today is a little bit more shoptalk, we are delving further into the revisioning and editing process. We focus on how to make it look like a poem. And whether or not it needs punctuation and/or commas. I say one line, one idea. I often make line breaks at commas. I say, one unit of breath, one idea. We talk of personal choices whether or not to punctuate. I mention that like with Emily Dickinson changing the face of poetry, e.e. cummings, who eschewed capitalization and punctuation, also changed the shape of poetry. 

Emily reads a poem from last week, then Natalie—her ocean poem has a lot of potential. I tell her, make it also look like a poem. Again, we reiterate the process of line breaks. We also discuss using strong verbs versus weak verbs. I tell her that I cannot see the word fun. I cannot see the word get. I cannot see the word go. Are there stronger verbs we can use to make our poems really sing? We look at the worksheets, lists of verbs and feelings, words for invoking the senses. I tell them, these worksheets in your Google folder are resources for you to use when you get stuck.

Freewrite time—we can revisit old poetry lessons, or write new work. The only thing I am looking for are comparisons. I make the comparison sign—two fists, or two ideas, crashing headlong into each other to create similes and metaphors. 

We breathe deep, we make vroom vroom noises, we shake out our hands, we become race cars, we grab the proverbial steering wheel, and screech out, making our words fly across the page. We drive them around dangerous curves, not braking for what lies ahead. It’s all out, flat out, drag racing through the back roads of memory. Dead man’s curve coming up, the twists and turns in the road become sinuous as snakes. We don’t know where we’re going, or where we’ll end up, but we’re going there, fast as we can, pedal to the metal, across the finish line. But a writer’s work is never done.

After recess we share our freewrites. Dylan is thrilled that he has figured out a way to clone himself via computer screen. We laugh: there are two Dylans in the classroom. A leitmotif. We are ourselves, and also beside ourselves. This writing process. 

For today’s assignment, we talk about chain poems, like acrostics, they stretch our thought processes and guide our writing in new directions. I reiterate how poems need to have strong nouns and verbs, as well as comparisons. We read a model chain poem, and wrote six words (nouns and verbs) down the page. Connor read a poem with a secret word embedded. I explained how chain poems stretch of the imagination. They make you write things you weren’t expecting to write about. But poems also need strong action verbs. We are expanding the possibility of writing. Already you can see it take hold in their work. We talk about two new writing concepts: one is juxtaposition, and the other is using prepositions from which to hang your poem, which is another kind of spine poem. I tell them, they don’t have to use prepositions, they are just another tool there for them to use.

My chain poem is interrupted several times and my chain words got lost in the shuffle.

Across a turbulent sea,
the waves quail and argue
about who goes first,
it’s a desert of thought in my mind,
they roar and toss the boats
loosened from their moorings,
lost on stormy seas,
and the blindness is deafening
against the rocks.

During recess I chat with Victoria and write another freewrite. Though she may not be writing much, she is thoroughly engaged. She tells me the story about the fan above her head. It is older than she is. I tell her that I will write a poem about her.

Above Victoria‘s head, the fan,
like a golden bird, graces the wall.
She twirls and twists her long dark hair up in a knot.
It becomes a comb holding up a mantilla to the sky.
We cannot escape the confines of our rooms,
but she time travels across the universe.
She has a field of virtual stars behind her.
The fan is painted with trees
and a bird nests in their branches.
It is a haiku referring back to the ancient past. 
She combs and brushes her long dark hair
like a Chinese princess in the garden, waiting
while the birds come to listen.

After recess we share our work. Monica read a dragon poem, we work on it a little bit, strengthening word choices and line breaks. Since it is an acrostic poem, we are stuck with the letter C. So the word cute, which I cannot see, nor do I have any enduring relationship with, is replaced with courageous. A student suggested the change and I am thrilled because peer editing is the way to go. 

Anthony has a one-liner poem about marshmallows. He revises and expands it to four lines, and suddenly the poem takes flight across the world. Kingsley offers a line about dancing trees and suddenly we are expanding his poem as well. This impromptu editing process of seeing the page on the screen and editing aloud is working, but it is time-consuming. 

Bergen writes a poem of light as a way to freedom; the light poem is a three-line poem so strong, it needs a little attention. The next one he writes needs a little bit of prompting and prodding but he is clearly in the zone. During the chain poem lesson he must’ve written seven or eight triplets. Did he follow directions? No, but it doesn’t matter. All that we care about is getting a poem. Kimani offers an interesting idea using predictive text to the rescue of a flat line and adds onto Kingsley‘s poem something about the moon glowing with the wolves in the night. Wow!

Ms. Loser tells a story about the light being away out of the darkness. And then, because I can hear a poem in her speech, I ask her to write it down. They say the way to the light is to go through the darkness, but the Dalai Lama said, why go through the darkness at all? Why not go directly to the light? Period.

Victoria needs to paste her work in her document. Kamron also has  to transfer his work, Ky’moni as well. So many students are not typing up their poems and I am concerned. I give my Day Five hump speech about the upcoming poetry book, and they need to have work at the ready. Ms. Loser calls on a few other students—again no poems. Not being able to see their work is a serious drawback. 

Olive reads a an acrostic poem on Fridays and then she reads an ABCdario poem I am stunned because I have not talked about ABCdarios. We look at a poem from one of Jorge Lujan’s students, and take five for another freewrite. Olive also used enjambment, so that is our third poetry teaching word for the day, we are building our poetry arsenal.  A line about shoes and blue narwhals. The word blue at the end of the line giving double meaning to both shoes and narwhals. Brilliant, I tell her.

We discuss chain poems, alphabet poems, abcdarios, and Psalm 119. I twll them it’s an old time-honored tradition. Hopefully we can get back to it. I tell them the tricky bit with using these kinds of frameworks is to make sure that we still continue to write a poem, escaping the confines of artifice. A good day.

No comments: