Thursday, April 3, 2008

It's National Poetry Month

On Teaching Poetry

I loved teaching poetry. My favourite poetics experiences were when the grade 8s come to the library to "do" poetry. There are surely none so eager as grade 8s. In they would fly, heading for the computers to search for "poetry" on google.

Imagine my delight as they pulled up millions of sites. It was the same every year. When asked what was next in their search strategies, I could count on one or more to tell me they were going to look at the sites. Pushed a little more, they would then suggest limiters, words like "funny" or "love" ... but these too brought up too many sites. In fact, I would have pre-searched the numbers of sites they would likely have found by searching "poetry" and by using certain single limiting descriptors and calculated how long it would take, if they spent only 30 seconds on a site, to get through them all.

I wanted them to see that google as a source of poetry was messy and largely "unreviewed" and best searched if you had a particular poet in mind -- which didn't leave you open to the wonders of new poets. I wanted to introduce them to the subscription poetry database and be able to critique it for its limitations ... these Canadian children have a remarkable literary legacy of local and national poets of worth. The database is not very Canadian. The last time I used it, there was no Cohen, no Lane, no Bowering ... just Atwood.

More to the point, I wanted to show them the many small volumes and books of poems I had collected that were available in the school library collection -- old and new, for children and adults, in one voice or four -- these surely were the very best sources for poetry! [My powerpoint that accompanies this introduction is available on the tlspecial wiki: see item 6 "Sources of Poetry" under Tools and Strategies for Technology Integration with Teaching and Learning.]

The assignment, Poetry in Powerpoint, had them selecting a single poem to present to the class using powerpoint. The intro above had contained examples of how this would look: "I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree ...." The student would learn to use powerpoint and many of its features; the poem chosen by the student would be presented with a few lines on each slide as well as an image the student had chosen to represent how he or she visualized the lines. Additional slides might include analysis of poetic devices, interpretation, or information about the poet. Not only were the students working with poetry, they were delving into visual and technology literacies as well as practicing oral language skills with their presentations.

I loved being able to see how the student saw the poem. My favourite to this day remains "Dim Sum Girl" -- it turned out to be song lyrics from a NY Chinatown group called Notorious MSG; Notorious send the song out to all the girls who push dim sum carts all over the world:

It’s been so long since I’ve seen you smile
looking so good coming down that aisle
with that sexy dress and a little dim sum
makes me crazy when I order chow fun

While I am sure you can imagine the colourful images for this little show, most of them of food, I suppose it was just a little short on the traditional poetic devices!

Integrating technology's many tools and applications is always a challenge but it can be a fun learning experience too ... while Poetry in Powerpoint was essentially the same exercise for grade 11 Communications students, it was with here that I asked a student about the wonderful template he was using for his powerpoint. That's where I learned about Brainy Betty: now there's a source of templates to liven up your technology presentations.

Here's a fun site with lots to use for Poetry Month: has for the month of April a Poem-a-day feature and see also the page Resources for Teachers, Librarians and Booksellers has some great ideas for teaching poetry too.


More blah-blah:

If you were pondering the realities of teaching here in BC, imagine this: Teacher Suspended Over Book: CNN, March 26, 2008 (video clip)

The newly installed invisible counter on the tlspecial blog shows last Friday was the BIGGEST day of the week for "hits": of the 138 visitors who came to the site last week, 75 of them came on Friday. Not all of the visitors are from Vancouver.

Here's some reading for you: School Libraries Work! 2008 revision of Scholastic's "meta-analysis" of the research on school libraries.

No comments: