“We’ll take VTR for $1000 please. “

In July, my application was accepted by the Smithsonian Summer Institute at the American Art Museum (I promise a blog post/review about this to follow soon!).

During the two week long program, teachers learned effective ways to incorporate Visual Thinking Routines from Harvard’s Project Zero into the classroom.  VTR utilizes any non-text source material to engage students in critical thinking skills; this workshop focused particularly on using American Art in application.  The workshop fundamentally re-shaped how I teach analysis and re-invigorated the “warm up” in my classroom.

Capture2There are many arguments for using VTR in the classroom (including the innate interdisciplinary mode of thinking), but I was really invested in the analysis piece.  Many of my students struggle in understanding rhetorical analysis.  This is problematic for any student taking the AP Language exam which includes several types of non-textual components in at least one essay component. Using VTR propels students into evidence building, claim composition, and technique identification- all cornerstone skills necessary for a well written analysis.  This year, I’ve decided to incorporate art and VTR into my junior and senior classrooms.

Catpure 1.PNGMy first introduction of VTR has many different routines, but at the heart of all of them is the idea of claim and support (see above picture).  This is a great way to warm up in the classroom; for my particular course (Native American and Asian American Voices), I chose artwork that would allow students to understand the module as an examination of marginalized voices.  We started with George Caitlin’s “Going To and Returning From Washington.”  The piece explores the effects of European culture on the Native American and many students articulate that tension in different ways.  All of them are pressed to show exactly where in the art is this claim embedded:

Both students arrive at similar conclusion and both provide evidence to support their claim.  This routine is crucial when moving into the next step: comparing visual text to a literary counterpart.

For this particular module, I modeled how to do a comparison of visual and literary text using the artwork from warm-ups; previous exposure help students feel more comfortable in the writing process.  This time, students would view Caitlin’s piece (see above) with Tanaya Winder’s poem, “Missing More Than a Word.”

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When paired with the poetry scaffolding lesson I created (see here), this becomes a powerful method in thesis creation.   Many students were able to form a claim about both pieces and identify a technique the artist and poet utilize in their works:

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Once evidence building becomes an important part of forming a claim, many feel much more comfortable developing a stronger thesis.  This was particularly evident in our second comparison (using Hieu Minh Nguyen’s “White Boy Time Machine” and Roger Shimormura’s “Diary: December 12, 1941”).

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At the end of the course, students are asked to answer a comparative analysis prompt within 45 minutes (message me or comment for the prompt).  Between this year and last year’s response, there is a tangible difference: using the VTR has yielded well-supported, sophisticated analysis paragraphs while last year’s response seem to falter in organization structure.

More importantly than all of the quantifiable data is this: my students love the inclusion of art.  It’s the most requested warm-up!

And I’m just as excited to continue using VTR in the classroom this year; I’ll continue to post progress.  Thank you to the Smithsonian Learning Lab for beautiful high-definition free access to their collection!

 

National Write-A-Poetry-Paper Month!

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April is National Poetry Month and with a bit of scheduling luck, I find myself knee-deep in Harlem Renaissance poetry. Let me be upfront: I love poetry.  (I make no claims of ability to write poetry. )  I love that a line break can mean so much more than the return stroke on a keyboard; I love deciphering how one writer selected this adjective, that phrase, these punctuation marks.  I love teaching the Harlem Renaissance greats: Langston Hughes, Angela Weld Grimke, Claude McKay- their works answer tradition with a mixing and reinventing so unique to their experience of the 20th century.

I. Love. Poetry.

Many of my students, however, struggle to find the same comfortableness in poetry that they have in novel study.  This is not particularly a new truth for teachers; many students report poetry analysis as the most difficult or elusive task.  A quick google search will yield thousands of worksheets, methodologies, acronyms, and suggested poems for implementation.  For years, I’ve proscribed to the the TPCASTT method (Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitudes, Shift, Title, Theme) and in the last three, I’m not entirely sold on its effectiveness.  Understanding connotation means understanding the intentional inferences of a word; attitudes relies on knowing the difference between tone and mood.  In this method, all of this happens before a realization of theme.  This year, I decided I would do a study of comparison.  I used TPCASTT in the early modules of the Modernism class and in these last modules, I am implementing my own poetry toolkit for classroom use.

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Scaffold Technique for Poetry

My early Modernism modules demonstrated exactly what I feared: my students did not identify poetic terms or differentiate their use from novel study and their annotations focused too much on basic understanding of figurative language.  Many of my students felt so overwhelmed by the TPCASTT system that their thesis compositions included every device, rather than selecting the best use of that term according to their claim.  I knew that in developing my own annotation system, I wanted some kind a scaffolding, a way for my students to feel the move from simple annotation to complicated analysis.  I knew that the first scaffold would be an exploration of the poem and its meaning.  The second scaffold would narrow a literary analysis to just the essentials.  The last step would involve syntax focus and claim development.  The difference has meant a much more organized approach to annotating yet still relies on the student to understand and select poetic devices; the chart has greatly improved the evaluation of syntax.  As seen in the student artifact below, leveling the scaffold asks the student to evaluate the intent of the poem before a dive into syntax; the syntax progresses into a thesis or claim about the poem.

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Student Artifact of Claude McKay’s America”

Implementation is just one part of re-inventing how I teach poetry (more soon on helping students categorize kinds of literary terms).  I am hoping the third tier in this technique will push them into a thesis development.  Since I am a firm believer in providing examples or demonstrating active practice, we reviewed Langston Hughes’ “Advertisement for Waldorf-Astoria” using this technique and then color coded parts of the chart used for introductory paragraph building.

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Using the tier system to move into introductory paragraphs

I’m anxious to see how this system helps move them into analysis and paper construction.  Mostly, I’m excited to explore poetry during National Poetry Month!

Stay tuned for Part II: The Poetry Paper Outline.