Category Archives: Teaching Ideas

Talk about teachable moments

One poem in a magazine. The internet explodes.

Resources:
Here’s the original, which now has an editor’s note/apology.

The twitter apology from the poet, Anders Carlson-Wee.

Long, thoughtful response from linguist John McWhorter.

Former poetry editor at The Nation writing in the New York Times.

There’s twitter back and forth between Stephen King and Roxane Gay I don’t feel like screenshotting.

Times Literary Supplement here.

Two pieces from the National Review. One and two.

I would like to read this poem with a diverse group of thoughtful students.

Starting Inquiries

I would like them to respond directly to Mr. Anders-Wee. Does the poem give offense or does it poke all of us to think about homelessness? How do the different people in our room read the poem? How do we simultaneously listen to perspectives offered by our peers and formulate our own?

I would like to think about the politics behind a work of art. How do we manage representation of others in our work? Can a man write as a woman? As an old guy, may I write as a teenager?

I would like to think about when and how do we separate the author from their work. One of my favorite books for teaching about social class and race was authored by a now-disgraced writer. Should we stop reading that book altogether? Is it up to the reader to deliberate over the identity of the author?

(All of these are long-running debates in American literary criticism and politics. Amazing how one short poem can poke so many…)

Possible Activities
One
Read the poem once. Read the poem again with a picture of Mr. Carlson-Wee on screen. Read poem with a picture of a youngish black man on the screen. Read poem with picture of youngish Asian woman on screen. Read poem with picture of youngish Hispanic woman on screen.

How did the poem change as the picture of the author changed? Did it change? Should it change?

Two
In small groups have students write biographies of a young poet who just got a huge break by having poem published in major magazine. Mix them up. Read three of them plus biography of Mr. Carlson-Wee but don’t let on which is which. How did hearing the biographies change things?

Three
Risky but might do anyway. Most of my city kids have had interactions with homeless, mentally-ill and/or addicted individuals. Living in Philly since 1990, I have stories myself.

In small groups, how would you capture those stories artistically? You can describe a poem, a play, a work of art, but you must be able to explain:

  • why you choose this form of art?
  • why this is the most respectful way to capture this situation?

    As a group, we would talk about why you might want to make this art and what traps you might face in doing so…

    Four
    How do assumptions we make about people shape how we read their work? What would a checklist look like for someone trying to figure out their assumptions or biases? Is it different, the ways in which we read art versus other interactions?

    Five
    Taking these three days, what would you like to say to the poet? What would our group like to say? Maybe as a group poem to be sent to him?

    More to come…

  • Adolescent Literacy

    Reading a recent text on how teens learn to read (Jetton & Dole, 2004) and I start to remember my issues with the literacy folks.

    I always approached reading as emerging from engagement. If I had framed my class right and had gotten students invested in the topic at hand, then they would do battle with difficult texts. If students were given a chance to express themselves, they would happily search for the best word and slowly shape their arguments into the form I requested. The discourse of the class would aid their efforts to read.

    I still think this is how you start in high-school classrooms, particularly when there are many students who struggle with reading. But I’m realizing that maybe ten minutes an hour might be well-spent in hardcore, explicit instruction on how to decode words. NOT giving vocabulary lists, but giving real sentences (from real texts) that contain difficult words, and discussing how to draw meaning from the words.

    Foundations class

    I’m always at a loss trying to balance structural elements from American educational history with the actual experiences of students. I was thinking yesterday about how rewarding it would be to read a series of books like this:

    William Corsaro, We’re Friends Right: Inside Kids’ Culture
    Linda Perlstein, Linda, not much, just chillin’: the hidden lives of middle schoolers
    Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods
    Mike Rose, Lives on the Boundary

    It’d be great to move through childhood in this way — from pre-k to high school — and I’m sure the students would enjoy reading these sorts of ethnographies much more than the primary source documents I usually assign. With the exception of Lareau, though, these books are more about children/students than the external factors that shape education in the United States. But I can justify dropping three of these texts by claiming that my students’ lab experiences will give them the time with kids that they need and they ought to contextualize the labs in terms of the other historical readings we’re doing.

    Capstone Seminar for Student Teachers

    What if this course was taught as a recapitulation of all the other courses necessary for certification?  In other words, it would begin with the issues raced in “Schools and Society,” proceed through the research highlighted in “Educational Psychology,” and then consider questions of special education, literacy, and the specific content area pedagogy?

    Not bad as an organizational tool.  And it would ask students to reflect on coursework that was relevant but probably forgotten.

    Hmmm.