National Writing Project

Behind the Curtain: A Teacher's Quest to Better Understand, Write, and Model Poetry

By: Tanya J. Hannaford
Publication: English Journal
Date: March 2015

Summary: Tanya J. Hannaford recounts her experience learning to love poetry along with her students, demonstrating that modeling the writing process, with all of its messiness, has a profound impact on student risk-taking and learning.

 

At the sound of the timer's alarm, I jumped out of my chair and ran to the front of the classroom. My stunned students gaped at me. I said, 'That was so fun! Let's see what we've got. Quickly highlight your favorite phrases and word combinations.' After a brief moment of looking at one another in wonder, they busied themselves with the task at hand and I sat down to do the same. Then I said, 'You have five minutes. Write the poem according to the instructions on the prompt.' I'm not going to lie: My body was buzzing with adrenaline. I was experiencing what Cremin identified as 'real modeling,' which involves 'spontaneity and risk' (417). Being 'real' with my students was both frightening and exciting.[...]

Sharing my freewriting samples with my students seemed to help them better understand the stream-of-consciousness concept: almost half of them reported that my models helped them better understand how to do their writing assignments (see Figure 1). I also believe it served as a sort of 'permission' for them to write down the seemingly inane things that might pop into the human mind. If the teacher is willing to admit that she jumps from 'I don't know what to write' to 'the color of cheeks,' then they can write crazy stuff, too, right?"

About the Authors

TANYA J. HANNAFORD is a high school English teacher in Mount Vernon, Missouri, and a teacher-consultant with the Ozarks Writing Project.

Hannaford, Tanya J. "Behind the Curtain: A Teacher's Quest to Better Understand, Write, and Model Poetry." English Journal 104:4 (2015) 37-42. Copyright ©2015 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

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