Sunday, May 3, 2015

Poetry Unit, Day 5: Ekphrastic Poetry Workshop

The day after PARCC testing, we sat down and workshopped students' poems.

Just as we went over protocol for poetry readings, we discussed proper workshop etiquette. Our basic rules for workshopping poems are:
  1. No empty praise or criticism ("This is awesome!" or "This poem sucks.")
  2. All comments should be specific and constructive (exp: "I like this poem because . . . " or "I would have liked this poem more if . . .")
  3. Take your role as a peer-reader seriously (don't make jokes or poke fun at people)
Folded in our discussion of workshop etiquette was a discussion on being helpful vs. being hurtful. It took a little bit for students to understand how "I love this poem!" is hurtful and "I don't like this poem because . . . " is helpful, but they got the gist after a while.


Students were given slips of paper, upon which they attributed a number that corresponded with a particular poem. I wrote the numbers and titles of the poems on the white board before I read the poem aloud. After having heard the poem, students made their comments, and we moved on to the next poem.


Throughout the entire process, students showed a marked improvement in their maturity levels. They took the workshop seriously, with only slight giggling from time to time, and they were not afraid to ask me to repeat certain sections of a poem if they needed to understand the words more clearly.

Workshopping took all of our 45-minute class period, and, in some sections, extended to the next day.

Example of student comment. Sorry for potato quality.

When we finished workshopping poems, we paired the comments with their poems, all while still maintaining author anonymity. I gave students back their own poems and their peers' comments, and told them the next part of the assignment: revise. This is where the assignment took a . . . downhill . . . turn.

Reading their peers' comments left many students emotionally raw, while other students laughed at the comments their poems got and sat down to start their revisions.

I explained to the class, as a whole (I don't believe in singling out any student unless it is an extreme circumstance), that hearing our own work critiqued is often really hard; that as growing writers, it is our job to take criticism and apply it to our work; and that we only grow by seeing how others react to our writing.

I sat down one-on-one with those students who were weepy-eyed and talked to them about to separate comments they found useful from comments they didn't want to consider when they revised. We spoke about how, when it comes right down to it, the poet is the one whose opinion matters most. I also referenced our discussion from Beautiful Corpse Poetry, about how not everyone will like every poem, but someone, somewhere, will find meaning in it. To bring it home for all students, I told them to think about the fact that their favorite book/author probably has a lot of nasty reviews on Amazon.

Ultimately, all readers are different and like different things, and hearing all opinions, both good and bad, can make us better writers.

Our next lesson will help students investigate how the articulation of words can affect listeners of our poems.

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