We are having so much fun exploring Atwood’s poetry in class. The poems we set for study are: This is a photograph of me, Siren Song, Helen of Troy Does Counter-top Dancing, Morning in the Burned House, In the Secular Night and Journey to the Interior. The poems span decades of Atwood’s poetry, which is useful, but more importantly they have some similar themes and some very different ideas. The use of persona is one of the features of Atwood’s work that I find most intriguing. Moving on from last week’s explorations of the “You” and the “Me” in “You fit into me”, we focused on the speaker and the ‘spoken to’ in this group of poems.
After a lesson on the assessment task, (kids have to create an illuminated text, using slideshow, of one of the poems, with analysis notes) we spent some deep thinking time on one poem each, beginning with ‘first impression’ questions:
- What is the poem about? ie subject matter
- How does the poet feel about the subject?
- What social/cultural/historical/personal issues is the poet commenting on?
- How do you know how the poet feels about the subject?
- How does the poem make you feel?
- What does the poet do in the poem to make you feel this way?
I like these questions as a starting point for students own explorations because they usually lead students to the ‘heart’ of the poem, so that everything we do after leads back to this. Kids are encouraged to annotate as they undertake this first personal reading of the poem.
I should probably explain that I have shifted my practice a bit and instead of treating one poem at a time, we start with a focusing idea or feature and in pairs and teams students are assigned one of the poems to work on. I have a system set up to make sure they get in class activity time on each of the poems at least twice.
After their deep and meaningful encounter on first impressions (could have heard a pin drop) we followed up with the first stage of the Thinking Routine Connect, Extend, Challenge , where students were asked: How does Atwood’s poetry connect to your previous experience of poetry? These responses were shared in teams and then a member of each group explained the differences between his or her connections and others in the team to the class. HW was to do the first impressions on the five poems they didn’t do in this class task, spending only 15 minutes on each of the other five.
In the next lesson we considered the question: Who is speaking? Kids were encouraged to look for things that weren’t said, ambiguities, circular ideas, ‘who is this person, really?’ as well as the details about the speaker that were stated or made clear. They began with time alone with the poem (another satisfying engrossed silence from 16 year olds) and then moved into pairs and threes with the same poem.
In the team task student chose one line that ‘summed up’ the essence of the speaker and then wrote 10 lines together justifying their choice. Of course, they could refer to other lines in their justification, and they did. We shared these explanations aloud. Great task for building and modelling analysis essay writing skills.
The final lesson of the week focused on: Who is the speaker addressing?