For Kevin at The Other Things Matter, whose post “9 Tanka” inspired me to try using some poetry in my 1st grade high school class a couple of weeks ago. His post was also where I learned about Tanka.
Tanka is short Japanese poetry. There’s likely a more technical explanation, but for our purposes here, tanka means short poems about everyday life. In his post, Kevin writes about a few poems he’d used in classes over the years. He used them because they contained things students could relate to, like loneliness, and they did it in a way that was direct and easy to understand.
The poem I used was this one:
because I thought
it was the girlish thing to do
until my 2nd year of high school
to love strawberries
Please note that the poem was translated from Japanese by Kevin.
I chose the poem for these reasons:
l In other words, I thought the students might appreciate being able to read and understand a poem in a foreign language. I know how good it feels to understand a bit of Korean and figured that the students would feel the same way.
l It’s about time and how people change. It might spark some thoughts about how people change over time.
l It’s about being a girl—or doing the girlish thing, which the students might enjoy discussing, so we can lead into gender roles and ideas about being a boy or girl.
Kevin had included some thought-provoking discussion questions that he used in his classes. I used them as well:
- What do you notice about the poem?
- Have you ever pretended to like something?
- Do you think there is a way to act like a boy or a girl?
...to which I added:
- What are girlish things? Boyish things
- Why does the poem end with the word strawberry
- Could you change the poem to be about you?
We spent more time thinking of differences and similarities between boys and girls than we did writing, but we did end up with some detailed Venn diagrams in all four classes. My coteacher also stepped in and translated the poem for every class. This was good of her to do, since maybe not everyone understood exactly what the poem was saying. I hadn’t accounted for translating the poem.
As for the questions themselves, I listed them on the board and distributed copies of them to small groups.
The groups eagerly listed anything they could think of. After they had time to discuss the questions amongst themselves, I called the class to order and made a master graph on the board. I wrote everything down, from differences in appearance (long vs. short hair) to attitude. The group and class review took longer than I expected, so there was little time for writing. This wasn't a big problem, for the list generated plenty of vocabulary and discussion amongst the groups.
Something else that came up: Few if any of the students said they’d pretended to like anything in the past. They were surprised to hear that I've pretended to like or dislike a few things. One of those things is in this attempt at rewriting the above poem:
because I thought
it was a cool thing to do
until age 26
to hate going to bed early
The students seemed to understand it. The bell rang right around this time in all four classes. And all four classes did go well. We may not have gotten to do the poetry recitals that I’d envisioned, but we got somewhere. Ideas came up. Words were spoken. They got on the board. The big thing in my mind was the students had read and understood a poem in English. They’d read and commented on a piece of literature. I count that as a success.
l For the rewritings, I made this model:
n because I __________________
it was a ____________________
I pretended __________________
l And couple of students did attempt to write their version of the “because I thought” poem. One girl wrote this:
because I thought
it was a good sister thing to do
I pretended until the movie Frozen ended
to love the prince
l Though I did highlight the poem’s short lines and show that it’s one sentence that’s divided into lines, I didn’t highlight the the girlish thing part. The difference between a girlish thing and the girlish thing amounts to something in general versus something important. Maybe it doesn’t matter as much as I thought, for such a distinction might have been too much for the students to bear at first.