Tag Archives: teaching strategies

Poetry, Figurative Language, & Student Engagement

Poetry=Daydreams

Confession: my husband, an elementary school teacher, despises poetry.  He’d rather do dishes, take out the trash, cook, clean the litter box, go to the dentist, watch a RomCom, than read whatever I present to him as: “This is the single best poem on the planet, you must read this!”  Whenever I win the epic battle and he actually reads a poem, he admits to enjoying it; however, he refuses to discuss it.

This example illustrates the feelings of many of my high school students.   Typically, students are forced to read a poem (it’s part of an assignment) and several will say, “Mrs. Lee, I actually like this poem” as if the possibility of enjoying “The Truth About Public Transportation” by Allison Joseph seemed as impossible as enjoying school on Saturday.

On this three-day weekend I’ve been reading Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins, pausing after each poem  smiling, thinking of a specific person that matches each poem, and wanting the opportunity to share each one with my class.  But would the students allow themselves the freedom to be playful and enjoy this poetry?

Students feel like they don’t ‘understand’ poetry.

At the beginning of any year, there are groans when I pass out a poem.  Due to this, I start with narrative poems that help students connect personally with the writing.  For example, I often start with “Little Brother” by Naomi Shihab Nye and the assignment is for students to annotate with reactions and connections only.  I have sentence stems on the board, but after a few times, students don’t need the stems and they are comfortable with more organic annotations.

At this stage, I don’t ask for any academic language; my goal is connection and enjoyment.

High school students struggle with identifying and understanding figurative language.

One day, I expressed frustration that my students were not able to identify figurative language, let alone discuss the impact of this choice on the text.  My husband responded by saying, “Similes and metaphors were hard for me in high school.”  First, growing up on Ray Bradbury stories, this idea of not recognizing a metaphor in a bucket of unimaginative phrases seemed  implausible.  Second, who was this non-poetry reading man I had married?

Since this discussion years ago, I’ve not focused on identifying the figurative language as much as I have focused on responding to the impact of figurative language.  Typically, if I asked students to pull-out their favorite line in a poem, it contains figurative language and then we can have a discussion about the writer’s choice.  At the same time, I still provide activities to help students independently identify similes, metaphors, personification, hyperbole, etc. Here is an example that will serve as a warm-up for this week:

You can make a copy here.

I think the key to allowing high school students who don’t love poetry to gain an appreciation for it is to inundate them with amazing texts.

If you would like to see some of the poems I use, click HERE and please add one poem that you would recommend to the list!

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4 Uses for Newsela to Help Struggling Readers in Special Education

There is a divide between teachers and administrators when it comes to addressing the needs of lower performing readers.  Administrators want data in the form of charts, graphs, and test scores to show parents how the school is raising the reading level of their child while teachers want time for reading, choice books in hands, and discussions about personal connections, intertext connections and world connections.  The battle plays out year after year and when there is a new administrator, teachers think, for a moment, this time things will be different.

But it’s always the same-the results are felt by students in classrooms all over America.  The school buys a “Magic Program” that if used with fidelity, Lexile scores will increase and the charts will look pretty.  The discussion is not about the students or tapping into engagement strategies such as student interest, and this results in frustrated teachers and even more frustrated students who learn only that reading is boring, and a chore.

I’ve been through so many different professional developments on various reading programs such as: Language! and LindaMood Bell and Achieve 3000. While each program sells administrators with data, I’m not sure if administrators question the efficacy of the data–Which student population produced this result?-How many hours a day did students use the program?-How many students was each teacher/facilitator working with for the duration of the program?  As a high school teacher, I have found most programs to be extremely limiting in regards to student interest and choice.

This year, I have a new administrator. And I think things will be different.  Over a portion of the summer, I get to work with two other amazing educators and develop a curriculum for struggling readers.  Yes, it will include a program; however, it is a program that contains interesting material and it allows teachers to control how the lessons are taught and it allows for plenty of student choice.

Upon my suggestions and pleadings, my administrator purchased a three year subscription to the Pro Newsela for our students. I’ve used the unpaid version for various purposes with students, but the advantage to the paid version is that I can write my own directions for what I want students to do while reading, and also create my own writing prompts. The program also contains comprehension questions to allow teachers to give data to their administrators and also know which Lexile level will best challenge each student while reading.

I’ve brainstormed very simple uses for the program that I believe will benefit the students.  Please note that not *all* activities should be done each day–and furthermore, I don’t believe the program should be used everyday.  Most teachers understand that students need variety. While proficient readers internally monitor and adjust their reading strategies to match the challenges of a text, struggling readers have not learned these skills.  Listed below are four ways I believe that Newsela can be combined with other strategies to address struggling readers.

Annotating

Annotating is probably the most important skill to teach all readers.  I tell students this is the way you have a conversation with the text.  Unfortunately, if you do not teach *how* to annotate, and provide examples or sentence frames, students write summaries or small phrases such as: “I like this,” or “This is important.”  My go-to tool for teaching annotation skills for nonfiction texts is Reading Nonfiction: Notice and Note: Stances, Signposts, and Strategies by @KyleneBeers and Robert E. Probst @BobProbst. Annotating texts keeps students focused and helps them check understanding as they read.

Writing

Obviously, if a student struggles with reading, writing is even more problematic.  Sometimes struggling readers can be good with creative writing and poetry, but when it comes to more formal academic style writing, they often don’t know where to start, or what details to include. For the last few years, my school has focused on how to promote critical thinking across the curriculum.  One teacher shared a strategy that I have used ever since.  The technique is SEE-I response which is detailed in Learning to Think Things Through: A Guide to Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum  by Gerald. M. Nosich.

Comprehension

In my Methods of Teaching Special Education class with Sally Spencer, she introduced The Simple View of Reading originally posited by Gough and Tunmer in 1986:

Reading = Decoding + Comprehension

As teachers, we understand that comprehension can be shown through the annotations, through the SEE-I writing response-and various other projects and methods.  Alternately, administrators want data-driven comprehension measurements that are derived from multiple choice questions from programs that measure Lexile levels.  Newsela does have the data component and the best aspect (from the student perspective) is that after each article there are ONLY FOUR QUESTIONS!  While teachers can go about their business of introducing engaging texts and making reading strategies visible, they can simultaneously collect data for administrators and parents in a less painful manner.

Research

Finally, because texts do not exist in isolation, I want to utilize Newsela as a pairing with Poetry 180, a poetry website hosted by Billy Collins who is an amazing poet, and he was also U.S. PoetLaureate from 2001 to 2003. Students will read a poem from the website and then research an article that connects to ideas within the poem.

These are just my initial thought on Newsela–and I’m sure many more will tumble out at unexpected times.  What are some ways you’ve used Newsela to cultivate readers in your classroom?

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A Sketchy New Year: An Experiment for Spring Semester

A Sketchy New Year

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Every time I have a long enough break to reflect on my teaching, I suddenly want to revamp EVERYTHING.  I want to try EVERYTHING. First, I go to Pinterest and pin hundreds of ideas.  Next, I start at least 10 massive projects to transform my classroom.  It’s pathetic!  Sometimes I start so many projects at once, when I go back to one, I completely forget my original intentions.  Well, not this year.  You will be proud of me to know that I am only planning two transformations.  Today, I want to share my thoughts on classroom note taking.

Continue reading A Sketchy New Year: An Experiment for Spring Semester

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Reflection on Close Reading Projects for Hamlet

April Peebler as Hamlet, Ambre Lee as Polonius, photo by Deborah Gascon

The readiness is all-Hamlet.

While I’ve always loved that line, I’ve never had a chance to use it in my own writing (until now).  During the summer of 2015, I was extremely fortunate to participate in the Folger Summer Academy -an intense study of Hamlet.  At that time, I taught 9th/10th–but all of the teaching strategies transfer nicely to Romeo and Juliet and Othello.  Due to fate or providence, this year my teaching schedule changed to 11th/12th–which was obviously a mandate to share Hamlet with my new classes.

We did many of the activities I learned at the Folger Institute: two or three students act out a scene, while other students direct the actors, students formed groups and prepared a scene for the class.  We did a “To be or not to be” face off where the lines were divided into two characters and 1/2 the class read one character, and 1/2 the class read the other character.

While the Folger philosophy is one that is a practice of students facing the language head-on and experiencing the plays directly, as an SDC teacher, I feel I need to apply further techniques to ensure close readings and understanding of the text.  I will share four activities I did with different classes. Continue reading Reflection on Close Reading Projects for Hamlet

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