Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Poetry Feedback That Feeds Forward

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Poetry Feedback That Feeds Forward

Article excerpt

The elusiveness of poetry can make it one of the most challenging yet captivating units for students to explore. In the universe of possible feedback teachers can offer, which type is most promising for moving our burgeoning middle level poets forward? How can middle school teachers use formative assessment to regularly monitor students' performance in poetry? How can this formative assessment best guide instruction and promote growth in poetry learning? How can teachers of young adolescents use formative assessment data that quantifies analysis and interpretation of poetry without severely restricting poetry instruction?

Poetry unit standards and common assessment

In an attempt to augment creativity, reading, and deep understanding, the three seventh grade English teachers at our school used standards to come up with five essential questions in poetry in order to focus instruction for an eight-week unit in poetry. Each of these questions helps to address the school standards and the Common Core State Standards (RL 7.4, 7.5 7.10), in reading, analyzing, and interpreting poetry (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, 2010). As customary school practice, all teachers teaching the same subject in a grade were required to use the same standards and curriculum, but each could deliver instruction based on her/his preference. As a result, one of the teachers (first author of the article) decided to use formative assessments to guide her instructional lessons throughout this unit. She used the following guiding questions to do so:

1. What is the poem about?

2. What is the mood or atmosphere of the poem?

3. What poetic devices have been used and what is their effect? Please discuss at least one poetic device.

4. What is the message in the poem? What does the poet want us to think about?

5. What is your opinion of the poem? Why?

The message of the poem was defined as the interpretation of the poem, often linked to theme but encompassing more than that. It involves analyzing or unfolding what the poem is saying about the context of the world and what that would mean to the reader. CCSS. ELA RL. 7.1 requires students to support analysis using textual evidence and CCSS.ELA RL 7.2 requires that students determine and analyze a central theme or idea of a particular piece of literature. The fourth question asks students to delve into the analysis process when reading poetry. It asks them to identify a theme and discuss what the poet is trying to say about the theme in the realworld context. Consistent with exemplary middle level education's emphasis on relevance, students should make real-life connections to enable further building on the analysis process. This question is ultimately strengthened by the specific text support the student uses to prove his/ her rationale of the message and its relevance.

Since poetry has a creative element, the English teachers wanted to devote some time for the students to work on writing and evaluating their own poetry. As a result, the unit was broken into two phases. Phase one consisted of skill building, where students read, analyzed, and interpreted poetry and one teacher (the first author of the article) used formative assessment. Phase two consisted of creative writing, where students created and evaluated their own and their peers' poetry. All three teachers planned to end phase one at week six of the unit and give the same summative assessment to evaluate students' understanding and interpretation of the poem "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes and how clearly they expressed themselves in all five questions. They were given one grade on a 1 to 7 scale, where 7 stood for excellent or A+, 6 for very good or A, 5 for good or B, 4 for satisfactory or C, 3-1 needs improvement/poor or D and below.

Beginning the actual unit

Based on informal discussions on poetry, students had a variety of opinions on studying poems. Although some were excited and believed they had experience in reading, writing, and interpreting poetry, the majority of the students were either anxious or unenthused about the poetry unit because they thought poetry was either boring or did not apply to their lives. …

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