Strategies to Help Students Unlock Poetry

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Kids hate poetry. Well, not all kids, but by the time students entered my 9th Grade English class their feelings for poetry were typically between the levels of nonexistent to complete disdain. Students think poetry is difficult to understand, not relevant to their lives, or in a form that is not what they normally read or write.

Poetry depends on the effort of the reader.

Unlike a lengthy novel or even this blog post which allows me to write, explain, and use as much space as needed, poetry is intentional, compact, and demands an enhanced awareness from the reader. Educators can help students unlock the meaning of poems, which I believe, helps to change the negative perception of poetry into a positive one.  

Before Reading:

  • Notice the poet and title – what clues do they provide to help the reader understand the poem?
  • Identify form or visual clues – how many lines does the poem contain? (14 lines and looks like a square it is probably a sonnet) Is the structure familiar? Punctuation, font differences, stanzas, line placement (does the poem have a shape?) How could the form relate to the content?

After collecting initial thoughts based on the “Before Reading” preview of the poem, students should:

  • Read the poem multiple times
  • Read the poem out loud – your ears will pick up more than just reading it in your mind, does sound play an active role in the poem’s meaning?
  • Marginalia – annotate and make notes in the margins

During Reading:

  • Look up words that are unknown – every word that is in a poem is meant to be there. If a student does not know what a specific word means to have them look it up. Why did the author choose that specific word? How does knowing the definition of the word change what I am thinking?
  • Identify the speaker and situation – The speaker of the poem is not always the poet. What do I know about the speaker of this poem? Situation deals with time, location, and event. While a reader may not be able to identify all parts of the situation, the more one can identify aids into the understanding of the poem as a whole.
  • Identify tone
  • Notice rhythm and rhyme scheme – how is understanding enhanced?
  • Identify figurative language – imagery, metaphors, enjambment, slant rhyme, alliteration; how does the poet play with language and how does it enhance a reader’s understanding?
  • Notice the structure – Does the poem tell a story? Ask and answer a question? Structured like a speech or letter?

After Reading:

  • Reread margin notes
  • Reflect on notes, sound, information about the poem
  • Shared inquiry discussion with classmates

Providing students guidance and modeling on how readers unlock a poem’s meaning is a daunting task. Students should not be required to analyze and interpret every poem they read. Sometimes it is best to just read poems aloud to students, allowing them to appreciate the sound and interpret the poem holistically. In my own classroom, I would model these strategies of interpreting poetry for students before expecting them to do them on their own. We would read, write, and listen to all types of poems, some to unlock the meaning, others because I wanted them to hear some of my personal favorites. We would discuss poetry’s relationship to their lives, parallels to music, or current books they were reading all in verse. I wanted to reawaken their love of poetry, or at least open to giving it another chance.

When students become aware of intentional writing in poetry it enhances their awareness in the world. They begin to notice small nuances in what they see, read, watch, and hear and how these noticings amplify understanding of the world around them.

Contemporary Literacy Practices, Go Where Your Students Are…

-Want to increase student achievement in reading and writing- Capitalize on the skills they use in their digital world.Education is slow to change. Before something is implemented it must be checked, researched, and statistically proven to impact student achievement before implementation occurs. While I  recognize the value of this system, it is the one that leaves professionals stagnant and places kids at a disadvantage. It also discounts the “gut-instinct” that teachers have when they recognize something is not working for their student and they need to change instruction.

The other day I was problem-solving with a building literacy coach at the middle school level. She spoke about a student, Allena (we will call her), an 8th grader who was classified as a struggling reader and writer by her teachers. The teachers wanted support in the form of strategies or programs that would help fix this child. A silver-bullet to implement that would magically make this student love writing.

In fact, the building literacy coach told me, all she cares about is watching YouTube and making videos for her own channel.

I paused, remembering a James Britton quote, “Go to where your students are – don’t make them come to you.” If you want to increase student reading and writing, go to where your students are in their “literary” worlds. Capitalize on the digital reading and writing that they do every day.

My question to the coach was How can we utilize YouTube to support this struggling writer? How can moviemaking and YouTube Stars be the vehicle in which she learns, practices, and demonstrates literacy skills? Could this entry-point then transfer to other areas of reading and writing?
Literacy is social, constantly changing, and impacted by the practices of a particular group. Contemporary literacy is multimodal, dynamic, and global. For students to be active participants in a global society it is essential to support student creation and consumption of 21st Century Literacies, even if it is driven by gut-instinct and has not had enough time to be deemed “research-approved.” Meeting students where they are does not only mean recognizing what skills they get and what they don’t, it also includes their interests, passions, and quite possibly YouTube.

3 Strategies to Improve Classroom Discussions

Untitled drawing (1)Students who are actively engaged in the classroom hone critical thinking skills and retain more information then passive learners. Classroom discussions are an effective way to engage students and provide a space to demonstrate understanding, articulate an argument, or grapple with difficult concepts. During the exchange, substantive conversation helps students construct knowledge while gathering further ideas and evidence to assess and keep or toss. These interactions can be used as formative assessment; gauging student understanding.

The following are a few of my favorite, and more unique, discussion strategies. Many of these ideas have been borrowed and modified for my own use.

First Things First – 

Establish classroom norms for discussions. Ask students for input; they always have great ideas. Limit the norms, keeping the number at 5 or under and use accessible language so expectations are clear. The following is a common list of norms that I used in the classroom, along with brief explanations:

1. No Hands – when discussing, students must negotiate their own time and not speak over each other. They are speaking to EVERYONE in the classroom, not just to me.

2. Stay on Topic – although I love when discussions grow organically, if Ophelia’s death quickly turns to school gossip I step in and refocus the group,if a student hasn’t already done that for me.

3. Disagree with the Comment, DO NOT attack the person – Differing opinions makes life interesting and classroom discussions fruitful.. One of the most difficult things for students to understand is another student’s TRUTH is just as right and as strong as their own TRUTH.

4. No yelling, swearing, throwing chairs, etc. -discussion topics vary, and if one leads to religion, politics, gender, etc. where opinions vary and tug at personal beliefs, they have the possibility to become heated. This norm is necessary for the safety and climate of the classroom. Click this site www.trusted-roofing.com and learn more.

5. Ends at the Bell – nothing excites me more than when students are still talking about the class as they walk out the door, toppling  into lunchroom conversations or is brought up at home with parents; but, students are not to use anything that was said in the discussion in a negative way, whether in a different class or on the athletic field.  We all agree to disagree.

Strategies 

1. Fishbowl Tap-out   

*A small group of chairs (usually 4) are placed in the middle of the room. Remaining students form a circle around the middle group, thus forming a “fishbowl”.

*The 4 middle students are the only ones allowed to speak. The discussion is focused, student-centered, and related to the designated concept or reading.

*If a student on the outside of the circle would like to share their thoughts, they must “tap-out” (on the shoulder) one of the 4 people in the middle. That person must stand and move to the outside circle. There is no refusing to leave once tapped-out.

*Students on the outside can be listening, backchanneling on a TodaysMeet, or taking notes on paper.

TIPS – Students should try to be in the “hot seat” at least once during the discussion, allow students 2 min. minimum before being tapped out, teacher may have to ask a question if discussion is stalling (otherwise they are a silent observer as well)

2. Body Voting   

*Provide students with a list of statements. Have them silently go through each one marking if they “Agree” or “Disagree”.

*Designate opposite areas in the classroom as “Agree” and “Disagree” zones

*Teacher reads the statement and students move to the area that represents their response.

*Discussion can ensue collaboratively, developing strong arguments to refute the opposition.

TIPS – This strategy takes up a lot of time, have students mark on their paper the top 3 or 4 statements they would like to discuss. Give students one minute to organize thoughts and points as a group before starting discussion. Make students choose a side, there is no neutral.

3. SSC (Small Silent Collaboration)

*Divide students into small groups – no more than 4 per group works best.

*Have one student create a Google Doc and share it with the group members AND the teacher.

*Students silently type important topics from their reading, questions they had, surprises from the passage, etc.

*Teacher monitors all groups’ documents, noting important discussion topics that emerge.

*After a designated time (typically 3-5 mins.), students discuss as a large group. The teacher has all the student- generated topics at hand.

TIPS – If class is unfamiliar with Google Docs, premake a document for each team that is accessible by one-click. This strategy allows every student to have a “voice” allowing the teacher to view the thoughts of all students.

The three strategies I mentioned above were ones that the students engaged and were highly effective in my classroom.

What Gift Does Your Content Area Give to Children?

Gifts

Creativity, Problem-Solving, Self-Expression, Lifelong Communication Skills, Science, Thrive not Just Survive, Communication through Images; these thoughts, along with numerous other words and phrases that were shared, are gifts teachers give to their students through their content areas. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to work with a group of educators from GHVS. The focus for the day was Cross-Discipline Literacy Strategies. Along with strategies to support literacy skills across the disciplines, I wanted the educators to keep in mind two points. First, every content area offers kids gifts; and second, to remember, they are the best reader and writer in the classroom.

While a common misconception is that cross-discipline literacy requires the use and study of non-relevant texts in content areas (ex. the teaching of Huck Finn in Industrial Technology), this was NOT a belief shared by the staff members at GHVS. A separate post could be written about the administration team at GHVS, but for now, I will simply state, the climate and culture in this district is one I wish I could share with others around the globe. First, the administration team has a clear focus and it is communicated with staff members, who they treat as professionals. Secondly, staff members believe that all students are the responsibility of ALL staff members. Finally, each educator came to the day with an open mind and collaborative spirit, helping each other through the sharing of strategies and practice is a norm for this staff!

With a positive culture, educators can do anything! And although the gifts that they felt their content area gave to students differed, they all agreed that promoting content-related literacy was something that helped to make these goals achievable. Providing instructional strategies, reading strategies, and writing strategies that are applied to content-specific “texts” increase comprehension and students’ ability to create similar forms of communication. We want savvy consumers of information, but also creators of content!

My passion, in education, is helping to support these gifts we give to students, specifically in the areas of literacy and technology. Here are a few of the strategies we used during the learning, as well as technology to support:

Sharing Cross-Discipline Literacy EDventureTo kickoff the day, staff members were randomly sorted into teams. Each group was given a pre-made set of slides (click on the image to the left to view an example set of slides). On each slide there was a link to a “point” on a Google Map that contained a text type and questions to answer. After each slide was filled out for the appropriate “point”, teams clicked on the next link (located on the bottom of the slide) which took them to the next “point” and text type. Staff members felt this game-based competition was engaging, relevant, and immersed them into thinking about text types! In fact, they have set up a time for further training on how to create a Google Map Adventure to use in their own classrooms.

When the Skill is Lacking, What Strategies  Will You Use to Make Meaning?

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (1)

 

Reading Strategy #1: Question and Purpose   Each staff member was required to bring 2 pieces of “text” that their students would read/view with them to the Professional Learning day. After the opener, they paired up with someone who was not in their content area. Each person shared their “text” and their partner then answered the following questions: If the “text” is the answer, what is the question? and What is the purpose of this text? This activity was eye opening. Staff members recorded their thought on a Padlet.(a virtual bulletin board where one can post text, images and video; collaborative and easy to use).

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (2)

Reading Strategy #2: Text/Me/So                    For this next strategy, the teachers actually applied it while digging into the Cross-discipline reading standards (click the image to view the template). This strategy requires the reader to use text evidence in the “Text” column, interpret and write in own words in the “Me” column, and finally make the connection or explain their understanding or application in the “SO” column. This effective strategy can be used on any “text” and is an easy fit cross-disciplines.

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (3) Reading Strategy #3: KWHLAQ                       This reading strategy takes a contemporary spin on the traditional KWL charts (click on this image to make a copy of this template to use in your classroom) that we have used in the past. While applying this strategies, educators read the Iowa Core cross-discipline writing anchor standards. The “K” column helps to activate prior knowledge by asking the reader what they already know about a topic or concept. Each letter of this acronym provides a specific task/purpose for the reader. This strategy could be used for a short piece of text, or could be utilized across a whole unit (for instance, when we studied Romeo and Juliet, my students used this organizer).

RAFTs Writing Strategy #1: RAFTs                                RAFTs strategy is a writing to learn strategy to help students understand lens and bias. (click on the image to read my blog post detailing RAFTs strategies). Staff members applied their notes from the KWHLAQ reading strategy to RAFTs. Each team chose a specific role (which could be anyone or anything,from a teacher or future boss to the voice of a pencil), a specific audience (student, parent, board member), format (letter, blog post, list), and purpose in the form of a strong verb. The topic was the same in each piece written: Iowa Core Cross-discipline Writing Standards.

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (4)Writing Strategy #2: Mindmapping                 Another writing to learn strategy is mindmapping. Here students demonstrate their understanding of a concept or topic through a visual, in the form of a map. Using Google Draw, the staff members created their own mindmap (cause-effect, flow chart, sequential) utilizing Google Draw to demonstrate their own understanding of a group members “text”. (Mindmaps are great for graphic organizers. Google Draw could also be used as formative assessment, think Exit tickets)

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (5)Writing Strategy #3: Infographics                   In almost every content area, Infographics can be used as a writing to learn strategy. Analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing; all of these cognitive operations can be applied to a text and then comprehension demonstrated through the use of an infographic. Canva (click image to access website) provides free templates for creating professional-looking infographics.

The day ended with a return to the gifts that we give to students in our specific content-areas, a sharing of the work that we did during the day, and a reflection on the value placed on pedagogical practices that support the students’ comprehension and creation of “text” across the discipline. On the way out the door, a student teacher stopped me and said, not only was this a fun day, but in college, it is hard to understand your role in literacy as a music teacher. Having a collaborative environment that even the physical education teacher could share ideas for me to use was nothing like I ever experienced before! I am a teacher of literacy, and the gift I give to students is communication through music!

My Mission – Accomplished!

All of my slides from the day can be found HERE

I am Not a Reading Teacher

“Gatekeepers of Information” a term often associated with overzealous technology directors who overblock websites denying students and teachers access to information.

I want to offer a different lens on the “Gatekeeper” label to include educators who claim no responsibility in the teaching of literacy strategies because they are not the “reading teacher.” When one takes this stance, students are denied skills, strategies, and opportunities to understand content specific rhetoric. The teacher, once again, becomes the “gatekeeper” of information; the lone expert in the class able to decode foreign concepts or understand information as if by magic. This logic only strengthens the dependency of the student on the teacher, contradicting the goal of education; to move all students towards independence.

Take, for instance, the following example of a typical 8th grade science test question:

www.nysedregents.org-grade8-science-614-ils62014-exam.pdf

 

The annotations I provide highlight areas that a science teacher could model as literacy skills. The goal of literacy across discipline areas is not to have all teachers require students read Huck Finn, but to teach students the necessary skills needed to read, write, and think like a “scientist” or “mathematician”, etc.

Most educators enter the profession with an open heart and a passion for teaching. They often find teaching students how to read and write a daunting task. They do not know where to start, how to assess, or lack confidence in their own skills. With this in mind, I offer the following advice.

5 Simple Starts to Tackle Content-Specific Literacy

1. Vocabulary – Identify common words that are specific to content areas, terms that are needed to build a foundation.

2. Structure/Format – Recognize the format a text uses is important to understand the type of reading required. Headings, Bold Faced Words, Glossary, Pictures or Diagrams; all of these things provide information for the savvy reader.

3. Organization – Content specific rhetoric often has repetition in organization. Cause/Effect, Chronological, General to Specific; identifying how the author organizes a text will help students locate needed information.

4. Mentor Texts – This term often confuses many educators because of the formal tone, but simply stated, a mentor text is any piece that provides a solid example that students try to mimic in their own writing. All teachers should have a collection of mentor texts (including their own writing) that students can dissect, study, and keep as a reference.

5. Model your thinking – Finally, as the expert in the room, modeling your thinking aloud makes clear strategies used to uncover the meaning of the text or question. This consistent modeling, paired with gradual release, will increase a student’s own learning strategies and provide needed practice which eventually leads to independence

 

Best of luck! Literacy Rocks!