This week I tried my hand at teaching poetry.
The thing is, I had approximately 20 minutes each day to teach said poetry.
The assessment I’ve been given to use basically requires them to be able to identify a number of poetry terms (like the sonic devices, terms like “stanza” and “meter”, and so-on), as well as identify several different kinds of poems (including ballad, free verse, and cinquain, among others).
Knowing this – and trying to fit all of this into 1 week of 20-minute-per-day-sessions – I ended up teaching a series of seriously sub-par lessons.
Sitting here writing this in reflection, it’s all so clear. Students are not going to remember what the definition of “alliteration” is if all I do is tell them what it is whilst pointing to the dictionary definition of it displayed on a document cam, from my place at the front of the classroom where I am chained to the computer desk. Students are not going to recall or understand things that they haven’t explored and discovered themselves. Students are not going to learn from the bad poetry teachers from Dead Poet’s Society – which is who I felt like at several points this week.
Oh, I had my successes. Showing them what “ballad” is by playing When I Was Your Man by Bruno Mars as a demonstration was a slam-dunk. And clearly these kids are very into sharing their own poetry – clearly, the most engaging parts of each lesson have been the times when students have shared.
That just makes the realization that I spent other times doing nothing that was conducive to anyone’s learning all the more frustrating. I guess what I’m feeling right now is mainly a sense that I barely know what I’m doing – that if I ever succeed, it’s by accident. I feel like most of the theory I’ve had crammed into my brain over the past year has fled my skull, leaving only vague emptinesses. I feel paralyzed in a state between not quite being able to recall the reasons why I do what I do, and not having enough experience to know how to move forward.
Okay, I’m going to stop now, and pose 2 questions.
1. What the heck do you do when you have only 20 minutes to teach something?
2. What’s the best way to teach poetry to a class of 5th graders with a very wide range of comfort with that sort of literature?