Teachers Helping Teachers: Lauren Kloser, ACE 14
ACE 14 graduate Lauren Kloser currently teaches English at Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, IN. This third installment of Teachers Helping Teachers highlights a different way English teachers can combine a variety of genres (novels and poetry) and communication modes (reading, writing, and performance) into one larger learning objective. In this particular case, Lauren uses the theme of “choice and its importance in our lives” as a way to unify her teaching of Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi with poetry writing and performance. Her unit design and instruction help to illustrate for students the ways that authors can deploy themes and devices across genres, but in accordance with different genre-based conventions.
Integrating Reading and Writing across Genres
The verse story, also referred to as a spoken word poetry assignment throughout the Teachers Helping Teachers video segment, originates in the class’s discussion of the final chapters of Martel’s Life of Pi. These final chapters surface themes about choice, particularly in response to the questions, “How does Pi--in spite of all the awful things that he has endured--choose to make a life that is still good?” and “How does he choose to see the world in a certain way?” Poetry, for Lauren, is about seeing the world in a certain way, and so a poetry writing assignment has always seemed an apposite writing assignment to accompany her 9th grade unit on Life of Pi. As she explains in the video, the verse story assignment allows students, like Pi, to tell their own story and to choose to see a particular moment in their own lives in a particular way. The actual act of writing poetry is also fraught with choices: the choice of when to pause, where to break a line, the choice of one particular image over another. Borrowing a line from writer Francine Prose, the distilled nature of poetry requires that a writer “put every word on trial for its life.”
Bridging from the novel to the composition and performance of a spoken word poem or “verse story” requires careful scaffolding on Lauren’s part. Beginning with a few examples of poetry performances by Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, Lauren works with her students to generate a list of conventions that typically distinguish poetry from prose (highlighted in the first half of the video featured here). Then, presented with a prose version of a break-up scenario, Lauren invites her students to experience what it feels like to engage in the distillation process that poetry entails by transforming that prose story into poetic verse. More attuned to the careful crafting of rhythm, word choice, and imagery demanded of poets, students then begin to engage in a more focused way with the creation of imagery (highlighted in the second half of the video featured here). Having generated lists of potential topics for their own poems, students narrow and select a topic for a verse story and craft it by incorporating their own imagery and poetic techniques. The final poems--both written and performed-- serve as the culmination of the class’s unit-long investigation into choices--not only those of writers, but of all persons in pursuit of meaning.