Friday, May 13, 2005

Bloomsburg University Reading Conference

This is a healthy, well-planned conference on the green, rolling campus of Bloomsburg State University. Lots of selections for teachers of kids of all ages.

Separate from my two presentations, I had three extensive conversations with teachers -- all on the topic of assessment and guided writing. (is there such a thing? I know there is guided reading. . .).

1. How do you guide a student into finding the poetry in what is really a three page story? The "story" the teacher was talking about sounded to me like what can most simply be called a "rant." Lots of words used to trash lots of things, the only commonality being the words have been spewed onto the same sheet of paper and for whatever reason, have put the writer in an uproar.

The written rant is a fabulous outlet. No one strikes back or has to do any major time, it lets off steam and sometimes (sometimes) helps to lead the writer to what is really bothering her. Often these rants are intensely personal and not hardly what anyone would call good writing. However, some people do call them poetry.

My advice to the teacher was to read the rant and see if there were one or more images in the mix of spew that might be the basis of a "companion" poem. Not to mark up the original rant (or even label it as such) but to use that as a basis to unearth a poem or two embedded in the blast.

2. My daughter wrote a poem that is so dark, my husband asked if I thought she needed professional help. Hey, Picasso had a blue period. Many kids will tell you that they can only write when they are upset. When they are cruising, the sun's out, surf's up, who needs poetry? I think the thing to remember is that poems are snapshots, moments caught in time, and lord knows, we all have our moments. What I thought was so cool about this story was that a teenager was writing poetry, snapshots of bumps and valleys and SHARING THE POEMS WITH HER PARENTS. This is the absolute best. Is it "good" poetry? Who cares! The poem is a springboard for discussion. Is all of the writer's life in the dumper? Probably not. But at the moment she wrote the poem it was and now that she has shared it, the parent gets to talk to the kid about the bigger picture. Teens get confined by tunnel vision, friends and school can be the entire world to them and part of our jobs as parents is to widen the vision. Poems can be great discussion starters.

3. My students are writing "victim" poetry. How do I get them out of it? Country western song writers have made entire careers out of the world done me wrong rhymes -- it's a tradition. But maybe not a tradition anyone wants to perpetuate, however, especially within a prison population, which was this teacher's classroom. My suggestion was to start the writers out with an image, maybe a poster of a lone wolf or tiger (in the wild or in captivity) and have the students begin to write about that. Writers will wind up projecting themselves into the picture. It might be a start at getting them outside of themselves.

Might be. Who knows? We are all just trying to find our ways. Students, teachers, writers alike.

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