Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Starting with students' poetic journeys

A big focus in my graduate classes this year, and the topic of several workshops I've attended has been on making sure lessons start with student as the center rather than the content as the center.

In my World Literature classes we are about to embark on studying "The Rubaiyat" which I really like. It's an area of literature that I don't feel we cover a lot, and the themes are very applicable today. Plus, it's chock-full of literary elements so students really can practice identifying those and more importantly why they feel those were used.

However keeping in mind my new mindset, I decided to start off by having students create their own poetic journey. 

To start I told them I wanted them to create their poetic journey and passed out paper and markers. Then we brainstormed what they may want to address in their journey. One class came up with:
  • What do you know about poetry?
  • What poems / poets do you like?
  • What poems /poets do you hate?
  • How have you been taught poetry?
  • Can poetry really be analyzed or isn't all art beautiful in its own way?
  • Does music count as poetry? What about movies?
We talked about how they did not need to answer all these questions and I again emphasized that I did not want essays. I wanted them to show me their journey with symbols, images or small words and phrases. They would be presenting these informally to the class.  

I kept it pretty loose for a lot of reasons.

First of all many of my students are exchange students so they actually spent the winter break back in their home countries so I wanted to give them a day to kind of just casually remember the expectations of my class before delving back into academic English.

Secondly, I really wanted students to have a chance to get creative with this. I did walk around and help or guide students that were really just wanting to write down answers.

Finally, students had a tendency to read when presenting so by removing the words from the paper it created a more natural "talking about" rather than "reading from" tone.

As they worked, I walked around to guide students. One student took this very literally and she drew a literal path. The start of the path included a snowflake (the first poem she remembered). Further down the path she had the word THOU in big block letters and then she crossed it out (when presenting she explained that she did not like Shakespeare and that type of poetry.

I had another student who was from China and said "You know, I think that my journey is more about discovering the difference between Chinese and American poetry, so is it okay if I sort of compare  them?"
Part of the Chinese s American poetry

Another student asked if he could write a poem that talks about his poetic journey, so we had a lot of different things going on.

In the end I feel like students walked away with a feeling of student voice that they had contributed to the lesson and learned a bit about other classmates. I walked away with a series of misconceptions about poetry that I would be sure to focus on. For example, many students said that poetry is filled with words they don't understand and that it has to rhyme. However, they also pointed out that poetry is subjective which I think was good but they recognize that different people can interpret things differently.

This gives me a great jumping off point. Next class we'll do stations on the background of the poem, and I'll have a chance to tweak my lessons with The Rubaiyat to address the concept and the misconceptions that were brought up today during class.

Would you be willing to try this in your class? Why or why not? Suggestions for how I could make it better? Share in the comments!

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