Thursday, November 27, 2008
Amok in Third Grade, Day 5
When it’s Revision Day with elementary schoolers, I loan every student a pair of re-vision sunglasses. We’re going to look at our poems again, pretending we've never seen them before. I’m learning, too. During last year's residency at Norwood, I tried to cram everything in on Revision Day. “Did you use any onomatopoeia? What about a simile? If you’re changing ideas, remember to leave a space to show a new stanza.” The kids were overwhelmed. I realized that elementary schoolers can tackle one thing during this lesson. Most important to me and their teachers: making their poems look like poems. Sounds simple, right? Not when your teacher has been telling you “fill the paper” with writing for three months. Not when you’ve written (horrid shudder) dozens of BCRs before your 9th birthday, faithfully filling up those little lined boxes with topic sentence, supporting details, and explaining how the text relates to yourself. Their first drafts tend to look like a blob of words. If the paper runs out on the word “a” – that’s the end of the poetic line. Choosing *not* to write to the very edge of the paper is a big hurdle for third graders. Here’s how we take the leap: 1. I borrow a very blobby first draft from a student and put it on the document display. (If the school only has overheads, I arrange with the student and teacher in advance to make an overhead copy.) 2. The whole class goes through the poem phrase by phrase. I mark a back-slash every time we see a new idea or feel we should start a new line. I explain that the / mark is a poet’s symbol for “new idea, skip down!, start a new line” and that this draft is like a map for our rewrite. Some students get this right away and are excited to contribute. They see where the lines breaks should go. However, the class poet has the last word. 3. If we see simple errors like spelling, punctuation and dropped words, we fix them. 4. I get fresh paper (best to have the same kind the students use) and rewrite the first several lines. Now the poem is beginning to look like a poem! 5. The teacher and I walk around the room. Some kids will recopy their poems, writing to the end of the line, dutifully copying the slash marks onto the new draft. We explain and start again. 6. Throughout the workshop, I am putting work on display. If Josh is getting the hang of line breaks, I’ll show the whole class his rough draft with the “skip down” symbols, then his new draft. It looks like a poem. What an exhilarating moment that is for young kids (and their teachers). Sometimes, the children even see how a poetic line emphasizes words and ideas, making them more powerful. Whew! That was hard, important work. The students are beginning to absorb the idea that poetry is a different type of writing, with special rules that set it apart. By now, I'm glad that we've planned a fun lesson for the last workshop. More on that tomorrow.