Friday, February 21, 2014

The Difference Between a Real Model and a Fake One

Last week I was really happy with how writing poem drafts modeled on poems we read in class was going with 10th graders. Having collected and posted the one out of the 4 they chose to take to a final draft, I’m even happier. Every single poem showed some level of conscious word choice, and most wielded effectively the poetic devices they were supposed to. 

Feedback on the last question of the poetry test (Something else significant that you learned) frequently referred to writing poetry, how it helped students overcame fear, dislike, or ignorance, and realize the power of words. I thought my next assignment was also good, giving students an audience and purpose for transferring their poetry analysis skills to the poetry all around them. 

Here’s what I gave them: 
As a teen who is much more aware than the average of the power and beauty of language all around us, you have a challenge: it involves kids who think poetry is irrelevant and miss half of the artistry of the lyrics they listen to, and adults who think modern songs are mental fluff and no one’s written good poetry in the last 100 years. Your goal is to convince kids (and adults) that poetry is not dead, lyrics can be powerful poetry, and being able to analyze them as such will deepen their understanding and appreciation of the songs they listen to every day, of truth, and of the power of language. 

Your task is to write an article for a Christian teen magazine analyzing the poetry and truth of the lyrics of a song of your choice. Your article needs to analyze one specific song lyric in such a way that convinces the reader that understanding the poetry of that lyric powerfully enhances a significant theme, and therefore, that analyzing other songs in this way could lead to similar insights. Include the lyrics (single spaced with every 5th line numbered, placed at the end of the article, before the works cited) and writer background that will enrich understanding, writer’s meaning (integrated into the article as appropriate, possibly the introduction). Your works cited page will include the lyrics as a primary source (you may cite either song writer or singer, whichever is most significant in to your use of the lyrics) and at least one secondary source.

Prompt: Song lyric critique (lyric choice due 2/7; rough draft due 2/21): Using the poetry analysis skills we practiced, critique the lyrics of a favorite song: what the lyrics say, how they say it, and what part(s) of the Biblical metanarrative the poet is seeing. (500 - 750 words)
    1. Introduction: Explain the writer’s meaning (both story—if there is one—and theme).
    2. Thesis and preview of points: Identify literary/poetic devices the writer uses to communicate the meaning. 
    3. Body: Demonstrate how the literary/poetic devices communicate the meaning. Be sure to quote the lyrics at least 5 times.
    4. Explain what part of the Biblical metanarrative the poet is seeing (even if you are not a Christian, you can persuade Christians that even within their own worldview, they could benefit from engaging these lyrics).

I thought I’d been very clear, but as students prepared to write the essay, I realized from their questions that something was wrong.

One student was puzzling over the terminology. “So, this isn’t an essay?” “Well, it should have an introduction starting with a hook and ending with a thesis. It should have a body supporting the thesis. And it should wrap up with a conclusion.” “Yes, I know. But it’s not an essay?” As I reached for ways to get across what I thought I’d already put so clearly, I reiterated the importance of remembering the audience. He brightened, “So I can write what would communicate to other teenagers?” “Yes!” (What was obscure about that before?) “So it’s not an essay.” And suddenly it dawned on me. This was just another version of the old “Is this a 5-paragraph essay?” “It’s not an academic essay,” I told him, “but there are many, many kinds of essays in the world.”

When another student asked me similar questions, I thought I had the answer ready. “Remember you’re writing for the audience of a Christian teen magazine.” He still stared at me blankly. “Have you ever read a Christian teen magazine?” “No.” “A blog?” “No. I don’t read magazines.” Hmmm. Back to the drawing board on models.

Part of the success of the poetry writing was having professional models. Just telling students their audience is no help at all if they have never written for that audience or read anything written for that audience. If I’m going to make this assignment as effective as the poetry writing assignment, I’ll have to start reading CCM and find some models. Introduce students not just to “classic” reading and writing, but to the reading and writing they will really do in their lives.

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