Poetry Problem: The Process Overview

I recently participated in a project for my MAET year 2 coursework in which I was asked to take on the role of a technology integration consultant for a classmate.

My classmate and I identified a problem of practice in our own teaching, analyzed the problem based on our own context and experiences (using the TPACK framework), then handed that off to the other person to be solved. I was fortunate enough to be paired with Lauren Seamans, an experienced middle school English teacher in Wyoming.

Lauren’s problem of practice (this is what she sent me):

The unit I want to focus on is the 8th grade poetry unit. This unit ends with a compare and contrast essay as the final project and display of student understanding. Students are coming into the unit with prior knowledge of poetry terms (but will need a refresher because they learned these terms in 7th grade) and they will have basic compare and contrast skills but they will need practice on multiple parts of compare and contrast writing before they reach the final essay.

By the end of the unit, students will be expected to read two separate poems with either similar themes, symbolism, or imagery and compare how the poems are similar, but also different. Students will also be expected to correctly cite textual evidence that strongly supports their similarities and differences. As they analyze the poems they will be able to identify the central theme(s) and also describe the different craft and structure from each poem and how it affects the reader’s interpretation. They will need to publish a clean essay that meets all the standards of writing, and use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

The problem with this practice is that students really struggle with the compare and contrast essay and they lose interest quickly. Students specifically struggle with finding theme and symbolism. These are complex concepts and many students have a hard time truly finding and explaining them. Students are successful if they can compose an essay outlining similarities and differences between two poems, and are able to present their thought process to the class.

Process:

Step 1: The first thing I needed to do in attempting to solve Lauren’s problem of practice, was to understand more about it. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Lauren and ask her some questions about the issues she was having and different approaches she has tried before. This helped me understand not only her previous attempts at this unit, but also where her strengths and passions lay, so that I may use that information to inform my recommendations.

Step 2: The next thing I needed to do was to gather some resources and ideas from experts in this field – namely other teachers. I reached out to my PLN via Facebook, Twitter and email to gather my experts. I was able to develop a Facebook group in which participants could engage in a discussion with one another as they share ideas and resources. I was fortunate enough to have several people share their feedback and ideas with me, which I have cataloged in a Google spreadsheet.

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Step 3: is using this feedback to narrow my solutions to five iterations. During this process I realized that the problem of practice I was attempting to solve was much larger than originally anticipated. The good news – each piece is interconnected – so I can hopefully focus on the ‘root’ of the problem, and let the solutions trickle down from there.

Main issues:

  • Students lose interest quickly throughout this unit
  • Students have trouble with abstract poetic concepts of symbolism and theme
  • Students struggle with writing a compare and contrast essay about two poems that focuses on symbolism, theme, imagery and other poetic element

Step 4: The next step was to dive deeper into research on teaching poetry, poetic elements, and compare and contrast rhetoric. I found three resources that provided insight into Lauren’s problem, and also corroborated the validity of her issues and concerns. These resources helped me determine a course of action in developing my five ideations for Lauren’s problem.

Ideations:

      1. Use high interest, classic canon, poems to hook readers into poetry
      2. Start with song lyrics and music videos
      3. Have students write their own poem first and then find poems to analyze that relate to the theme they have already written on — Anthems
      4. Create scrabble poems using student’s favorite books or quotes
      5. Create blackout poetry using student’s favorite books

Step 5: The last step in this process was to reach back out to my PLN and discuss my findings. My PLN would then provide additional feedback and collectively determine the best solution for this problem.

  • My PLN overwhelmingly believed that the number one priority and best practice in approaching the teaching of poetry is by focusing on student engagement through personal, cultural and contextual relevancy. I decided asking students to create their own anthems and using them as a mentor text would be best for achieving this goal.

Prototyping:

To accommodate for several components of teaching and learning poetry, poetic elements and poetic analysis, I prototyped my own sample anthem and the process of using it as a mentor text using Google Docs, Lino and iMovie.

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GoogleDocs

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Lino

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iMovie

Recommendation:

I believe that in Ms. Seamans’s classroom, the pedagogical change needs to occur first, with an overlay of technological change to accommodate for new access to resources. The addition of crafting personal poetry to be used as a mentor text will best help students ‘buy in’ to this unit and retain their engagement throughout.

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