If I could do it over again …..

1) I would have managed my time better. I really wanted to spend more time on the last part of the presentation where the class would put together the likes/dislikes list for Collins’ “Interpretation of Poetry”. I wanted to show that poets usually agree with readers of poetry in that poetry should be accessible and that interpretation should not be the contrived and convoluted exercises that we all seem to remember from our poetry classes. I think that the two likes/dislikes lists – ours and Collins’ – would have been surprisingly similar. Unfortunately I did not manage my time well, so I never got a chance to make the point.

2) I would have trimmed down the list of guide questions for the presentation. I used the same list I used for my class, which was obviously overkill for graduate English students. This would have freed up more time for other stuff.

3) I would have read the poem aloud before asking you guys to read it. As it was, the poem was never “presented” as it should have been. This may seem like a minor point, but I think a poem should be heard before it is read. First impressions are important.

4) I would have spent a few more minutes emphasizing the difference between ESL students and native speakers of English. Their schema makes them unique, not only compared to native students, but compared to each other.I have a student from Mongolia who was living in a Yurt until she moved to the US a few years ago and another who lived in a refuge camp in Darfur. I think this would have helped explain why my lesson plan may have seemed simplistic to some.

5) I would have sung Pink Floyd’s “Time” rather than subjecting you to my butchered reading, although my voice has been known to kill small animals.

9 thoughts on “If I could do it over again …..

  1. abbie

    Tim, haha! From my short time as a peer tutor in the Writing Center at Mason, I understand a little about the different challenges in teaching ESL students. I definitely kept that in mind throughout your lesson, and I don’t think you should have done anything differently — we know that we are to act as whatever class you (or any presenter) needs us to act as. If we failed, that’s our fault, not yours 🙂

    I do agree with you that hearing the poem read aloud (by you or another student) would have been nice. And the students might get quite a lot out of it — hearing other students laugh at the funny parts might let them know that it’s okay to laugh, and that sometimes poetry can be funny or lighthearted.

    I think you did a great job.

  2. toddkelly

    Although it was not technically part of your “lesson,” handing out those cards at the beginning of class was a good way to reinforce how different your teaching experience may be than ours. I for one cherished the opportunity to be a young Dominican woman, if only for five minutes.

    I wished we had more time to discuss the Billy Collins’ poem, it is one that I enjoy. I had forgotten about it, so thank you, I think I may teach it at the beginning of next year.

  3. nikki

    I agree with Todd and Abbie that you did a great job of giving us a picture of your students and the challenges they face. (I hope they realize how amazing they are for pursuing a college education through a language barrier!)
    I also loved the Billy Collins poem. I hadn’t ever seen it before, but I’m definitely going to use it with my 10th graders–along with the worksheet you created. The questions you presented on that handout lead students through each idea/stanza of the poem in a logical and accessible sequence. You did a great job of making the poem un-intimidating.
    As for the list of Collins’s likes and dislikes, I think it would have been interesting to see what we could come up with, but you explained the premise so well that I don’t think your lesson suffered without the second list. I think your students will certainly be able to generate a list of the poet’s likes/dislikes after completing the first few activities of the lesson. Great scaffolding!

  4. afaye

    Count me in: you did an awesome job explaining the differences of your students. ESL is a different world and I don’t think any of us considered your lesson plan too simplistic! I agree with Abbie, it was hard of us to fill the role of ESL students while filling out your well constructed handout. Seriously, your questions were right on and thought provoking. I love your listing to engage their prior knowledge and personal repertoires, but I was really impressed with your concluding list (even if we didn’t get to fill it out) because it really reinforced your learning objectives. You have a very warm teaching persona and I know your students appreciate your care and thoughtfulness, I know I did. Thanks for a great poem and for a much needed perspective shift!

  5. Lindsay

    Tim, I enjoyed your lesson. I really appreciated the fact that I got to see how a poetry lesson could be taught to second language learners. I loved how you showed us the picture of the class in the beginning of your presentation to set up the context for the lesson. I really like the idea of having students bring in their favorite poem to read to the rest of the class. It’s a good way to start a poetry unit, I think. Also, you mentioned that you wished that you hadn’t given us all of those guiding questions in your presentation–but I think that they were perfect for the kinds of students you would actually be teaching! The best part about those questions, for me, was that as I read through them, I realized that teaching literature to ESL students is a whole different ballgame. Thank you for sharing this lesson!

  6. Alicia

    Like many others, I loved that you passed out the cards at the beginning, reminding us that no two students are alike in their experience and prior knowledge. As I blurted out (sorry about that) I also am a huge fan of Billy Collins (if not widely read) and had that specific poem in my head as a favorite, when contemplating your lesson.

    But your points about the potential areas of confusion for ELA students were really excellent for slowing us down and making us imagine what it’s like to not understand the most basic and obvious reference in a poem. Even as a teacher of many, many ELA students, I often over-estimated what would automatically be understood and received silence as thanks. And once those students are silent, it’s often too late! As my Dad would say, “Good on you” for belaboring things others might gloss over.

    I can see you put a lot of thought and care into your lessons. Thanks for the ideas!

  7. vbartush

    I really enjoyed your presentation and the window it gave us into ESL classrooms. Like everyone else, I thought the poem choice was great and the listing exercise a wonderful way to get students thinking about poetry. While I am quick to admit that poetry is my least favorite thing to read or teach, I have never really made a list as to why I don’t like it. It was enlightening for me and comforting to hear that many others shared the same difficulties. I imagine that this exercise would be a big hit with students.

    I liked getting the chance to read the poem silently to myself before hearing it. I would think that this may also be helpful for students whose first language isn’t English. I’m trying to learn Spanish right now, and I can tell you that it’s a whole lot easier to understand something if I read it to myself than it is to understand it if somebody else is reading aloud to me.

    Thank you for the great ideas!

  8. Susanna

    I just want to concur with what everyone has said about the index cards you provided us at the beginning of the lesson. I love the idea of presenting us with the actual dynamics of your own classroom– and it had me thinking about ways to have students identify, as we did, with other people (or even characters) as they engage in any kind of lesson.

    I remember having been asssigned a particular immigrant experience (in 8th grade English) and having to research that immigrant’s homeland as well as write about the experience of shifting to life in America. Your way of introducing us to your students reminded me of how fun it was to be someone else for a bit, as well as how impactful that can be! I’m totally inspired to try something similar to your introduction in my own classroom.

    Also, having students bring in their own favorite poems really allows them to feel some ownership over their learning. I love that! I had a teacher ask us (in 10th grade– boy, do I remember my English teachers’ lesson plans) to draw our favorite poem, the way we imagine it, on a 5″ by 7″ index card. I remember choosing “Mother to Son” and just being fascinated by stairs for weeks after that. Anyway, I love the way you pay attention to your students’ diverse backgrounds and diverse interests. I thought you did a great job!

  9. Susan

    You really keyed us in to the diversity of your students when you handed out the sheets that gave us each a role of an ESL student. This made me have a great respect for the additional challenges you face teaching. Also, changing your presentation from Moore’s “Poetry” to another ars poetica poem, could have thrown you off, but you did a nice job with it.

    Having students chose their favorite poems to share with the class is a good transition into discussing what they enjoy about poetry and it is a great way to have students begin the class with enthusiasm. The like/dislike list was also interesting; I am not sure of your objectives or if this would be helpful for the class you teach, but perhaps phrasing the likes/dislikes list in a way that you could narrow down what you expect from the students would be helpful. This way you can work the discussion and lesson regarding Collins’s poem how you want instead of leaving it as open ended.

    The small group “think aloud” on what the poem means was effective, as well as developing a worksheet of questions. While I would’ve liked to do the final list of what the author likes/dislikes (so tricky as time seems to go by too fast sometimes), I think you explained the activity well enough to get the idea. Nice job!

Comments are closed.