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The Partly Successful Poetry Lesson

Posted on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 in Homeschooling Multiple Children, poetry, Thoughts on Education

I stare at my daughter, mortified that the source of her crying came from my own hands.

She has just finished part three of her poetry assignment.  Monday was free-writing, Tuesday she created a poem from her free-write, and today is the big “R”, revision.

Until today they have done some light revision but we’ve never used the “R” word.  Last week they heard an author speak about his writing process and how his book went through five drafts before it become a published book.  He shared that the process was hard on him but he had no doubt that the final draft was a much better book than his first draft.

So I couldn’t hide the “R” word anymore.  But I tried to put the right spin on it.

I even started with an inspiring moment, designed to reveal that revision didn’t equal “wrong”.  Based on the idea from Georgia Heard’s book The Revision Toolbox”, I brought out a geode.

“The first draft is like this geode.  You definitely have something there. It’s a solid idea.”

And then I dramatically got out a hammer and we broke that small rock open to find the glimmering beauty inside.

“This is what happens when we go back to our first draft and crack open the first ideas to find the gems inside by looking at word choices, sharpening images, losing extra words.  It’s not that the first draft is wrong or bad, this is just the next step to finding your poem or story.”

Inspiring, right?

I set the two halves of the geode on the desk and handed them some questions to help them think over their poem. And left the room.

Which brings us back to the sobbing child in the chair beside me.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“My poem’s not poetical anymore!” cried my 9 year old.


“I loved my poem yesterday,” racks of sobs and broken breath continue, “but now that I’ve read those questions I don’t think my my poem’s even a poem anymore!  I hate my poem,” the sobbing turns into a heavy slump upon the table.

This is when teaching stinks.  All of my teaching is trial and error, which means sometimes I get it so right and sometimes I have a day like this one.  I don’t mind making mistakes, but I don’t like to do them at the cost of my daughter’s creative process.

I warned them when I handed out the questions.

“I’m figuring out how to teach this to you as we go.  This step of working on your poem might work great or one of you may love it or everyone may hate it.  We’re just going to have to try it.”

Well, the almost eleven year old (who’s also pretty relaxed about her creative process) worked through the questions and declared, “This is fun, these questions are great, they helped a lot.”

You already know how it turned out for the other one-who, by the way, is two years younger.  When the author last week said that in art, as well, the first draft is never the best, Jellybean declared he was wrong(privately, to me, later, thankfully).

“My first tries in art are always my best,” she explained.

Is it just age, is it also personality?  She had written five pages of a poem and then decided it was no longer a poem!

Sure I should have seen that one coming.  I should have handed her older sister the paper with questions for her poem, and allowed the younger to recite a beautiful rendition of her five page poem and call her poem done-but I didn’t. Because sometimes it’s trial and error.

The learning curve for this teacher is deep and wide,  how is it for you?  Have you had successes so far this year, or many nearly successful moments?

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