Foundation, scaffolding, windows. Lately, in training, we’ve been playing with an extended metaphor that reflects WritersCorps’ long-term, in-depth, vision and practice. Our teaching artists spend many hours each week with their students. They not only have to prepare excellent single lessons, but also a curriculum that extends week after week over the eight months of our program year.
I asked the group to describe how they perceive, design and construct the foundation of this building project; what scaffolding they use in the process; and how they take advantage of windows that suddenly open for a particular student or for the whole group. Here are some responses shared at our recent mini training:
* Ask about family and people my students love.
* Read poems that speak to my students.
* Notice what my students respond to.
* Give clear feedback on successful moments.
* Build the skill, the muscle, of doing our best.
* Focus not only on the poet in the class, but speak and call on everyone.
* Bring in objects so my students can be visually stimulated.
* Play games (I love hearing my students laugh like very young kids for ten minutes.)
* Translate the skill of writing and revision into a life skill.
* Model writing as a container/tool to hold our experiences of the world.
* Think about something that is culturally relevant to my students. Think of a genre of poetry that can hold (or best hold) the subject my students write about. Imagine and research games that can serve as ice breakers and team building exercises. Find a poet who can serve as an example.
A few of our teaching artists requested questions that they can ask themselves as they continue to build their teaching practices. Here are a few I came up with:
1. What are concrete ways you encourage students to claim their own stories (histories, points-of-view, dreams)?
2. What are concrete things you do to encourage respect (among the youth, from youth toward you, from adults at site to youth, from youth to adults)?
3. What are some examples of windows, those moments when something opens in the group, or with an individual student, and big learning can occur?
4. Describe a moment when you’ve seen a student’s face open in understanding or delight.
5. Describe ways you encourage students to take an image deeper. For example: he’s written, “I love my dog.” What questions do you ask? I might ask the young poet to close his eyes and let his dog appear in his imagination. What’s the dog doing? Is his tail wagging? Is he rolling over?
Former poet laureate Bob Hass said that the task for a poet is not to think more, but to see better.
6. Myron uses the term “attention getters” for activities that accomplish that goal. What are some attention getters you’ve used?
7. How do you approach particular tools of poetics (image, line break, voice, etc.)?
8. How does awareness of your own creative process inform your teaching?
9. Describe some specific challenges involved in turning an academic, scholastic, grade-based environment into a creative, imaginative safe space.
10. What have been some of your feelings and responses when you find a classroom teacher’s or community program leader’s values and styles different from yours?
11. Describe some pluses and minuses you’ve noticed about integrating your teaching art work with formal class curriculum.
12. Give examples of some ways you balance attention on going deeper in the art form while also creating products with students (single poems, publications, readings, etc).
13. Give examples of some ways you hold the whole (the whole class, the whole week, the whole program year) while simultaneously being present in the moment (noticing the clock and figuring out how you’ll fit everything in before the end of class; noticing who’s spoken a lot and who hasn’t spoken yet; noticing the need to follow a tangent, and also how to get back to the task).