Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teaching & Preparation

Last week I did very little in the way of preparation for my poetry lesson. I planned my lesson very quickly the day before and I decided to not include work from a famous poet. I'm not sure why. I suppose because I wanted them to have more time to write and read their poems out loud. I also wanted to play some writing games. Things I discovered during this lesson:
  • Always plan more than you think you need. Even if you don't get to everything, it's good to have a back up plan in case they finish quickly or just aren't engaged in the activity you plan.
  • Students might not be as excited about a project as you are, no matter how hard you try.
  • Environment will have a large affect on the productivity of your class. If you have an easily distracted group, consider your space with caution.
All of these things affected my lesson last week. I was ill prepared on a number of levels. Since my lesson was planned in haste I did not have time to consider a very hands on activity. I planned on having the students work collaboratively by playing a surrealist writing game, Exquisite Corpse. While they thought the name was cool, they did not enjoy the activity. They did not understand how the lines connected and kept trying to get them to "make sense." Also, these particular students are very attached to their own work so they did not like working collaboratively. While at first I found this unfortunate, I realized that I probably should have done more scaffolding beforehand, giving them samples of other collaborative poems. Their lack of interest also seems to be connected to their emotions; they simply like writing on their own and take pride in each poem.

Because the first activity did not go over well, it really set the tone for the rest of the class. The students sort of devolved into simply wanting to read their own poems in front of everyone, but would not listen when other students read aloud. I attempted to model and reward good speaking and listening skills, but perhaps by the end of the day they simply were not able to pull things together. We also were in an environment that made it difficult to focus. Most students were sitting on the floor in an area that was decorated with colorful wall paintings and objects hanging from the ceiling. They were also distracted by the teacher elevator and wanted to play with the buttons. It just kept getting worse and worse.

While I feel like I learned a lot from this particular class, it really was a tough experience. I never really totally lost control of the students, but I did have to continually re-engage them. When you are working with this particular age group (mostly 10-12 year olds) it seems that knowing where they are developmentally would help. If I really gear activities toward being hands on and social, they will be more engaged. I also found that if I can appeal to universal feelings through poetry, like feeling excluded, students really respond.
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