Thursday, September 06, 2012

Fast-break fundamentals

It had to happen eventually: here we are in Sports Literature class talking today about a bunch of basketball poems when I mix my sports metaphors. Let's step up to the plate and tackle the poem "Slam, Dunk, and Hook," shall we? If nothing else, this course illuminates just how heavily we rely on sports metaphors even in analyzing literature.

And how is the class going? Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I'm having fun, although I often feel as if I've run a marathon by the end of class. Today we did an in-class activity I'm calling "Fast-Break Poetry Analysis," designed to give the students practice in identifying certain elements of poetic form. I've been working really hard to get them to move beyond the idea that a poem is either a story (" 'Old Men Shooting Baskets' is a poem about old men shooting baskets...") or a random outpouring of unfiltered emotion ("It means whatever you want it to mean...."). I want them to look at a poem and observe the tools the poets employ, such as  sound patterns, line lengths, rhyme, and rhythm, and then consider how those tools contribute to meaning. But first I have to help them know what to look for.

So we've been looking at poems both in class and out of class and taking note of what we see. Today I broke them into groups of three, assigned one poem to each group, gave them a few minutes to talk about what tools the poet chose to use, and then called out group numbers and gave each group 60 seconds to make a fast break to the whiteboard and write as many tools as they could identify in their particular poems.

It was a little chaotic at times, especially when the groups were cheering each other on, but I was pleased to see the groups competing to see who could identify the most poetic tools--even though I hadn't promised any prizes for the winner. When all the groups had finished, we used their notes on the board as the foundation for our discussion of the poems, which gave the groups a chance to explain their observations and provide examples from the poems and gave me a chance to say "You dunked it!" or "Three points!" 

I'm confident now that they can look at a poem and identify the more common elements of form, a fundamental skill we'll strengthen and develop in the coming weeks. Yes, my Sports Lit team is shaping up, and if we keep drilling on our fundamentals, we can step up to the plate and tackle any poem with a slam-dunk. 

(Ouch. My brain just exploded.)


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