It seems like some of my best lessons and most successful classroom activties strike at times when I'm less concerned about a perfect and tidy plan and more focused on student needs and engagement. It seems simple and obvious enough, but adjusting my "work barometer" is something I'm always trying to finetune.
Last week my AP Literature students worked hard at reading, interpreting, and analyzing poetry. It was the kind of week that felt like a great workout -- challenging and a little uncomfortable, but valuable and motivating because you're getting leaner and stronger.
Each day, we took on a new poem. To kick of the new year, we studied a beautiful poem called "At the New Year" by Kennth Patchen. We then went "down the vista of [our own] years" with D.H. Lawrence's "The Piano." And after several student requests for "animal poems" (they're cool kids, what can I say?) we took a look at the wonderful and Zen "Golden Retrievals" by Mark Doty and the fiercely self-aware hawk of "Hawk Roosting" by Ted Hughes.
By the end of the week, students' increasing confidence in poetry analysis was palpable. So on a welcome 2-hour delay Friday morning, I thought it best we hit the brakes and play for a day.
Here's what we did.
I asked students to create a structure or sculpture that extended, supported, or highlighted an INSIGHT they had about ONE of the poems they studied during the week.
The goal was for students to revisit, re-read, and deepen their understanding of one of the poems from class and to use manipulaitves and play as "a way in" to their insights, interpretations, and analysis.
After that, we broke out the hand sanitizer and a big bucket of toys and got to work.
Here are some highlights of student work:
After time was up and all students had completed the task, I asked students to complete a Quickwrite Journal explaining and unpacking their thinking and choices in creating their structures or sculptures. Some questions I asked:
Besides the excited and bubbling "This is so fun!" from students, the best part of this purposeful play: Students were invested in learning and discovering more about the texts -- I heard thoughtful conversations and read thoughtful commentary about the poetry we studied. So...
WVCTE is wondering...
What does purposeful play look like in your classrooms? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Karla Hilliard teaches STEAM Academy Honors English 10 and AP Literature and Composition at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, WV. She's a contributing writer on www.movingwriters.org and a teaching fellow with Collaborative for Student Success. When Karla isn't teaching, you can find her hanging with her husband and two little girls.
Karla serves as Executive Vice President and Head of of Secondary Affairs for WVCTE. See what's happening in her classroom at www.hilliardsclass.com or connect with her on Twitter @karlahilliard.
An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves. ~Bill Vaughan (1915–1977), in The Kansas City Star
If you’ve been anywhere near social media, then you know the vast majority of the world was ready for 2016 to come to an end. And I’ll admit, part of me was right there with them. This year saw the horrific violence of Syria, we lost Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie and Princess Leia, and let’s not even talk about the chaotic, weird, divisive United States election.
Yeah, 2016 was a doosey. For a hilarious recap, check out this parody of a man who slept through 2016.
Like most folks, when New Year’s Eve approached this week, my knee-jerk reaction was “good riddance 2016.” But then, I sat down to draft this blog post and realized that for all the awful things that happened in the past year, there was also an extraordinary amount of awesome, specifically for our WVCTE community.
For starters, WVCTE received its official NCTE affiliate status, our membership has grown, we’ve connected educators across the state, and we’ve begun planning our first state-wide conference for March 2018. Our little organization hosted its first professional development session in September with the authors of Writing with Mentors, Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, and it was attended by over 40 teachers from West Virginia and Maryland. Our Best Practices blog has been reaching teachers all over the state, country, and world, and we’ve given West Virginia ELA teachers a platform to share their stories, success, and strategies. (And we designed these really great t-shirts...)
So no, I can’t say the 2016 was a bad year. In fact it was an incredible year, and 2017 has some pretty big shoes to fill. I look forward to the next year with hope and optimism.
And like most hopeful, optimistic people I have made qutie a few New Year Resolutions. Most of them are pretty standard proclamations like "get fit," "get more sleep," and "drink more water," but I've also made a few Teacher resolutions, and I would like to share two of them here:
Teacher Resolution Number 1