Prompting Students to Write Poetry

Rupert Brooke was known for his war poems. On his way to battle, in 1915, Brooke was bitten by a mosquito. It was the mosquito bite and not a gunshot wound that killed him.
From: Teacher’s Manual The Artist Inside

•Suggest to your students that anyone can write a poem.

•Explain that, in a way, writing poetry is easier than writing prose. There are no punctuation or grammar rules in poetry. There is something called poetic license, which means an author can break all the rules if breaking the rules helps to advance the poem.

•Tell students that sometimes prose is like poetry and sometimes poetry is like prose. It’s usually up to the author to decide how to characterize a piece.

•Rules were much stricter years ago about poetry. Today there are almost no rules.

•Suggest to your students that poetry might give them more freedom to express ideas than a prose piece might. Poetry, more than prose, is the medium of feelings.

Sample Poems

Both selections in this section were written during war time.

•Explain to students that war provokes strong emotions.

•Ask students if they detect emotion in the two selections. If so, how?

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln of the United States gave one of the most famous speeches in American history–The Gettysburg Address. This speech was so artfully written and conveyed emotion so eloquently that it is has often been called a prose poem. The speech is printed in its entirety on the following pages. The first version of the speech is in prose, as Lincoln wrote it.

The second version of the speech is in verse, the way many people believe the poem sounds.

•Ask your students if they think the speech works as a poem.

•Ask them to find phrases that are particularly eloquent and moving.

•Ask students if they can hear a cadence, a kind of music, in the words, whether they are presented as prose or verse.

The selection following the Gettysburg Address is excerpted from a poem, Safety, by Rupert Brooke. Brooke was British; he wrote Safety in 1914, the first year of WWI. In 1915, as the poet was headed toward battle, a mosquito bit him. The bite became infected and Brooke died shortly after of blood poisoning. His poem, Safety, was written in sonnet form; this means it has a definite meter (like a beat in music) and it rhymes.

•Ask your students if they think this poem is of a very serious nature, or if the subject matter is not terribly significant.

•Ask your students to find words that help to set the mood. Ask them how they would describe the mood of the poet.

•Invite your students to try their hand at writing any kind of poem they’d like. Remind them that they want to choose their words carefully so that mood and tone are conveyed.

•Tell them to have fun; writing poetry is personal and can be a very rewarding experience.

lincoln PinkertonLincolnMcClernand
This photo of Lincoln was taken at Antietam by Alexander Gardner, in 1862. Allan Pinkerton, head of Union Intelligence Services, is on his right. Major General John A. McClernand is on his left. The picture is available from the US Library of Congress. It is in the public domain.




Demystifying Book Writing III

This is more a progress report than a full-fledged update. I hit a speed bump about 36 hours ago. I started Chapter 3 but no matter what I wrote it was dull, dull, dull. I realized last night what the problem was. I didn’t know enough.  I remembered something I learned a long time ago as a teacher. In order to explain even a small point clearly I need a mountain of information. Albert Einstein said it better: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

So, it’s back to the books (or Internet) for me. I know more this morning than I did last night but the journey continues. This exercise reminds me that there is no shortcut to a responsible, well-written book. And, even if no one ever reads my book, I don’t want anything less.

The Birthday Effect: Firm Cut-off Age for School Admission May Impose a Lifetime Disadvantage

This is a picture of Bedford School, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The school, located in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, was built in 1915. Picture credit: Andrew Postell, 2014, Creative Commons Attribution license.

Educational program design would likely not be controversial if children were interchangeable parts, if they were like components on a factory assembly line.  In that case, different children could be placed in the same seat every year and have  a predictable and consistent outcome.  Traditional educational models seem to be predicated on the assembly line model. Children are expected to bend to the system; the system does not accommodate the individual.  One area where inflexibility has apparently resulted in measurable harm is in age cut-offs for kindergarten admission. Longitudinal studies show that younger students, as a group, perform more poorly on achievement assessments than their older classmates.  Called the  ‘birthday effect’, a strict age cut-off policy results in a kind of age lottery. Winners of the lottery are rewarded with lifetime benefits, benefits that are evident in areas outside the academic sphere.

study out of England, for example, demonstrates the disadvantage suffered by younger children in early school years and in their later academic careers.  Members of the younger group are less likely to attend university than their older peers; if they do go to a university, it is likely that they will matriculate at a low-tier institution. The age cut-off in England is fixed firmly at September 1, which is the beginning of the school year.  Consequently, the youngest children in a grade are those born in August. Called ‘August children’, these students statistically perform more poorly than their older classmates in tests that look at academic achievement and ‘happiness’.

There are educators who do not find these study results persuasive. The former Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Chris Woodhead, for example, believes it would be wrong to make all children”‘comfortable”.  In commenting on the  findings about firm age cut-offs, Sir Woodhead declared, “If kids are always completely confident and comfortable, they aren’t going to make much progress.”

A debate about the ‘birthday effect’ has been examined by systems outside of England.  Norway, for example, also has a firm cut-off age for school admission. In a paper presented at Harvard University in 2004, Bjarne Strøm, a researcher from the Norwegian University of Technology and Science, discusses the birthday effect on 16 and 17 year-old students.  Professor Strom provides a detailed analysis of how early disadvantage endures throughout the academic careers of the younger student.  Professor Strom concludes, “These results suggest that more flexible enrollment rules should be considered to equalize the opportunities of the children”.

Yet another study, cited on NeuroNet, addresses the impact of the ‘birthday effect’  on grade retention. This study demonstrates that the youngest children in a kindergarten class are five times more likely than their older peers to be held back in a grade. The experience of being retained in grade can have a devastating effect on the child’s psyche and future achievement.

Advocates for student discontent aside (i.e., Sir Woodhead), a growing body of research indicates that rigid adherence to age cut-offs is likely not in the best interest of children. Studies suggest that children should be evaluated, individually, for school readiness.  While this may not suit a structured, one-size-fits-all educational model, it may suit very nicely the student for whom the educational system is presumed to exist.

Bully pic blurred
One child bullying another. Studies show younger children in a class more likely to be bullied by their older and larger classmates. Public Domain Photo