Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Learning About teaching Writing During Poetry Month

May 3, 2011

What I learned Writing A Poem A Day In April
I spent April writing poetry, a poem each day for all 30 days. Some days I had what I called comfortable ideas, and the writing was as easy as making a grilled cheese, something I have cooked a lot of, something I like to experiment with, and something I enjoy doing. Huh? I began to think I was up to something, for myself, and to apply to teaching. All during the month I worked, I thought about what my experience of being a writer meant as a teacher. Here is what I believe I learned:

*That writing for a deadline is not easy; especially if you desire something you are proud to share (or to turn in to a teacher). Thoughtful pre-writing is a key to preventing some of this. It’s rather like visiting the grocery to purchase plenty of varieties of bread and cheese on hand in order to create something genuinely edible.

*That creating an idea supposedly ‘out of the blue’ is also not easy, in fact, it was nearly impossible to feel that just any idea that popped into my head, and was started on the computer, or scraps of paper, was worthy. Grilled cheeses with ‘what’s on hand’ bread and cheese, at the last minute, are just what you’d imagine, feeds the stomach but not the soul.

*That reading other writers’ work, whether in a blog or in a published book, was of great value, to see what each were doing, to find comfort in the beautiful words. I read recipes for new ideas for grilled sandwiches, including grilled cheeses. Occasionally something pops out that I note and file away, so that when the time is right, I use the idea.

*That my reading of other poets and their poems was teaching me how they rhymed or didn’t, used rhythm, approached their topic, used broad ideas to make a point, or small ideas to make the same point, i.e., their poems showed me the end goal, and I was studying them over and over how to get there. (This time, I have to admit, I haven’t eaten many grilled cheeses from other grills, but there have been a few memorable ones, clearly made by masters.)

*That some days I was tired and dashed off something, then became disappointed in myself for not trying harder. Again, to throw something ‘on the table’ and call it a grilled cheese may or may not work, just like writing.

*That the feeling of a moment going well was terrific, and the struggle to create and make the words work for me was challenging enough to make me want to stop. This absolutely is the same for cooking; the having of enough ingredients in order to enjoy creating is critical to the process. The ingredients explained earlier fuel these feelings.

*That support through comments was not the only thing that kept me going, but they were a big boost to morale. Sometimes they pointed to something I hadn’t noticed and other times I was happy to see that someone complimented a line that I also thought was good. Of course it’s the same with cooking for someone; when they love part of your end result, and eat it with great gusto, what more could a writer wish for?

*That the actual discipline of doing a lot of something made me better, or at least I began to know more about my personal style—what I did well and what was more challenging. Making grilled cheeses throughout the years has made me somewhat proud of my achievement, and I am happy I know how to grill a good sandwich.

*That I was willing to take some challenges when I had the time to think through them. Taking risks is often an attribute of a master cook. To add a bit of cumin to the cheese, or special mustard sauce before grilling is evidence of someone who is thinking about new ideas, new approaches, and is willing to try them.

*That when I tried something new, and received some kind of support for it, I found myself willing to do something new again. Here I might add that a safe environment would be helpful. If I am willing to try something unique (to me at least), I might first test the sandwich on my husband, willing participant in eating that he is. Setting up a safe classroom setting for sharing new ideas is critical to the creative process.

*That I liked writing time, enjoyed the relaxation of putting words on paper, knowing I was creating something that I valued, and perhaps others would value too. It is the same with serving sandwiches that taste good to those I care about: I enjoy and relax when putting together unique ingredients for family and friends.

If I can translate this into a few points for students, I would say that writers in school require:

*Support for some process that isn’t ‘on demand’, but offers more relaxed deadlines

*Good mentor texts

*Direct teaching with models

*Time to write every day, or almost every day

*Support for something done well

Thanks for listening to this ‘cooking tale’. Bon app├ętit!


  1. Great reflection. I especially liked the analogy to grilled cheese sandwiches and this part, "Grilled cheeses with ‘what’s on hand’ bread and cheese, at the last minute, are just what you’d imagine, feeds the stomach but not the soul." I often feel like that...not always so proud of what I have written, but at least I wrote. I think, for me, the most important thing I have learned the last few months is the importance of supporting something well done. Even a line or two.

  2. This is an impressive reflection - thorough, thoughtful, tasty. The fact that you participated in two writing challenges two months in a row is admirable. What's the next challenge?
    I would like to thank you for leaving comments on my SOLs. I appreciate the reference to the "I am six"poem. I hadn't read that before.

  3. I like your reflections on the poetry. So true about ideas and having the time, or taking the time to write...Let's see if we can continue for the third month! Yea! As you said, it is relaxing. I feel it's like putting together a puzzle often times.

  4. You have experienced two amazing months. The challenges have been completed with wonderful words shared with the rest of us. Congratualtions! Great reflection, now I'm hungry. . . wonder why?

  5. I agree on our reflection. I kept my poems going for the month but I have no energy left for a reflection. I'm inspired! Grilled cheese, I like that too,

  6. What a great reflection and analyzing of your learning. I agreed with you on several points and my eyes were open to other new learnings. Poetry is such a creative form of writing...I'm impressed that you wrote a poem a day. Congrats!

  7. I love, love, love the grilled cheese analogy to writing poetry. You make something that's intimidating, universal. Impressive.

    The things you've learned about writing this month are the exact things I just read about in a book on teaching secondary writing. Amazing.

  8. Congratulations to you and your poetry. This reflection clearly shows how much you learned about yourself and your poetry writing and then to compare it to making a grilled cheese sandwich--Wow!!

  9. Good for you that you stuck with this and made discoveries about yourselves as a writer and a poet. Bottom line: writing takes courage, doesn't it?!

  10. Love the analogy! This makes me want to do that next year. During the month of April I would have my classes write a different poem for each opening of class. I agree that sometimes it's hard to write poetry that's worthy!

  11. Thank you all for the wonderfully supportive comments. I wish I could have you all over for a lunch of grilled cheese! I did learn so much, and some I knew as a teacher, but never really firmly as a student! I have always written with my students, yet this discipline made it different too.

  12. Reflection is so powerful. I love your grilled cheese analogy, but even more, I love how you transferred your learning about yourself as a writer to your teaching practice and the implications for students. Congratulations on the completion of another writing challenge!

  13. Wow! So much here it takes time to digest it!"Grilled cheese ans all!" I loved the ideas you reflected on. I think perhaps I might try to write a poem a day one of the months this summer before I try doing this during school, but you were very brave doing this during school. I will try this with my studetns next year! You have given me much "food for thought!" Thanks for sharing! Happy Slicing! :o)

  14. Linda, such an amazing post. The grilled cheese analogy hooked me in. I agree that the more you write, the better sense you have of yourself as a writer. I know I didn't comment much in April but I did read your poems. You are a talented writer. I love your reflections.

  15. Great reflection of learning and I appreciate this... Impressive post...
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  16. Thank you for so much here--for doing that writing, which will make you an even better writing teacher; for reflecting on it in ways that benefit both your personal growth and your students; for sharing it through this important blog post. Yes, thanks.

  17. Thanks for sharing this! This was before I started reading your blog! Great insights.


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