Reviewing Reading Logs & Exploring the Devices (and Dashes!) of Poetry
Lesson 2 of 8
Objective: SWBAT evaluate the effectiveness of Romantic poetry by summarizing, describing imagery, explicating figurative language, and connecting the poem's structure to its overall theme.
Last class period, we embarked on our new unit, Romanticism and Transcendentalism. We also began using a Metacognitive Reading Log, which is a key tool used with WestEd's Reading Apprenticeship program. I gravitated toward this program last year when I was looking for a way to help my students develop purposeful reading strategies to read all kinds of texts more critically. After implementing this program last year, I discovered a plethora of beneficial student results, including increased comprehension, raised standardized test scores, and more student engagement in class discussions. The reading strategies are also widely applicable to all content areas, and many community colleges use the same reading framework to guide instruction, making it a highly relevant endeavor to preparing students for college. From a teaching perspective, reading logs and Reading Apprenticeship allow me to more easily identify student struggles to provide remediation, and planning for class discussions is dramatically reduced, as students are in the driver's seat of the lesson. While the Common Core definitely requires different kinds of teacher preparation activities, it also frees up some time for teachers to differentiate to meet the needs of specific students since students are much more actively involved in their own instruction.
Before we begin discussing the Metacognitive Reading Logs for The Devil and Tom Walker, I want to take a moment to show students why we are shifting our focus to reading processes instead of just hunting for the answers to "Comprehension Questions" at the end of a selection. As I've mentioned before, many students approach this new style of reading with trepidation, since reading at this depth and actively using critical thought is a new activity for many of them. To validate that feeling and provide some assurance that they're not "doing it wrong," I will play the short video "How and Why We Read" by John Green. While reading, students will be asked to consider if he's correct in what he says about the merit of "authorial intent" and if they consider the author or the reader the most powerful part of the literary equation. These ideas will inform class discussion immediately after the film.
Once students have watched the clip, I will ask students the following questions:
- So what's your overall impression of the clip and his views on how and why we read?
- What did he say about "authorial intent?" Do you agree? Does it not matter?
- Who do you think has more power, the author or the reader? Why?
- I subscribe to the John Green reading "philosophy" he describes here, which is why I use activities like the reading log you completed last night to help you consolidate and support your ideas. So what does the John Green "philosophy" of reading mean as far as your responsibilities as a reader?
After we complete our discussion about the purpose and motivations for reading, I will gather some feedback about their homework assignment. Students had to complete the CERA (Curriculum-Embedded Reading Assessment) questions at the end of their reading, so they will have information ready to contribute to this part of the discussion. I will ask them what their experience was like with the reading log, clarifying that I do NOT want to talk about the content of the story, just the reading process itself. What made it easy? What made it hard? How did the logs contribute to the understanding of the text? How does the text complexity of this piece compare to the other works we have read so far?
Finally, we will go over student-based questions on The Devil and Tom Walker using their reading logs. The beauty of this assignment is that students come to class with questions, which can be answered largely by other students! They also have reactions that they can share with others, which creates deeper meaning and a sense of community understanding. It's collaborative learning at its finest, in my opinion. To better organize this collaboration, however, I will ask a student (or students) to summarize the entire story, then limit questions and discussion to specific chunks of the text. We will collaboratively address that section, the move along to the next section. If students deviate from this plan, I will respond with, "That's a great question, but hang onto it until we get to that section." The chunks that I will use are:
- From Tom's entrance into the swamp through his discussion of a deal with the Devil
- From his deal with the Devil to his discovery of his wife's remains
- From discovering his wife's remains to the completion of this deal with the Devil
- From his deal with the Devil through the end
I attached in the resources section topics that I plan on covering during this time period, though generally students bring them up (and answer them!) all on their own. I've definitely become a pro at turning around every question about content back at the students! It's so much more fun teaching students to express themselves and instruct other students than it is to deliver content dryly while fighting for classroom engagement!
To transition from The Devil and Tom Walker to our next set of texts, I will ask students to explain the differences between prose and poetry. Students will likely say that poetry is more figurative, poetry has stanzas instead of paragraphs, poetry has rhyme and meter, and poetry is typically shorter than prose. My goal will be to get students to see the same features that exist within prose to aid readers' comprehension (like sentence construction, imagery, context clues, and clues to figurative language's meaning) also exist in poetry, which typically gets a somewhat negative connotation as "hard to read" by students. I will also emphasize that poetry is meant to be read aloud because it contains auditory features of language that help the reader better understand the text and appreciate its beauty.
Next, I will ask students to review the values of Romanticism so that we are more prepared to deal with them as we see them in this set of poems. Then, students will view "The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls" to examine it and form initial impressions of the work. They will also be asked to describe the beaches that they have been on before and explain how the sound of the time is actually imitated within the title of this poem. To best demonstrate the auditory elements of the poem, we will use a choral reading! I love this activity because students really don't get the opportunity to hear poetry that often, and the effect of 33 voices all reading the same poem is chilling. Somewhat cult-like (I always joke), but awesome to hear at the same time! Students will be surprised that they are reading this aloud, but I will explain to them a few things we will do to read this poem BETTER. First, I will go through words in the poem that students may not know to reduce anxiety of reading aloud as a group. I always read the words "curlew," "hastens," "efface," "neigh," and "hostler." Also, I will stress that students need to read through ends of lines without punctuation, only pausing at punctuation marks. This is an idea that I will harp on all year to increase comprehension of poetry. I will make the analogy of reading poetry stopping at the end of every line as effective to your comprehension as throwing all of your sentences into the blender before reading. Choral reading is a great way to ensure that "reading through the lines" actually happens without singling out any students. Finally, we will work out as a class how to best start our reading to ensure that no student is "that guy" and jumps the gun on reading! I tend to use a "3....2....1....*vehemently motioning to the crowd to begin reading on the last beat*" philosophy, but whatever works for your room is great!
We will read the poem aloud together, and then we will analyze the poem's imagery and auditory effects. In order to do this, we will begin by having a student briefly summarize what happens in the poem. I will also ask students what kinds of things they heard within the poem that called to mind a beach or tide or emphasized some other element of the poem. Then, I will draw (extremely poor-quality) stick-figure pictures on the board based on what students say they visually SEE in each stanza. In order to get students to relate to visualizing this poem, I will connect the concept to a music video. All students have heard a fabulous song on the radio and developed an idea of what the music video would look like, only to find that the ACTUAL music video was terrible. This activity is like making the music video that you wanted to see! I tried to think of a clever name for my "poem videos," but I could never successfully come up with something adorable (nor could my students who were consulted!). I will make a brief sketch of the first stanza on the white board, then erase or add elements that appear in the second and third stanzas until we discuss the imagery of the whole poem.
To take the concept even deeper, students will then explain what they feel the symbolic meaning of the poem is. What is the town? Where does the traveler go? What's with the guy working in the stable at the end? They will likely come fairly quickly to the idea that the town is death, but they will also likely feel that this poem suddenly feels very depressing. To counter that idea, I will ask students to provide textual evidence that shows that the author does not intend this message to be depressing! Some of the reasons for this include:
- The cyclical effect produced by the repetition of the line, "the tide rises, the tide falls," and mirrored in the progression of time in the day (from twilight to night to morning) and tide cycles, helps the reader accept that death, too, is just a process and part of the "circle of life." Inserting a casual Simba Lion King reference will help lighten the mood here as well!
- The traveler "hastens" toward the town, which is a word that says you're heading somewhere quickly. You really don't hasten to things that are bad.
- The footprints disappear, but not in a violent way at all. It's just a natural result in what happens to your life accomplishments and memories of you.
- The stable at the end shows that life goes on, even though the traveler is now dead.
- The overall tone and setting of the poem is very relaxed and calming, highlighting the fact that this death is not a source of struggle or pain.
Finally, we will take a look at the process of "scanning" a poem using the "The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls" handout. While students have been exposed to analyzing rhyme and meter before, I want to be sure that they understand the process and add the step of considering how these features of the poem come together to strengthen the meaning and beauty of the poem. After reviewing the scanning handout, I will ask students one final question about the poem, which will be, "How does the structure of this poem reinforce or challenge Longfellow's message? Use evidence to support your claims."
As a final piece of today's lesson, I will ask students to take the process of poetry analysis that we just practiced as a whole group and apply it to another poem. We will be using a poem by Emily Dickinson to do this, so this will open up an ideal time to tackle the Common Core Standard requiring instruction on hyphenation and dashes! I refuse to build free-standing lessons for skills like these, because they really only work in a way that is relevant and applicable to students within a real context. Luckily, Emily Dickinson provides that context here.
Before we begin analyzing the poem "I Heard a Fly Buzz..." students will get a brief introduction to Emily Dickinson's odd life and massive collection of poetry. Students always enjoy learning about the quirky behaviors and lives of poets, so I just can't deny them! Next, they will quickly scan several of Dickinson's poems to note some of the characteristics of poems written by Dickinson. The collection of poetry I will have them scan is:
- I Heard a Fly Buzz...
- The Soul Selects Her Own Society
- My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close
- Water is Taught by Thirst
Students will likely note that her poems are shorter in length, contain shorter meters, don't seem to be very traditional with rhyme scheme, and use dashes like nobody's business! This will make a great segue to the mini-lesson on the differences and usage of hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes. I have seen an increase in students using em dashes excessively, so I this year I will address this problem early! I try to encase my grammar lessons within other lessons to help add meaning to them, but I also try to "jazz up" the lesson formatting by using quirky Google Drawings and other unexpected tools that are better received by students than your average English textbook, which is how this dash lesson came about. Students will save a copy of the dash drawing for later reference in their writing projects.
To analyze "I Heard a Fly Buzz..." a student will first read the poem aloud. Then, we will follow the same analysis format that we did for the Longfellow poem. Students will offer a brief summary of what actually happened in the poem, then describe the imagery they see in their "poetry videos" for each stanza, and follow that up with describing how the text provoked such imagery, both figurative and literal. A great example of this is using the section of the poem that says, "The Stillness in the Room / Was like the Stillness in the Air- / Between the Heaves of Storm." Students may picture a room filled with loved ones around the dying narrator, but some may picture that room in a house in the middle of a physical storm. Others may relate the alternating stillness with the heaving storm of the loved ones crying. Whatever the images students may conjure, they will need to provide the textual evidence that prompted them to make those judgments. Finally, students will explain an overall theme of the poem. It will be important for students to ask questions during this time, since they will be replicating this procedure at home tonight for homework on a different poem.
In the final minutes of class, I will give students their homework, which will be an independent practice of today's poetry analysis. I will provide a list of possible poems, and students will have to choose one to analyze. They will be encouraged to scan the poem for structural hints as to deeper meaning, and they will be required to choose a poem, read it fully, then articulate an objective summary of the poem, describe the imagery-filled "poetry video" that they created in their minds for each stanza, and provide an overall theme of the work using examples which influenced their thinking. The poems available to students will be:
- The Soul Selects Her Own Society (Dickinson)
- My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close (Dickinson)
- Water is Taught by Thirst (Dickinson)
- When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer (Whitman)
If they would like extra credit, they can also push themselves to read and perform the same activity with a more difficult, lengthier poem, "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant. I rarely provide extra credit for students, but with the quarter nearing its close, I decided now would be an ideal time to allow students the opportunity to gain extra credit while pushing their limits of applying their newly-practiced skills. There is a sample student response to this task in the resources below, which I was thrilled to see included some of the elements of the metacognitive reading logs as well as the requirements for this project! It's always great to see students genuinely applying the skills they learn! All poems will be discussed next time using student work to teach the rest of the class.
Next class period, students will present their poetry analysis project. We will also continue evaluating poetry by looking at a trio of poems written about the same theme, and we will begin working on understanding allegory with an entertaining (and unexpected by students!) scaffolding activity using Dr. Seuss.