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Category Archives: Lesson Plans

A Bee

When I taught poetry, I included haiku and writing them overlapped with our Social Studies curriculum. Bashō was a traditional Japanese poets in a Social Studies unit. As well, I asked students to draw pictures to add richness to their poetry.

Several parents and one administrator questioned the value of writing haiku. I told them it was finding the right word to express one’s self. That was enough for most adults, but the administrator and one parent did not get it. What is ironic is both make their living speaking publicly and I think writing haiku might be helpful.

I chose this haiku, because quite often we struggle to give up things we do not do well and seek the comfort of safe places. In this case, the bee is comfortable in the peony and is reluctant to leave.

Usually, the students enjoyed writing poetry and understood the benefits. Several students used poetry to keep notes in other classes. The students were concerned about the 5-7-5 syllable pattern than actually writing poetry. I told them to get their broad ideas down, find new words, and massage the pattern into place. They took their time and learned how to use a syllabus in the process.

How reluctantly

the bee emerges from deep

within the peony

Anatomy Class

Today, I looked for a poem and, after some searching, settled on this one by Betsy Franco. I had not heard of her before, but the poem is interesting. I wondered what my students would have thought of it.

The poem is playful and inviting. People want to play and explore the world they inhabit with others and we are often left surprised by what we discover.

Franco points out the paradox of the words we use and inanimate objects like chairs, clocks, and kites come alive. Perhaps, in the minds of children, they do live. Maybe words and language are less of an impediment to children. They are present to a world that is fantastic and subject to a myriad of interpretations.

The chair has

arms.

The clock,

a face.

The kites have

long and twirly tails.

The tacks have

heads.

The books have

spines.

The toolbox has

a set of nails.

Our shoes have

tongues,

the marbles,

eyes.

The wooden desk has

legs and seat.

The cups have

lips.

My watch has

hands.

The classroom rulers all have

feet.

Heads, arms hands, nails,

spines, legs, feet, tails,

face, lips, tongues, eyes.

What a surprise!

 

Is our classroom alive?

Do Pigs Have Udders?

The last year I taught I was away for a week in the fall. When I returned, the students told me they had not enjoyed the substitute teacher. They felt he did not let them chat and told them their conversations were inappropriate. As those students rarely crossed the line between appropriate and inappropriate, I was surprise and asked for an example of a conversation topic.

As they did their Science one day a student asked another if pigs had udders. They felt the conversation was proper and it fit with biology and animal husbandry. One girl, who lived on a farm, insisted they did and the other, who lived in town, said they did not. They asked me if I knew. I laughed and told them I did not know.

Initially, I phoned Kathy who was raised on a farm. She said pigs might have udders, but, if they did, it was a result of a biologic need to nurse offspring. Over the years, the topic came up. A farmer told me farmers don’t ask questions like that, because they don’t really care. Last summer, I read this poem at a retreat and described what had happened. A colleague did a search and informed us pigs do not have udders.

The experience informed me in two ways as a teacher. First, it pointed out an irrevocable truth: human curiosity and questions without absolute answers are essential in living and learning. Second, humans require safe spaces to ask questions like this.

A simple question

Eloquently posed,

It lacks a ready answer

Our curiosity is engaged;

Fueling our learning and conversations.

What does something mean?

Is it true?

Many queries;

We seek to fill gaps–

Certitude is elusive;

Uncertainty prevails.

Years later

I smile and chuckle;

I (re)member–

I appreciate–

A simple, provocative question–

Do pigs have udders?

People can ask the darnedest things. Humour is a cure for even the most challenging moments. It opens up safe spaces for questions to emerge.

 

Types of Rose Flower by Color – Red Rose Bud

Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. Dreams by Langston Hughes

Source: Types of Rose Flower by Color – Red Rose Bud

When I taught, I used this poem and Mother to Son written by Langston Hughes. The two poems carry deep thematic meanings about living life, having dreams to follow, and not making excuses when we come up short. I found that for junior high students these themes were important and helped them focus on how they were becoming adults.

Dreams give us a way to imagine we can figuratively fly in life. Mother to Son reminded us that it was not always easy to follow those dreams.

The red rose buds in the pictures add to the imagery about how fragile dreams are in real-time. We need to nurture them and bring them to life as we feed them.

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

Making Peace

Denise Levertov wrote this wonderful and I think it is a good way to bring my week to an end as I head to Sabbath. Stephen at Grow Mercy posted this earlier and I did try to share it with those who follow my blog. It did not make it over and this was the next best thing I could do to get it to you folks. Take a moment and visit Stephen’s blog.

I used a lesson plan with my students where we talked about a culture of war and a culture of peace. They had to describe each one and we did them separately. We have many more words that come to mind when we talk about peace. I filled whiteboard, they would share for an hour, be disappointed when it was over, and the quiet ones were always present. There is a presence in peace. The students ran out of ways to describe a culture of war very quickly.

A voice from the dark called out,

“The poets must give us

imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar

imagination of disaster. Peace, not only

the absence of war.”

But peace, like a poem,

is not there ahead of itself,

can’t be imagined before it is made,

in the words of its making,

grammar of justice

syntax of mutual aid.

A feeling towards it,

dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have

until we begin to utter its metaphors,

learning them as we speak.

A line of peace might appear

if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,

revoked its affirmation of profit and power,

questioned our needs, allowed

long pauses. …

A cadence of peace might balance its weight

on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,

an energy field more intense than war,

might pulse then,

stanza by stanza entering the world,

each act living

one of its words, each word

a vibration of light–facets

of the forming crystal.

The Opening of Eyes

David Whyte wrote this wonderful poem and it resonated with me today. We hold considerable wisdom collectively and individually. We each need to open all our senses and be receptive to what we hold. It is in the silence that we learn so much.

Today, only a few students attended. I decided some time ago that our Fridays would be art day due to the low attendance. Students focused on activities and silence reigned. I heard in the silence they want to finish the year positively.

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.

It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.

Leaving Home

I posted Taylor Mali’s poem, Undivided Attention, the other day and found my way to his website. He taught for several years in the New York City school system and he has lesson plans on the site. I tried one with the students that examines the difference between the literal and figurative on Thursday.

Mali posed provocative questions and students wrote short paragraphs. Examples of these questions are “What happens to the dreams you don’t remember?”; “Which letter of the alphabet is the most intelligent”; and “Do leaves look forward to falling in autumn? Or do they hand on for dear life?” Students struggled as one of the instructions was to not explicitly name the thing in the question. They were to artfully describe their letter, the leaves, or what happens to dreams and present them in figuratively and not literally. There was a lot of conversation and some writing.

I took matters into my hands and wrote a short paragraph. I wrote on the fly so the language is a bit passive and words i.e. visage were not the right ones. Visage is French for face so would not have glanced around. When I model, I find the students make more progress.

“He frantically clung to life fighting a losing battle against nature and her forces. At wit’s end, he valiantly, vainly hung on not submitting to a cyclical reality. He sensed loneliness and not solitude. Assisted by gentle breezes his discoloured visage glanced furtively around. He was in this alone. His colleagues humbly had moved on ahead of him finding their way to become humus and rebirth in the next spring. What to do now? He realized this was not the end he had planned for and took his leave that autumn day. His job done and he wafted towards his destiny.”

Today, I crafted this into a poem. The language is a little more active and I hid the topic. The answer is in the tags.

Frantically he clings to life,

He wages a futile battle versus Nature,

Against all her marshaled forces.

Valiantly, he struggles,

Unwilling to let go,

He wages this vain battle.

He senses loneliness;

His, a solitary stance–

Sans ally.

Today, a gentle breeze rustles only him;

His discoloured visage turns–

And, he glances furtively about.

Colleagues, long departed

Humbly headed home

They add a new, rich layer.

Silent humus and rebirth whispers,

Come, ready Mother Earth

Help prepare Her new garden.

Not the end he desired,

But, this past season’s calling is complete,

Wisdom speaks and he lets go.

Downward, he gently falls

And, his job is complete

Gracefully, he alights.

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