Tag Archives: poetry

NCTE Verse: Sekou Sundiata

For the past month, National Council of Teachers of English has been sending its members a poet a day celebrating more than 20 poets, the majority of them contemporary and up-and-coming. The last one share for 2020 National Poetry Month was one that I wrote about the poet Sekou Sundiata. As a first year teacher in New York City twenty years ago, I saw Sekou Sundiata perform live at the New School University and still today, he influences my teaching and writing poetry with my students. For more information about past poets and teaching poetry check out NCTE.

Poet of the Day: Sekou Sundiata
Sekou Sundiata’s poetry touches on issues of race and identity. A poet and performance artist, Sundiata’s poetry performances infuse jazz, blues, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. He wrote the plays Blessing the Boats, The Circle Unbroken is a Hard Bop, The Mystery of Love, Udu, and the 51st (dream) state. Sundiata was the first Writer-in-Residence at New School University where he taught literature and poetry classes. In 2001 he toured with Ani DiFranco, whose Righteous Babe record label released LongStoryShort. Sundiata was featured in Bill Moyer’s PBS series The Language of Life and the PBS series United States of Poetry, created and produced by Bob Holman. Sundiata said of his work, “This is poetry-as-living-word. That’s the tradition I come out of . . . the spoken word as a celebration of life, as expression of consciousness through the power and glory of language. Poetry not as monologue, but as dialogue; a chant, a call, a response, a riff, a refrain and whatnot.”
This poet belongs in our classrooms because . . .
Poetry is music and music is poetry. Sundiata’s poetry has a political edge and speaks of black culture and tradition. The topics he presents about race and identity are part of an ongoing conversation about America’s identity, citizenship, and individuality. Sekou Sundiata is considered one of the grandfathers of the spoken-word movement. Poetry in our classroom is not just for literary analysis, but for performance too. Poetry is meant to be spoken and heard. It evokes emotions, reactions, and is a catalyst for critical conversations in the classroom.
A Poem by Sekou Sundiata
Blink Your Eyes
I was on my way to see my woman
but the Law said I was on my way
thru a red light red light red light
and if you saw my woman
you could understand,
I was just being a man.
It wasn’t about no light
it was about my ride
and if you saw my ride
you could dig that too, you dig?
Sunroof stereo radio black leather
bucket seats sit low you know,
the body’s cool, but the tires are worn.
Ride when the hard time come, ride
when they’re gone, in other words
the light was green.
I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in
Up to the window comes the Law
with his hand on his gun
what’s up? what’s happening?
I said I guess
that’s when I really broke the law.
He said a routine, step out the car
a routine, assume the position.
Put your hands up in the air
you know the routine, like you just don’t care.
License and registration.
Deep was the night and the light
from the North Star on the car door, deja vu
we’ve been through this before,
why did you stop me?
Somebody had to stop you.
I watch the news, you always lose.
You’re unreliable, that’s undeniable.
This is serious, you could be dangerous.
I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in
New York City, they got laws
can’t no bruthas drive outdoors,
in certain neighborhoods, on particular streets
near and around certain types of people.
They got laws.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in.
Other Poems & Performance Pieces by Sekou Sundiata
New American Theater (Dodge Poetry Festival)
Teaching Connections
“Blink your Eyes” can be used for text comparison or text pairing with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, or Nic Stone’s Dear Martin. Additionally, this poem can be part of a discussion about Jim Crow laws and racism throughout history. This poem was written in the mid 1990s addressing racial profiling and stereotypes, but provides context and connections to history and today. Looking at craft and structure, students can examine how Sundiata’s figurative language and repetition provide meaning and emphasis.
Discussion Prompts & Text-Dependent Questions
  1. What is the author’s message about racial injustice?
  2. How does the author use irony to describe his feelings for his readers?
  3. The poet uses details to guide our emotional response. What emotions do you believe the author intended the reader to experience and why?
  4. What is the significance and symbolism of “red light” emphasized throughout the poem?
  5. How does the personification of the law contribute to the poem?
As Jay-Z writes in Decoded, “Rhymes can make sense of the world in a way that regular speech can’t.” Listen to the poem multiple times; when we only deconstruct the poem on paper, it loses its full capability. Recognize how the music and rhyming adds an additional layer with the sound of language to make meaning. Check out Bryce Ware’s reading of Sundiata’s poem as well as Sundiata performing his poem.
All of Sundiata’s poetry can be used as a model and mentor text for students writing and performing their own poems about social injustice and oppression.
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Poet of the Day Playlist

Educators are teaching remotely now that school are closed due to COVID-19. My focus for my students and children is staying healthy under this stress, fear, and anxiety of the current situation. Whereas grade are important, mental health is my primary focus. I do not want to cause more stress, fear or anxiety that children might already be feeling working from home, confined to their home, and away from their friends.

As educator and author Kelly Gallagher stated on his website, “The last thing I want to do with my home-bound students is to load them down with brain-numbing packet work. So this lesson plan was designed to honor student choice, student agency, student voice. This is not the time to give students chapter quizzes on their at-home reading of 1984.”

Similarly, I want to provide my students with opportunities to read, write, and reflect. I have created a poetry playlist for the next few weeks so that my students can read poetry, learn about different poets, and then write in response to the poem. I want to inspire them to write their own poetry.

Poetry Playlist

April in National Poetry month but these poems and poets can she shared any time of the year. I am sharing this three week poetry playlist with teachers to use and adapt for their own classroom.

I ask students to respond to each poem. Students are asked to write one page (or more) in their Battle of the Books Notebook or Writer’s Notebook,  capturing thoughts, questions, comments, and connections about the poem. The directions I provided are based on a poetry one-pager posted online by #NCTE:

  • Write the title of the poem and author’s full name
  • Quote a line from the poem and explain what you believe it means
  • Draw 5 images from the poem and caption the imagery that inspired each
  • Create a boarder using a key phrase
  • Select a main idea of the poem and relate it to your own life
  • Define 2 important words from the poem (Definitions should be in your own words)
  • Quote a phrase or line – make a personal connection to it
  • Explain why a friend might want to read this poem
  • Add color to all the images
  • On the page adjacent to your response,  write a poem or free write inspired by the poem

Poetry Response

Do you have a favorite poem or poet to include on the playlist? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

 

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Engaging & Empowering Readers with Penny Kittle & Kelly Gallagher

I have been waiting all week to write this post because I wanted to share the insight I gained from a workshop today with Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher sponsored by Heinemann Professional Development.

As literacy teachers, our goal is to make kids better readers and writers. What does that entail? Everyday practices of reading, writing, studying creating, and sharing. 

Kelly Gallagher began by referencing Pedro Noguera, a distinguished professor of education at UCLA  who said we are asking the wriong question. Rather, “We need to ask what can we do to challenge and stimulate our students?”

Both Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle talked about moving towards generative reading and writing vs. task oriented reading and writing. “We want students to generate their own thinking first.” When we ask students to answer specific questions about a text they are answering our questions and focused on the task at hand.  Students are getting too immersed in tasks. Tasks are getting in the way of rigorous thinking and what is the value of this text.  If we are to encourage and engage students in deep thinking about reading and writing students need time to read and talk about reading IN CLASS. 

Richard Allington, “Reading is less about ability and more about opportunity.” The volume of reading is key. How much and how often students read affects their lives in crucial ways. 

As teachers, we need to focus on:

Time — Choice — Access

In Gallagher’s classroom, there are three goals for every reader:

  1. Increase volume of reading
  2. Increase Complexity
  3. Develop an allegiance to authors and genres

When it came to talking about how to motivate readers the following practices are in both Kittle and Gallagher’s classrooms: 

1. Their Own passion

2. Choices

3. Book Talks – Start of every day is a book talk to help students find books they love. Why? It creates a willingness to practice outside of class. Read aloud a piece of the text everyday in a book talk. 

4. Time to read in class –20% of class time devoted to Independent reading and conferences. Gallagher mentioned it takes a couple of weeks for most students to get into 10 minutes of sustained independent reading

5. Holding Reading Conferences – In conferences, students learn how to have meaningful conversations in a safe 1:1 setting with a teacher who can move their thinking.

NCTE's Position Statement on Independent Reading

As NCTE defines “Independent reading is a routine, protected instructional practice that occurs across all grade levels. Effective independent reading practices include time for students to read, access to books that represent a wide range of characters and experiences, and support within a reading community that includes teachers and students. “

 

As for writing, low pressure writing is a daily occurrence in both their classrooms. Students write quick writes daily and after 10 quick writes in their notebooks the students decide which one they give the teacher permission to read. Students are reading and writing everyday in class. 

Students use their writer’s Notebooks based on what Donna Sandman describes as

A workbench – a place to practice 

A place to stumble on ideas – a collection place

A place you go to do work – a playground 

Both Gallagher and Kittle shared their own writer’s notebooks. They spoke about writing alongside students and allow students to see you struggle as a writer.

Additionally, they talked about the importance of daily flash revision. Allowing 90 seconds a day of tinkering and polishing your writing. Rather than peer editing, they have students,  “Tell your writing partner one thing you did to make your writing better.” Revision is kept in a writer’s notebook. Students put a sticky note on one page they want us to look at. Notebooks are meant to support the writer, not evaluate her. Students are given ten minutes to craft one page of writing. Gallagher tells his students, “You have stories to tell, that only you can tell the story.”

Penny Kittle broke down some old way of thinking about teaching writing versus new thinking about writing:

OLD Thinking NEW Thinking
1. Kids should produce one big paper over weeks of work
2. Tell students what to write and how to write it, which makes writers dependent on the teachers (Checklist)
3. Writing process is defined as prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and final drafts graded with a rubric – Students work mostly under teacher direction throughout unit
1. Opportunities to practice the same skills multiple times (Laps around the tracks) in different contexts which makes writers more flexible and skills transferable
2. Students decide on a focus for their writing and how to organize their ideas effectively for an audience which increases confidence in applying what they learn as they struggle with these decisions in other rhetorical situations. 
3. The writing process includes generating ideas through quick writing to poems, infographics, photos, editorials, etc. These quick writers are revised as regular practice. 

Both Kittle and Gallagher shared tons of book titles and poems to use with students for reading and quick writes. These texts provide a seed that will spur thinking. Students are encouraged to grab a word, grab a line, grab a hot spot and then write off it. 

Here are ten poems shared in the workshop and used for quick writes:

“Camaro” by Phil Kaye

“what the dead know by heart” by Dante Collins

“Hair” by Elizabeth Acevedo

“Kitchen Table” by George Ella Lyons

“Deer Hit” by Jon Loomis

“Native Tongue” by Micah Bournes

Kwame Alexander: Take a Knee

Rigged Game by Dylan Garity

“B” by Sarah Kay

Lastly, a piece by Matt La Pena worth checking out.

“Why we shouldn’t shield children from darkness” by Matt La Pena

Here’s a complete list of spoken poetry shared by Kelly Gallagher

 

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Makey Makey Literacy Mashup

In my newest book, New Realms for Writing (ISTE, 2019) I have a chapter on poetry, video production, and hacking poetry with Makey Makey. Makey Makey are invention kits for people of all ages. The circuit boards in the kit mimic a key board and allow users to create circuits and turn anything into a touchpad. Check out the original Kickstarter video by inventors Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum.

makey-makey-contents-2

When I saw Colleen Graves, librarian, author, blogger, and maker extraordinaire describes her hacking poetry project with high school students on Twitter the possibilities of using this tool in my English classroom were endless.

Hacking Poetry means that students create interactive poetry experiences using different apps and makerspace materials. Colleen first had her students select a poem that intrigued them. They read and analyzed the poem by drawing the key images associated with poem. Having students create visual representations of the poem and the imagery in the poem requires them to think critically about the poem’s meaning and symbolism. Then, using the coding program Scratch, students recorded audio reading aloud the poem to convey meaning,  mood, and tone. Lastly, students programed the drawings to play the poems with Scratch and attached the Makey Makey alligator clips to the computer or a conductive item so the poems could be seen in words and images as well as heard and read back to the students.  

I wanted to do something similar with my 8th graders. Using poems and songs, students would first create found poems about themselves based on the self selected poems and songs. Then, students would illustrate their found poems before including the audio component.

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 5.44.34 AM

Graphite is a conductive ink that you can use to attach the Makey Makey alligator clips  right to the student illustrations and it works as a conductor passing electricity. The Makey Makey Booster pack comes with special pencils but I went on Amazon and purchased two boxes of Graphite 6B pencils, softer artist pencils for my students to use for their projects. 

Students created small booklets with their poems and illustrated the booklets. Later using Scratch we added music and audio to play back the poems. There are endless possibilities with the Makey Makey to combine making and writing. For example, I have seen students create interactive poster boards and display boards for research projects. Students can invent something to contribute to the world in a positive way in a design challenge. These projects require critical and design thinking, two important life skills. On the Makey Makey website you can find a gallery of projects inspired by educators across all content areas for more ideas.

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April is National Poetry Month

I was recently going through all my teaching notebooks and I came across the poetry unit I taught my first year of teaching in New York City. On the first page of the unit was ee cummings’ A Poet’s Advice to Students. His sage advice can be applied to any genre of writing.

A Poet’s Advice To Students

e. e. cummings

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

Looking through my notes and lesson I also came across the poem collection I wrote along with my students. It was called “Poem Advertisement” because that is how I started to write my poems, I searched through the magazines I had in my apartment and ripped out the funky advertisement logos I found a liking to. Yet, when I looked through and read all the poems, there is a distinct theme about escaping and not holding on to what people tell you. I wrote in the introduction that I “wrote these poems behind your back, I sat up one night and just wrote and wrote and continues to play with words trying to create poems. You keep pushing me and asking me to write and so I did, and this is what was born. It is difficult for me to pick a favorite poem because it is hard to play favorites with your feelings.”

Untitled

I.

Fire is the passion

of anger I feel for

my friends

II.

Tomorrow I will swim in

tears I cry over

many beautiful memories

III.

Doors open towards the

light gleaming off

the snow

IV.

Green grass stands

together unlike

my own solitude

which hammers

at my lonely self

 

Untitled 2

Trying

to capture

a poem

full of vivid color

and vivaciousness

I am not

going

to let it get away today

I stand

still

silently

absorbed

in this search

for

a time thought

be quiet

so it will

come to me

your noise

only scares it away

 

 

 

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Haiku: Teaching Japanese Aesthetics Through Its Poetry

An old pond:

A frog jumps in —

The sound of water.

by Matsuo Basho (translated by Harold G. Henderson and Geoffrey Bownas

Many students have been introduced to the poetic form of haiku in elementary school. It is a deceptively simple form which constructs an entire poem with only 17 syllables organized in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively. Typically, if you ask students of any grade or ability level what they know about haiku, they will tell you about the 5-7-5 structure. Perhaps they will have some idea that many haiku are about nature. I like to start a haiku lesson or unit of study from that point from the students’ perceptions that haiku are mostly about their form, to the reality that haiku are perfectly distilled representations of several aspects of Japanese aesthetics: an appreciation of simplicity, of impermanence, of suggestion, and of nature.

Criteria for Haiku:

17 Syllables

3 Lines

5-7-5 Form (traditional Japanese haiku poets count “sounds,” not syllables. 

Doesn’t rhyme

Usually about nature (not required)

Shows change or contrast

Can go from the general to the specific or vice versa

Very Condensed form: suggests rather than tells

Seems simple, but makes you think or evoke feeling

Emphasizes impermanence, the quality of things which do not last. 

Almost all haiku contain a seasonal word or phrase which indicates the season, like “spring rain.” In Japanese, this seasonal word is called a “kigo.” Additionally, the poet usually introduces an image in the first line which he then illustrates or contrasts in lines two and three, or he develops an image in lines one and two which he then summarizes or contrasts in the final line. Haiku cluster the image at the beginning [5-7]-5 or the end 5[-7-5] of a haiku. This technique of “cutting” – the Japanese term for switching from the general to the specific, or from one image to another related one. Haiku are written in present tense. A haiku freezes one moment in time the way a snapshot does. There is no firm rule regarding capitalization and punctuation in English haiku nor as to whether haiku comprises a complete sentence. These things are decided by the poems themselves, on a poem to poem basis.

Haiku began in Japan during the 17th century. A haiku should share a moment of awareness with the reader. Peace, sadness, mystery – these are only a few of the emotions that evoke haiku and which we can feel when we read haiku. The key to our feelings about the things around us and to the feelings we have when we read a good haiku, is the things themselves. The things produce emotion. The words of the haiku should create in the reader the emotion felt by the poet, not describe the emotion.

Before trying to write haiku, it is a good idea to look over some examples. Think about each one. What makes the moment it talks about special? What word or phrase tells you the season? How does that affect the meaning of the haiku? Notice how many haiku create emotions by connecting two or more images together in a strange, new way.

Because haiku have an alive now quality, most haiku do not have any metaphors or similes. For the same reason, haiku poets do not use rhyme unless it happens accidentally and is hardly noticeable. In making haiku, try to present something in the more direct words possible. Haiku are about common, everyday experiences and avoid complicated words or grammar. As one expert on the Japanese haiku called it “a poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived in which nature is linked to human nature.”

between the pages

of a favorite book I find

squashed fruit crumbles

— Annie Wright

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10 poems to make you think, cry, cheer, and respond

Poetry is powerful. Poetry tells stories. Poetry is testimonials. Poetry persuades, informs, and inspires. In an article for the Atlantic, Andrew Simmons wrote, “poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.”

In my own classroom I have utilized poetry throughout the school year for close reading, text to text connections, textual analysis exercises. Students are not only readers and listeners of poetry but also poetry writers themselves. Creating poetry for our multi genre projects and point of view exercises, responding to and writing as characters in the books they read. Below is a collection of powerful poems to share with secondary students for close reading, critical analysis, and mentor texts.

Stair-Poem

How to Write the Great American Indian Novel by Sherman Alexie

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Awe Struck: Poetry & Art Collide with Chihuly

The New York Botanical Gardens is currently showcasing artworks by world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly. There are more than 20 installations, including drawings and early works that reveal the evolution and development of Chihuly’s artistic process during his world renown career.

Chihuly is known for his vibrant glass sculptures. His work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide. He has been the recipient of many awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Glass as an art form is relatively new in regards to American art history. Glass as an art form did not flourish until the 1960s. Dale Chihuly was introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. After graduating in 1965, Chihuly enrolled in the first glass program in the country, at the University of Wisconsin. He continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he later established the glass program and taught for more than a decade. Due in part to the influence of Dale Chihuly and his founding of Pilchuck Glass School, glass has taken on an unique form of expression and art (http://www.chihuly.com/learn).

Chihuly’s work and installation at the New York Botanical Gardens is breath-taking and inspiring. In fact, The New York Botanical Garden, in partnership with Poetry Society of America, presents a Poetry Contest for kids in elementary, middle, and high school who live or study in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Students are invited to submit poems (written individually or with student collaborators) inspired by the installations on view at The New York Botanical Garden. The poems are judged by Newbury Award Winning poet, Jaqueline Woodson.

Here are three of my favorite poems on display with Chihuly’s work.

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Sapphire Star

Oh Sapphire Star, your beauty and grace
To see you completely
I’d have my eyes, detached from my face.
You are simple and complicated, but never overrated Whenever I see you, my amazement is automatically instigated. To pronounce your greatness, I’d have to say it with my mind When I rst saw you

You put your signature on my subconscious
Which will forever be signed.
You are a ne work of art, seeming to be made by da Vinci You have my awe, and everyone else’s
Across every sea.
Sapphire Star, you have also taught me a lesson
That of which my heart and mind is taped
To be yourself
No matter who you are
Or what type of abstract shape.

 

Marcus Lopez-Pierre, 6th Grade
Success Academy Midtown West New York, New York

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Sol

Spirals like the way dance makes my hips move left and right
Overjoy people’s faces with the vibrant colors, allusions
Loops like the way natural hair does in its natural state bouncy and coily

del

Dazzles you with brightness that may blind your eyes in a snap of a hand Exquisite like the sparkles sparkling on a disco ball
Luxurious for everyone to enjoy going beyond what they can imagine

Citrón

Curves like the way a worm slithers back into its habitat
Injects you with freedom into a new world like Chihuly
Ties all the pieces together to make it unique
Rams all the ideas, differences in your mind that it suddenly goes “poof” Ongoing into my brain was rst a little thing that wasn’t possible

Now it’s a large scale glass curling sculpture Sol del Citrón

 

Essence Sanders, 8th Grade

Harlem Academy New York, New York

 

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Skillfully Sculpted

Glistening in the sun The way water does On days where
The sun

Like a diamond Sparkles
On its throne in the sky

Fountaining up
With bubbles Perched
Where the
Column of water Breaks at the top Into a petaly array And cascading down Sending ripples out From its landing point

Delphinium Sibley-Wilson, 4th Grade
Bronx Community Charter School Bronx, New York

 

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Poem A Day Challenge

I was recently inspired by an image on Twitter when someone shared their classroom bulletin board for #ABookADayChallenge. The image showed 180 Polaroid Photos turned backwards, each numbered along a grid to be turned over with an image of the picture book shared every new day of school. I thought, how cool to read aloud picture book everyday of school and share the joy of reading and books with students.

The #BookADayChallenge started back in 2009 by author Donnalyn Miller as a public declaration of to the commitment to read one a book a day for every day of summer and now it has morphed into a school year challenge.

Thinking of my own middle school students, I thought what are other ways that I can read aloud short sections of text (four periods a day) daily to my students to participate in the Challenge and share great books. I thought about picture books and whether my students would feel as if I was reading down to them with picture books. Yes, I know that picture books are written for all ages and I have read many picture books aloud to my students over the years with no quarrels. My thoughts extended to poetry. What if I read aloud a poem everyday of school to my students to jumpstart class, celebrate words, begin a discussion, and make connections.

Newbury award winner and poet, Kwame Alexander says, “The power of poetry is that you can take these emotionally heavy moments in our lives, and you can distill them into these palatable, these digestible words and lines and phrases that allow us to be able to deal and cope with the world.”

And so begins a new school year with #APoemADayChallenge. The read aloud will be a bell ringer and appetizer for the classroom activities for that day. The plan is to choose poems that connect with our inquiry units and build community.

Here are the poems planned for the first week of school:

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

A Journey by Nikki Giovanni

The Sweetest of Nights and the Finest of Days by Judith Viorst

Smart by Shel Silverstein

Additional Poems to be included this month:

So you Want To be A Writer? by Charles Bukowski

How to Write the Great American Indian Novel by Sherman Alexie

It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers by Margaret Atwood

My First Memory (of Librarians) by Nikki Giovanni

Hanging Fire by Audre Lorde

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All Depends On the Skin Your Living In: Building Text Sets & World Knowledge

This past March I attended the Long Island Language Arts Council Spring Conference and was able to sit in a great session on Writing About Reading. Kate Gerson, a senior Regents Research Fellow for Educator Engagement and the Common Core of NYSED,  presented the shifts in writing demanded by the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts/Literacy; specifically how the Common Core writing connects to volume of text read, knowledge about the world and knowledge of words.  She mentioned that writing equals expertise and expertise is informed by language (vocabulary) and knowledge. Vocabulary is built through a person’s knowledge of the world. The more a person knows about something, they can read about it, begin to make sense of it, and acquire knowledge and vocabulary about it.

Not knowing words on a page is debilitating and slows a reader down. For ELLs and students with disabilities this can be a even harder challenge. Thus, if we want students to be strong readers with world knowledge and robust vocabulary, teachers need to expose students to information about the world and have the language to discuss it that is accessible to our students diverse needs. Consuming information about the world works best in chunks. Language and vocabulary is acquired over time. A steady growth of knowledge comes with daily reading, writing, and speaking. Teachers can use text sets and build their own text sets that are accessible and consumable for their students. These text sets can also help build student knowledge about the world and expose them to rich information.

Here is a text set that I have started to compile on race and racism in connection with all the racially driven police brutality present in the news. The text set includes a music video, poetry, and a short film that can then be paired with current newspaper articles and young adult novels. The key is that I am continually build text sets around the literature my students are reading and additional domain knowledge.

Poem “BLINK YOUR EYES” by Sekou Sundiata

I was on my way to see my woman
but the Law said I was on my way
thru a red light red light red light
and if you saw my woman
you could understand,
I was just being a man.
It wasn’t about no light
it was about my ride
and if you saw my ride
you could dig that too, you dig?
Sunroof stereo radio black leather
bucket seats sit low you know,
the body’s cool, but the tires are worn.
Ride when the hard time come, ride
when they’re gone, in other words
the light was green.

I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in

Up to the window comes the Law
with his hand on his gun
what’s up? what’s happening?
I said I guess
that’s when I really broke the law.
He said a routine, step out the car
a routine, assume the position.
Put your hands up in the air
you know the routine, like you just don’t care.
License and registration.
Deep was the night and the light
from the North Star on the car door, deja vu
we’ve been through this before,
why did you stop me?
Somebody had to stop you.
I watch the news, you always lose.
You’re unreliable, that’s undeniable.
This is serious, you could be dangerous.

I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in

New York City, they got laws
can’t no bruthas drive outdoors,
in certain neighborhoods, on particular streets
near and around certain types of people.
They got laws.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in.

French Rapper Stromae’s Music Video “Papaoutai”

KWA HERI MANDIMA – Short French Film/Memoir (Can Connect with other texts related to Violence in Sudan & Rwanda such as Linda Sue Park’s Long Walk to Water)

New York Times Articles “Thoughts on Race in American, a Backdrop to Ferguson” by Nicholas Kristof 11/25/2014

“Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist” by Nicholas Kristof 8/27/2014

To find out more about the National Text Set Project or attend one of their training programs, check out their website.

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