Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Cleveland Elementary School Day 6 teaching notes: I Am & Chain poems, journal

During the week, Ms. Loeser gave students homework to create their own chain poems, but the students wrote singular words down the page—a shopping list—and from the examples, it sounds like they did not take it to the next step, which was to flush out the list to create their own poems. So, we decided to go back and expand our ideas from last week's lesson and begin again. 

I said they could revisit last week's poem, or they could visit another older lesson, or write something entirely new—as long as it had a comparison in it. Atziri wrote about lemonade, but didn't have comparisons. So we identified places where she could add or expand her ideas. First you pick the lemons, then you cut them, heir insides like the sun, then you squeeze them, add sugar, water, ice, The sound of ice in a glass in hot summer. She worked on it some more to flesh it out.

Returning to the theme of a chain poem, writing down 5 to 6 nouns or verbs down the page and filling in the poem around those linked words (adapted from an old Teachers&Writers lesson) we made a group poem choosing 5 associative nouns. We brainstormed: ice, city, mountains, snow, grass. I said, you might find this assignment easier if you write it down first on paper. Writing is messy, we often change our minds and cross things out. it's OK. I hold up some writing with lots of cross-outs by way of example. We wrote:

Freezing ice from ancient glaciers
moves freely toward the city where the mist rises
and surrounds the mountains of trash
where the snow melts
and where the grass grows toward the sun.

    Class poem, Ms. Loeser's 4th Grade

After our second freewrite, a few students shared their work. Whenever a cool line comes up, I repeat it aloud. Or ask a student to read it again so we can savor the imagery. Most notable were the stellar poems of Natalie and Emily. They are naturals.

Today's poetry prompt was based on I Am poems. I hadn't planned to focus on them, but at the beginning of class, Ms. Loeser had asked me to talk about Ireland and Irish culture. Donning my silly Irish plushy horned helmet, I talked about stories and oral tradition. I realized that this was a good opportunity for students to also focus on their own cultures. And a good time for me to trot out the ancient Irish poem, Song of Amergin. We went around the proverbial Zoom room, in Gallery View, sharing where our ancestors came from: Mongolia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Korea, Africa, Mexico. I asked them if they had any family stories that have been passed down. I tell them that this is the origins of poetry. The stories. Also bucket lists for future travel.

During our freewrite, I quickly formatted a rough version of The Song of Amergin an incantation poem, with the modern I Am poems, and emailed the poems to Ms. Loeser to share on the whiteboard. Several students took turns reading five lines of Amergin. As they read, other students typed in words from the poem into the chat thread that they didn't know. There was quite a lively discussion around the word griffin. Also lustre drew some attention. In this way, we are both defining words, and expanding our vocabulary. We use the chat thread to also honor the words or ideas that we liked. Active readers vs. passive readers. I later read from the list so that the words could take flight in the imagination. I talked about building a poetry matrix—how new words make us think of new ideas.

This is the first time I have used the chat thread as a teaching tool, and it worked quite well. I asked students what was a new word for you, what was a word or an idea or a phrase that you liked? I said it's OK to steal three words in a row to use in your own writing, but you need to change the fourth word, etc., in order to make it your own. Then we chose some of those words as a launching point to write another chain poem. This poem was prefaced by I am. But they didn't have to use that formula. They could change it.

I talked about the secret knowledge that was hidden, or embedded in a poem, that these poems, in both The Song of Amergin, and The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee there were secret references (which we read after recess). I said, both poems probably represented the months of the year. (I have a Pomo month poem as a follow-up.) Amergin's poem, translated from the Irish, was first written down in the early Middle Ages, it was well over a thousand years old. I also said that Irish was one of the oldest Indo-European languages in the world, and the poem probably came from the Bronze Age, some 2000 + years ago, probably passed down as a chant, ancient knowledge passed down through poems, stories, or oral tradition. The poems also suggest that we are all related, we are everything in the universe.

A conversation about dolmens, a new vocabulary word, Stonehenge and Daylight Savings, led to the Spring equinox and the reason for those Neolithic stone circles measuring the seasons. One student said he had to leave class early for a fire ceremony. I talked about how in Irish culture, that fire was also important. We used to jump over candlesticks on Beltaine. I said my great-grandfather used to run his cattle between two bonfires on Beltaine, or May Day. It was an ancient ritual, but it was also practical as if fumigated the cattle for ticks.

I talked about Native Kiowa-Cherokee artist and writer, N. Scott Momaday's Delight Song of Tsoai-talee, a modern poem, which also represents the months and seasons. We took turns reading it, and writing down new words, or words we liked in the chat thread. Lustre, feather, the hunger of a wolf, the farthest star. The words themselves evoke a poem waiting to be born.

I asked, How do we expand our personal lists that we are making all the time in our heads, and how does it lead to poetry? I reread some of the words from the chat list: Lure, a stag, a hill of poetry, the salmon of wisdom. How do you catch a poem and more importantly how day lure it in, and drag it to shore?

Some kids began to write lines in the chat thread. Victoria wrote, I am the green fire mixed with copper. Unfortunately she disappeared, so I wasn’t able to get back to her but I did read it aloud a couple of times to say that it was a good line. (She was pleased with the poem I wrote for her last week. I sent her personally in the chat thread, I'm trying to bring her back from circling the drain of gangstah rap. She said Wow, that is really good. I asked her to write me a poem.)

I am trying to get students to recognize the difference between poetry and ordinary everyday speech. After we read The Song of Room 13, a student group poem, I noted that they looked around their room and pulled images in from the air. They were probably reading from Island of the Blue Dolphins. That resonated. I asked for a first line for our group poem. I took notes longhand. Ms. Loeser spun the Wheel of Names app to see who would begin the poem.

I am the cliffs of Saint Nicholas Island
I am the pencil writing the poem
I am the lore hidden in the cave
I am the feather of the peacock's tale 
I am the one who seeks a friend 
in the forest of imagination.
I am everything you want me to be.

    Class poem, Ms. Loeser's 4th Grade

We wrote our own I Am poems while we were simultaneously writing our group poem. A bit chaotic. Each student was also responsible for their own mythical I Am poem which means we theoretically wrote three poems today. We had our freewrite catch-up, and then we wrote a new chain poem, plus today's I Am poetry recipe. I said they could use the class-generated list: ice, city, mountain, snow, grass, if they wanted to, but they could change that list, or make up a new one. I don’t know if they did the second poem. Later, Ms. Loeser said that the class is definitely drifting. They have lost focus. It is spring. Weill we go back to the regular classroom in April? Cross that bridge later. Meanwhile, we work as best we can. It has been a full year since Shutdown. The wheel of the year.

During our main writing time, Monica and Kristin decided to meet with me in a breakout room, and we kicked our poem off with Monica‘s line: I am the guardian of the sea. Kristin followed with: I am the one that has been chosen. Like a game of table tennis, Monica returned the serve, and said: I am the legend of the earth. Luxmi popped in for a moment, and said: dreaming of dolphins. Probably the best teaching moment was when Monica noticed a theme emerging around images of the sea. The Aha! The fire in the head moment. Monica and Kirsten wrapped the poem up with: swimming in the sky of secrets. And then it was time for recess. End of class. Homework, a scavenger hunt for next week: pick three ordinary things to share, and write an Ode to everyday things, like Pablo Neruda.

I am the guardian of the sea.
I am the one that has been chosen.
I am the legend of the earth
dreaming of dolphins
swimming in the sky of secrets.

    Monica, Kristen, Luxmi
Cleveland Elementary School, Day 5 teaching notes
Cleveland Elementary School, Day 4 teaching notes
Cleveland Elementary School, Days 1-3 teaching notes

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