To give some of my tech overloaded students a break, I decided to do some old-fashioned Language Arts. We read a few poems. Highlighted some neat words or phrases and discussed why things worked or didn’t work. When I took my writing classes a decade ago, I totally fell into the idea that a text could work or not work. Our teacher was trying to stop us from using words such as “like, suck, and good.” She felt those words were empty and not constructive. It made sense to me, but trying to teach this concept to teenagers can be a bit of a struggle.
While reading Carl Leggo’s poem “99 ways to look at a poem,” many students commented on how poetry and some of these words sucked. Like some ELA teachers, I’ve always had a soft spot for poetry and feel that it has gotten a bad rep’ in school. I probably seemed like a bit of a broken record because each time someone said the poem sucked, I would respond with, “that line didn’t work because…” a few students would babble through an answer, but some stuck to their guns and just said, “It didn’t work because it sucked.” However, I soldiered on, and hopefully by the end of the term, a majority will look at a text and discuss how it worked.
Another lesson I learned today is that maybe 99 lines of poetry is a tough way to change people’s opinion about poetry. If I get to teach this unit again in the future, I might start classes with a different line from the poem and try to spark conversation one line and one day at a time. Hmmm.