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An "Introduction" to Poetry with Dramatic Tableaus and Word Webs


Camille Boyd is in her tenth year of teaching English on the Erasmus Hall Educational Campus in Brooklyn. It is her first year at the High School for Youth and Community Development (YCD). In this lesson, she describes how she taught figurative language and textual analysis through Billy Collins' poem, "Introduction to Poetry." Read her description of the multiple entry points used to analyze Collins' poem, including using dramatic play acting and brainstorming word webs for each stanza of the poem. 


The High School for Youth and Community Development is a "limited unscreened school," meaning it is a school that selects students through a lottery system. The demographic is 83% Black, 11% Hispanic. 67% of our students are male, 80% qualify for free lunch, 10% are ELLs and 25% have IEPS.

Previously, I taught 9th through 12th grades, Advanced Placement Literature, and recently became certified to teach ENL. It is my year teaching Integrated Co-Teaching. The class has two different co-teachers, one in an 11th-grade class and the other in the 9th-grade. The ICT classes have a high percentage of special needs students with widely varying skill levels. The learners have labels ranging from emotional disturbance to autism to intellectual disabilities.

As a firm believer in social-emotional learning, I don't think a child can learn if these needs are not met. One of my top priorities is to create a learning environment where students feel supported to take risks. I try to address students’ social-emotional needs in at least one period per week. Fortunately, the school administration and school community are supportive,

At the beginning of the year, many students were not willing to try for fear of failure. In order to address this hurdle, they read about growth mindset and listened to a TedTalk about "grit" by Angela Ducksworth. Students also needed to be supported in complimenting each other, so students completed and reflected upon a Random Acts of Kindness calendar as one of the culminating activities of one semester.



Providing multiple entry points made the culminating writing process much easier. It was also low-stakes, so there was virtually no stress. The result of spending extra time on the analysis in small groups and whole groups was that all of the students (even those with attendance issues) had something to write about. The hands-on group activities are great at eliminating many of the behavior issues I normally experience in this class. Usually, a leader in the group will focus the students. If not, all one of us needs to do is to walk to the table and ask a question about the work to redirect students. 

A few of the things I had struggled with in the past was that I worried that I would not be able to assess students. However, this issue is easily resolved with an exit slip and the formative writing assignments. I must remind myself that the goal is for the students to improve.
Another struggle I had was that I worried I had done too much of the analytic work for the students when I was modeling reading a poem. Students need to be prepared to do textual analysis for the English Regents. My thinking has changed. The scaffolding is absolutely necessary.
I liken it to the way I was taught to ski. I was behind all of my friends in terms of ability. They felt the only way I would quickly improve was to take me to a black diamond and let me fend for myself. By the time I got to the bottom, I would know how to ski. This, of course, is not what happened. The entire way up on the lift, I was surveying the steepness of the hill and counting the number of snow mounds. I was scared witless. I fell getting off the chair causing the operator to halt lift, embarrassing myself and causing me to further doubt my abilities. Regardless, I set off down the hill. Needless to say, I had an epic crash in which I was saved from tumbling down the entire face of the mountain by taking out another skier, one who had just managed to get up from his own crash.
I left that day bruised and feeling hopeless. I had fallen so many times I was utterly exhausted. The same happens to our students when trying to give them too much at once. They get overwhelmed and give up. They need to feel successful on the way.