Allison Spooner's Reflection

Unit of Study: Confessional Poetry 

Is there a better way or do we continue to leave students to somehow develop these writing skills by some form of osmosis when they get into a college classroom? The National Center for Public Policy (2010) looked at the gap between college eligibility and college readiness. They stated that “nearly 60% of first-year college students discover that, despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not ready for postsecondary studies. After enrolling, these students learn that they must take remedial courses in English or Mathematics, which do not earn college credits.”

What are high schools doing to prepare students for the real world?

I believe that this summer writing project helped me to become more aware of ways I could better prepare my 12th grade classes for these real challenges. Students who come to me lack basic comprehension and writing skills. They no longer want to write because they have passed all their exams and see no point to it. To students writing simply means answering prompts using the familiar writing process.

This seminar has explored how to provide opportunities for students to study authentic writing. Students can dissect writings through discussions and use them as models to simultaneously develop their style as writers. Teaching through a Unit of Study seems to adequately support these goals.  We teach students how to develop highly polished pieces; they have to feel the struggle it takes good writers to get their work done.  Daniels, Steineke, and Zemelman (2004) stated, “The best way we can help young writers to create extended and effective texts is to show them how real writers operate and to coach them  in the footsteps of actual authors” (118).  The plan is to have a framework for students to develop their personal style of writing by experimenting, using authors as mentors. They need to develop “habits of mind” which are critical for their post secondary experiences. 

With a unit of study, students are able to focus on the genre and write within it. Teachers gather samples of texts that help students to get a better picture and understanding of the genre under study. Students are saturated with the anchor texts and are able to notice similarities and differences among them. Quality texts lead the class to talk about purpose, audience, interpretation, historical context, etc. it immerses students   into the vortex of the genre. These anchor texts are then used to mentor the writings of both the teachers and the students. This brings the class closer together and forces them to initially work as a unit to imitate the writer’s work. It shows what it takes, like the precision and technique to craft a published piece of work. Students when they have multiple texts start seeing how the texts are written. Students are reading, writing, and interpreting, they need to own and defend their ideas. This in turn gives them the personal connection and confidence they need to identify with the writer and the text when writing.

For my genre, I chose poetry. The form is Confessional poetry. The poet I chose was Sylvia Plath. A student wanted to discuss one of her poems last year when we did our poetry unit.  I avoided Sylvia Plath because I found so much of her poems to be depressing.  I was surprised to learn that so many of my students had read her work and found her fascinating. I decided to capitalize on their interest and found that they had connected to her work on many different levels.  They shared feelings and talked about things they experienced or heard. Since I teach seniors I thought that preparing a powerful poetry unit would help me to get students with “senioritis”   to emerge themselves into Plath’s poetry since it feeds the “dark side” which seniors claim to have and could motivate them to create superb poetic writings. Students will read “Daddy”, “Lazy Lazarus”, “Fever103”, “Cut”, “Lament and Getting There”. These all convey Plath’s personal feelings, some are of hurt, desperation, death, and her perceptions of a resurrection. Students look at the voice, the language, literary elements, historical references and  do an in depth study of each poem. As they do their research they are asked to relate in some way to each poem and to write their thoughts in their personal journals (noticings). 

They are free to connect with the poem by telling their own story. Students later discuss and share their noticings, they say why they believe the author wrote or said what she said and would later use inspiration from their writing to craft a poem similar to their choice of one of Sylvia Plath’s poems. These “noticings’ will be used to create a rubric. The immersion and close study helps students to notice the structure of a particular piece and to use that piece to write thoughtfully in this particular genre. As students are writing following their poem of choice I will confer with students providing individual and where needed differentiated instruction. If there is a concern about crafting the poem the student will note the problems in his journal for “Think Tank” session. This is where students can read their piece and ask for help from other students.  It is in these moments of awareness that connections are made between the student, the teacher and the literary work.  I do believe I would add two new vocabulary terms “Glow” and “Grow” to assist my students in doing peer reviews. The connotations are certainly more positive and should illicit better feedback.

At the end of the unit, I believe that students will have gained invaluable knowledge to help them improve their writing skills and prepare them for college. They should be more knowledgeable about writing techniques, and be able to effectively use specific literary elements to enhance their works. They will now have the knowledge about a more intentional way of writing, which encourages them to hone their craft.

References

Daniels, H., Steineke N., & Zemelman, S. (2004). Subjects Matter: Every Teacher’s Guide to Content-Area Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (2010). Beyond the rhetoric: Improving college readiness through coherent state policy. Retrieved June 30, 2015 from http://highereducation.org/reports/college