Names, Lists and Inspiration

I feel so guilty that we’ve had seven full days of classes and I don’t know all my students’ names yet. I’m getting there, but I think it always takes me longer than other teachers to learn their names. One teacher at our school gives out chocolate bars to students when he gets their names wrong… I’d have to buy Hershey bars by the case if I did that. I’m sure he thinks it helps him to learn their names faster, but I’m pretty certain it wouldn’t help me at all.

It was the first full week of classes, and in English class that means a lot of things done to generate ideas for writing and lots of discussion around good books to get students reading. On Wednesday I took all of my classes to the school library. I think we were the first group there to borrow books. At the first of the week I did several book talks with my 9th grade students and next week I’ll do more with both 9th and 10th grade classes. I’m asking my students to keep a reading list this year. Reader’s keep lists, physical or mental, of books they want to read. I want all of my students to be readers, and getting them to keep a list of potential good reads seems like a great idea. Also, it might help the search for the next book to be a little less painful for the reluctant reader. I find books that I’d like to read by looking in book stores, checking out goodreads.com, looking on Amazon’s various bestseller lists, and recommendations from friends. I’d say I use all of these equally and I hope to share how I use these resources with my students. Maybe once they’ve got lists made, I’ll share some of those lists here.

I’m having my students write memoirs, and sometimes it can be difficult for them to access their most meaningful memories. I think that we have memory triggers that exist in the sensory. Just like the smell of freshly baked bread can bring one back to their grandmother’s kitchen, songs can often bring us immediately back to a time and place we thought we had forgotten. One of the idea generating things I did, specifically to help my students access their memories, was an activity I discovered by reading Penny Kittle and Nancy Atwell. I call it “The Music in my Heart”. Almost everyone loves music and has favourite songs and songs that are significant in their lives for various reasons. I have my students draw a big heart, iPod, musical note or an instrument and inside that shape or around it, list all of those songs that are significant for them. Next week, I’ll have them choose a song from that idea generating activity and write about. If they like what they’ve written, it may become the draft of their memoir. Here’s my sample:

I shared the following poems with my students this week:

  • “The Summer We Didn’t Die” by William Stafford
  • “As imperceptibly as grief” by Emily Dickinson
  • “Fifteen” by William Stafford
  • “Kidnap Poem” by nikki giovanni

I’m trying to infuse the poetry all year, instead of dealing with it all at once in a short unit. I love poetry and feel that sometimes, well intentioned, we kill poetry for young people when we force them to analyze it to death. With each poem, I simply mention one or two things to note. After we read, my students and I have ten minutes to write in our writer’s notebook. They may respond to the poem, or write about the idea expressed in the poem, or choose their own topic for writing. It is my hope that eventually they’ll find poetry inspirational for their writing as I do.

I like to read when my students are reading, and write while they are writing. That isn’t always practical, but the modeling is invaluable. Yesterday, when we read “Kidnap Poem” by nikki giovanni, I began writing the poem I’m calling “Kidnapped”; I posted it to my personal blog. I still have to revise and edit, so what I’m sharing here is my draft. I may share it with my students after we’ve read some more of William Stafford’s poems, and maybe “You Know Who You Are” by Naomi Shihab Nye. It’s her tribute poem to him. After reading the giovanni poem I thought, if I were kidnapped by a poet, who would I want it to be? The answer was, William Stafford, hands down. I began to write.

Reflecting on the week, I recall one instance where I could have better handled the situation. I spent a little bit too long trying to ‘convince’ a couple of students that they needed to participate in what we were doing. The next day, they were both absent. I’m going to choose not to believe it was a result of what happened in my class. I need to access the resource department at school for some insight into their abilities and perhaps refer them to admin if they continue to refuse working. I need to remind myself to focus on the many students I have in front of me who want what I have to teach, instead of the few who resist. I need to, in a non-confrontational manner, encourage those who resist, but I realize I need to stand firm if it turns into a refusal to work. It’s a fine balance.

All in all, it was good first full week of classes. I’m looking forward to another week of reading, writing and loving it all.

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