This was a great week for poetry in my classroom. In eighth grade, we're reading The Language Inside, by Holly Thompson. I really enjoy reading this book with my students; there are so many things they can relate to. The protagonist, Emma, goes through an earthquake, adapting to a new culture, her mother's breast cancer, a confusing relationship with a boy. She also reads, writes and shares poetry. For our daily poems this week we read some of Emma's choices: "Introduction to Poetry," by Billy Collins ; "Otherwise," by Jane Kenyon ; "The Legend", by Garrett Hongo ; and "Mermaid Song," by Kim Addonizio. (In the text of the novel, these poems are referred to but not reproduced in full.) Such wonderful stuff!
In seventh grade, we're working on memoir, and the poems we read were all about identity. For three days we read poems from Nancie Atwell's Naming the World, including, on Wednesday, George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From," beloved of English teachers the world over. There's not usually a writing assignment in my classes where absolutely everyone is writing the same thing at the same time, but the "Where I'm From" is an exception; everybody writes one, and I just love them. Especially early in seventh grade, when I'm just getting to know my new students. There are so many heart-tugging moments, such as a conversation with a student who is originally from Syria; when I asked her what she remembered about that country, she waxed lyrical about how peaceful it is, and how you can walk the streets without anybody bothering you. (Here's the "Where I'm From" poem that I wrote back in 2006.)
Yesterday we read a poem from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School. (If you don't have this one yet, middle school teachers, you have to get it.) The poem was Mary Quattlebaum's "What I Want to Be." I love how the poem plays with your expectations. You think it's going to be about a kid's career aspirations, but the first stanza reads: "I want to be/free to eat lunch/whenever I want." She goes on to detail exactly what she is going to eat in this far-off, longed-for adulthood. Mostly not school food. My students could relate to this poem so well. I had them write in their notebooks what they were most looking forward to about adulthood, and many of their answers had to do with freedom in just the way this poem does. My students are looking forward to watching whatever they want on TV, staying up as late as they want to, not having to go to school any more, and yes, eating whatever and whenever they want. I told them about the time right after my husband and I were first married when we decided to eat brownies and ice cream for dinner because we were grown up and we could! After our discussion about the poem, we finished up reading Edwidge Danticat's novel, Behind the Mountains, and talked about how adulthood isn't all fun, as we realized how hard Papa in the novel had to work to provide for his family and to bring them to the United States from Haiti.
I love the way words buoy me up, make me laugh, touch my heart, heal me, crack me open. I want my students to have as many of that kind of experiences as I can possibly engineer, so that words, beautiful, wonderful words, words that connect them to the lives of people in other places and other times, can do all those things for them, too, not just now, but for the rest of their lives. That's why I teach.
Here's today's roundup.
1 hour ago