TEACHING THE CORE has a great series of blog posts on many aspects of close reading, writing argument and debate.
I also like this video on writing analytical paragraphs. I’ve always believed less is more, so writing tight, to the point paragraphs is a skill worth doing. We don’t have to write full essays to teach important skills of writing.
A decade ago, in an undergraduate English class, I learned to love poetry. I scanned Emily Dickinson’s “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” and understood that the “Boots of Lead” were more than pallbearers. They were also scratchings from a pencil, words making up the feet of Dickinson’s poetry. Boom. A light switch. At that moment, I realized, ah, this is poetry. I like poetry.
I have loved Dickinson ever since. During a course in graduate school, I read every single one of her 1,789 poems, making grand exclamations of tattoos I would get with her verses and gobbling up every dash and odd capitalization. Time has passed. I never got a Dickinson tattoo. And yet, The Poems of Emily Dickinson still calls to me from the shelf. Anytime I open it up, a new poem needles itself into my brain and I’m left silently repeating the words long after I’ve closed the pages.
The other day, I found “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –” and experienced that odd surge of emotion that poetry brings out. I had a smile on my lips, but the back of my eyes stung, a bizarre mix of joy and melancholy from how perfect words can be, how much they express with so little.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
Hope. No, wait. “Hope.” Those cheeky quotation marks are everything. Dickinson realizes that hope shifts and flutters and changes within you. While Dickinson’s “‘Hope’” could resemble some shade of “God” or “Faith” in this poem (or, at least, that’s what I first thought), when I read the opening stanza, I immediately thought “Portland.” Most recently my breed of hope has been Portland, Oregon.
When teaching mood, the first step in my 8 grade classroom is of course, discussing what mood is and how it differs from tone. Typically I storm in at the start of class and start demanding in an irritated tone that they get out their books, some paper and that they need to get busy. I try to act extremely grumpy and irritated. I don’t let it go long before I stop and smile and ask two questions.
What attitude did I have? (answers range from grumpy to mean to aggravated and others that will go unmentioned 😉
How did it make you feel? (nervous, upset, angry)
I tell students that my attitude was expressed partly through what I had to say- my tone. How I made them feel was mood. They really seem to get that.
We did a close reading of the poem, Abandoned Farmhouse by Ted Kooser last week. I read the poem aloud, then had the students read it again individually and then hold their thinking and note their observations, thoughts, questions etc..
Then we brok the poem down and looked at the tone of the poem. We found words that stuck out to us that showed the tone (broken, something went wrong,money scarce, winters cold). I had the students wrote the mood down and then find specific lines that supported the mood. We noted how each stanza talked about a different person: a man, woman and child. I had the students go back to the poem and find out specific things we knew about the people in the poem, and list them (the man was tall, the woman liked lilacs, the child played with a tractor etc..). We looked at repetition, figurative language and we discussed specific word choices that the author made.
Although we did a close reading of this poem, the students really did a nice job. They noticed a lot of really interesting things. I liked this poem because we could discuss all of the things I mentioned above and the students were able to understand the poem. They didn’t feel like the content, topic or language was above their heads. It was a manageable length to close read, and It didn’t scare them.
After we read the poem I had my students write a journal prompt about a place where they live, or have things. What would their room, house, or objects say about them. I also showed them this image. I felt this image really went well with the poem. They shared their writing and we all enjoyed a close reading and a writing session.
Can art save lives? Not exactly, but our most prized professionals (doctors, nurses, police officers) can learn real world skills through art analysis. Studying art like René Magritte’s Time Transfixed can enhance communication and analytical skills, with an emphasis on both the seen and unseen. Amy E. Herman explains why art historical training can prepare you for real world investigation.
Quill is a web-based tool that provides personalized, interactive grammar lessons for middle school students. We intend to expand Quill from a grammar tool into a general purpose literacy tool over the coming years.
We are building each of our educational lessons directly from the National Common Core State Standards by taking each topic and breaking it down into bite-sized lessons. For example, the conjunctions topic is broken down into smaller lessons focusing on each conjunction word, such as “but”, “and”, “or”, and “so.” Students learn these grammatical concepts by writing complete sentences. Students then are tasked with correcting short passages that have grammar mistakes placed within them. They are then given personalized homework lessons based on the problems they did not solve. Students become active learners by proofreading passages and writing complete sentences, rather than passively filling in multiple choice questions or watching videos.