- אודות התכנית ומידע למועמדים
- קבצים, טפסים ומידע שימושי
- גיליון מס' 11
- גיליון מס' 10
- גיליון מס' 9
- גיליון מס' 8
- גיליון מס' 7
- גיליון מס' 6
- גיליון מס' 5
- גיליון מס' 4
גיליון מס' 3
- עד שתגיע למקומו: הרהורים / תמר קטקו
- בין מרכז ופריפריה: לקראת הפעילות ב'שער הנגב' / אדם הישראלי
- הרהורים על המוכחש, המודר והמושתק / זהבה סמוחה ברקני
- מועדון הספר / דנה פריבך-חפץ
- A Poetry-Writing Assignment / Michael (Dickel) Dekel
- מתמטיקה, מדע ודעת / ענת אבן זהב
- והנה שלושה אנשים / גדעון אביטל אפשטיין
- טקסט אתי / שי פרוגל
- מזרחה מכאן / מימי חסקין
- ללמוד מגדר בסמינר / דינה חרובי
- חינוך לזהות ישראלית / תמי הופמן
- האור הגנוז בקהילת הלומדים / חנוך בן-פזי
- גיליון מס' 2
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
(William Carlos Williams)
My students have had a few writing assignments so far this semester. They wrote to introduce themselves, practiced descriptive writing, and have written a poem in response to another poem. I gave them two different poems to read and respond to, both of which have straight-forward language. They both involve observation and description, but in very different ways. They share a deceptive simplicity, but that surface simplicity also allows students to access them and to use them as a model for their responses.
One poem is William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” quoted above. It owes much to short Japanese poetry forms and Williams’ insistence on the image over ideas. Despite the simplicity of what is, in the end, only one sentence, the poem conveys a mood, and with its opening lines, the sense that something significant waits, an outcome, and that what it depends upon is beyond us—beyond our understanding and control.
Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B” (http://bit.ly/12liXlJ), on the other hand, is more involved. It opens:
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it’s that simple?
In fact, I chose it because it begins with an assignment, and the persona of the poem (it is not Hughes speaking—the biographical details that come later are made up) responds by questioning the assignment. The speaker of the poem goes on to ask what is true for him, as he describes his walk from New York University to the cheap housing at the Harlem Y where he, “the only colored student in my class,” lives. He describes what he likes, what he does, and wonders if it is different for him as a “colored” person (the poem was written in the 1950s) than it is for his “white” instructor. He wonders if his paper will be white or colored, and suggests it will be both. He engages both the similarities and differences of the two of them, and their mutual resistance to be too much like the Other. The poem ends with:
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
I often use this poem when asking students in a course to write a poem as a way to invite them to use any resistance that they might have to writing a poem or writing any assignment, for that matter. I also like that it suggests the fact that students and teachers learn from each other (and I think this happens when classes go very well). Finally, the poem shows that we often give assignments without fully knowing or understanding the material and cultural realities of our students.
For the assignment, I asked the students to read the poems first, and then to choose one and write their own poem in response. Most, but not all, of the students responded to the shorter poem by Williams. Some responded to Hughes’ poem. A couple of our Excellence students wrote two poems, responding to each.
When I respond to the students’ poems, I don’t focus on issues of correctness in English. I edit spelling and grammar mistakes, of course, but without a written comment in almost all cases. I write comments, though, about poetic suggestions. Often, these poetic suggestions transfer to other forms of writing as well.
For example, one student wrote a very powerful poem using the image of an empty velvet chair by a window. However, she wrote it as a sentence, without line breaks. So, my comments suggested using line breaks, and where they might add drama or power to the reading of the “sentence.” While expository writing and academic writing don’t use line breaks, complex sentences use clauses and phrases. How these are arranged in a sentence help to convey understanding, and there is a parallel between this and how one might divide line breaks and arrange the phrases in a poem.
Another student used the verb “to be” a lot, but had gerund forms of more active verbs or more active verbs could be surmised from the context. I suggested to her ways to remove the “boring” assertion of existence —“is”—and to find the more energetic and active verbs that would give more life to the words. Writing with more energetic and active verbs both keeps a reader engaged, in prose or poetry, and helps make meaning more clear—it often helps convey the writer’s views, depending on the choice of verb and its associations.
The students seemed to enjoy the assignment. Almost all of them took it seriously, from my reading of their poems. Many of them wrote good poems—that could be made better, which I hope my method of commenting helps them to see. And I believe commenting on content and poetics (while still marking errors) focuses on the students’ strengths and the potential of their writing. They still learn about their mistakes in the language, but they also see that they wrote something that their instructor took seriously.
I would also like to say something about another aspect of my commenting. After asking students for permission, I shared a few of the poems. I read them as the students’ wrote them (correcting the language mistakes only), and then I read a couple of possible “revisions.” I explained the suggestions I made, but also tried to show different ways to implement those suggestions. For another assignment, before this one, I worked on the text using the projector, so the students could see and help me make revisions. So, when we came to the poems, the students participated. Sometimes we even asked the author what she wanted to say before making a change.
In other words, we asked the student author what he meant and worked on different possibilities for revision. In this way, I modeled how students could respond to my comments without “giving away” their own authority over their texts. I want to wean them from looking at my comments and trying to figure out “what does he want,” to looking at those comments and trying to figure out “how does this help me do what I want.”
For this assignment and others, I choose strong examples to share with the class—both so that other students see good examples, and so that they see (for later, when they respond to each other) that even good writing could be improved with the help of thoughtful commentary. I tell them that I revise my own writing all of the time. And, I think most importantly, I emphasize that the writing process is not about how to write perfectly the first time, but about how to perfect writing over time.
Often students tell me that they “can’t write” because it is so much work, that they struggle to write what they mean, and that they can’t just write it out the first time. I usually turn their narrative of “failure” as writers around and congratulate them on being “good writers” (or “good potential writers”) who already realize that writing takes work, that it is a messy struggle, and that even the “best” results often don’t quite say what we are trying to say with our writing. I think that providing students with content comments and modeling for them how to use those comments to serve their own purposes in the writing helps students learn how to negotiate the messiness and arrive at, if not perfect writing, at least writing that they feel comes closer to speaking for them.