A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 14 2010

When Doing Too Much Isn’t Really Doing Too Much

My students recently criticized me en masse for doing too much I told them we’d have “work” to do every day until the end of school on the 22nd.  Today, I discovered that the first day of “doing too much” wasn’t really doing too much.  I will present a simple and effective poetry lesson that shows this.  Also, you’ll see an interesting collaborative poetry activity.


I introduced poetry to my students today.  The Do Now asked students to define poetry in their own words.  Afterwards, we discussed our general attitude towards poetry.  Most said they hated it.  They though it was “confusing,” “stupid,” “pointless” and “dumb.”  I told them that I agreed that, these days, poets and poetry are often looked upon with disdain.  Who really needs it, right?

I then told them that we were going to “reexamine” that idea.  I was about to defend poetry by explaining 3 characteristics that make poetry powerful and unique.  I made sure to provide relevant examples of each characteristic, to show them that poetic language–language that is intense, precise and concise–can be useful in any context (in this case, while describing a person’s job and while expressing love to a significant other).

Here is the (static) Powerpoint for your viewing pleasure:

The crazy thing about this was that I originally made this Powerpoint for grad school.  I presented it to my masters colleagues.  Almost nothing is changed.  Yet, my students ate it up.  They were all nodding in agreement after I presented each example, which showed that poetry is more meaningful than meets the eye.

Furthermore, they were able to pinpoint the characteristics that we learned in the guided practice poems.  They immediately noticed the concision in the Craigslist Missed Connection ad.  They saw the intensity of the “Smoke and Mirrors” poem. And they agreed that Dryden’s language was precise.

I was also able to “wow” my students and flaunt my poetic knowledge (limited though it may be) by reciting John Dryden’s “Happy The Man”.  They literally could not believe I had a poem in memory (sidenote: in our 21st-century, gadget-filled world, doing things from memory is losing its place–this saddens me).  The cheering was incessant.


Thus, as we moved into our “Independent Practice,” my students had completely changed their views on poetry: they could relate to and saw value in it. Now we could do some composition–collaboratively! (Note: the TFA model of lesson planning involves the “gradual release of responsibility” where, on some sort of skill, the lesson goes from “I Do” to “We Do” to “You Do”.  Unfortunately, the link between the guided practice (“We Do”) and independent practice (“You Do”) was quite weak.  I blame this on the end of the year.  I wanted to have some fun.  I did, however, ask them to use intense, precise and concise language.)

The collaborative poetry exercise was a hit.  Students basically took a blank notecard and wrote down a topic that they wanted to write about on one side.  Then, they wrote exactly one line to begin the poem before passing it clockwise around the classroom.  The next student wrote one line.  Once the poem returned to the original writer, s/he wrote the final line to close out the poem.  What came about was an interesting mix of poems that showed the give and take necessary in any form of collaboration.

What pleased me the most was that many of the themes and messages that I have tried to convey throughout the semester appeared in the poems.

  • First, I am comical in the way I express my love for literacy (I tell them that “books are like babies” and when they ask me if I’m hitting up the club on Friday night, I respond, “yes, definitely–the book club, that is!”).
  • Second, I am emphatic about students not being “afraid to take risks or make mistakes.”

See for yourself…



Books are like babies,

They need to be taken care of and understood

Books are like the key to life

Books make you smarter

Books broaden your mind

Books are interesting

Books are [the] way to success

Books [are] good thing[s] to learn from

Treat them with respect.

“Taking Risks”

Taking risks is a way to become successful and smart

Risks help you be fortunate

Doesn’t hurt to take risks

Risks must be taken to exceed

Taking risks can open a door

Taking risk[s] can help you do the right thing

Taking risk[s] can help you [win] something

Just do it,

There’s nothing to it.


I’m going to attempt to leverage my students renewed interest in poetry to teach students how to write found poems tomorrow. This will also help me purge the many magazines that my classroom has accumulated this year (thanks to you library donors out there)!

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6 Responses

  1. sjp

    Hi! I’m an incoming DC corps member and would love to get in touch with you. Would you consider shooting me an email sometime when you have a spare moment? Induction draws nigh…

  2. Barb

    I found your blog today through a link on the Education Sector digest, and read every single entry.

    Congratulations on making it through your first year of teaching! The classroom management issues you experienced are typical of ANY new teacher — classically trained by colleges of education or TFA.

    I suggest you get a copy of Harry Wong’s “The First Days of School” http://www.amazon.com/First-Days-School-Effective-Teacher/dp/0962936022

    It can help transform your classroom management. It has helped tens of thousands of new teachers get a grip on how to manage a class, no matter what background their students come from.

    Good luck, and keep blogging!

  3. Just found this blog today from the Quick and the Ed. Three posts in, and I love it. I’m a fellow English teacher in Tennessee who’s also enduring a layoff. Your blog is going in my RSS feed. Keep it coming; I love the slideshow.

  4. It seems like there has been a flurry of folks coming from Education Sector. Awesome!

    Barb, I actually already own Wong and Wong’s “The First Days of School.” I really appreciated the read. What was particularly nice to know while reading the book was that many of the principles and ideas mentioned were essentially covered in the TFA pre-institute readings that we had. I know TFA receives a lot of criticism for its “5-week training”. While I do agree that this is a short time, I guarantee that every second of those 5 weeks is spent studying and learning about the essential components of teaching. The readings we do, the sessions we attend–all of it was invaluable. TFA’s teacher prep team (or whatever they’re officially called), in my book, does an awesome job preparing us.

    JasonP, thanks for reading and I am, sadly, glad that I am not alone in this. Cheers.

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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