Archive for January, 2016

College Essay

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

Poetry Lesson for Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Criticism/Oda a la crítica

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

Listening to the Spanish version will honor the Spanish speakers in the room. Neruda listened to in English is not really Neruda–he loved his language so. The English version, a substitute I also must rely on for full comprehension, can be made available in print. It is included below.

I have a secret space (in my garage turned garden shed) where I can escape to study, consider, and occasionally memorize, poetry. I feel that everyone should have at least one space in their life that is too sacred for Facebook; for me, the poetry cavern (which is also hung with an original 1970s basket swing that I swing in while pondering great works) is that place. While I love the basket swing, the 1960 yellow crushed velvet couch that I bought specifically for the poetry cavern, the hanging basket plants, and my garden bench (which always reminds me of a more positive version of Roethke’s Root Celler), my deeper reason for loving the poetry cavern is because it is a place that is free from criticism, pressure, or the demands of work–it is a secret world dedicated only to art, philosophy, music, and of course–poetry.

Neruda’s Ode to Criticism is as liberating for me as the poetry cavern. Sometimes I carry a poem with me throughout the day as a way of returning to that sacred space.

I am looking forward to teaching this poem to students. Here is simple draft of a lesson.

Opening – Play Tupac’s Only God Can Judge Me (note: this song is only appropriate for HS seniors or above unless you use the radio edit) or another song related to criticism while students walk in the door. Place the English version or English/Spanish version on their desks so it is there when they arrive. Place the recording of the Spanish version and then read the English version.

Depending on the level of instruction, you could select five to twenty literary devices from the poem. In my own AP English class, students would already have a vocabulary notebook with 25-30 poetry terms in it that they made over a period of weeks. They use this to annotate and analyze poetry on a daily basis….

but here is the catch–in this poem, Neruda actually directly discusses the experience of having his work criticized and torn apart by those who wish to analyze poetry rather than love it and learn from it.

So today–instead of analysis–the questions for small group discussion & individual assessment become:

  1. In which lines does Neruda discuss the ways in which his poetry is analyzed by critics? How does he feel about this? What is the purpose of the critic? Is there anything positive about criticism? (These questions are foreshadowing for Neruda’s Part 2 of Ode to Criticism, which you can show them on a different day).
  2. Neruda seems to suggest that there is a purpose for poetry that is far more important than the words or reactions of any critic. Find the lines where he suggests this and write two or three down. What do you understand this purpose to be?
  3. What do artists make art? Use this poem as a resource to craft a written answer (you decide how long based on your timing)…and then take a break when you hear the music. Tell students to work hard and take a movement break when they hear the Tupac. After the song, they come back to their groups and share. They then pick one reporter to share with the whole group about the different answers that that they found.

Challenge Assignment: Write your own poem to the critics or “haters”. Allow your inner self to speak back to those who would persecute you for any reason. You may also draw on an experience from your younger days. 16 lines or more…go!!!!!!! Allow them time to write…and then share. If you can, write your own poem to share with students so that they have another model. They will feel more comfortable if they hear yours…and be more likely to share. It will be hilarious.


I wrote five poems :
one was green
another a round wheaten loaf,
the third was a house, a building,
the fourth a ring,
and the fifth was
brief as a lightning flash,
and as I wrote it,
it branded my reason.

Well, then, men
and women
came and took
my simple materials,
breeze, wind, radiance, clay, wood,
and with such ordinary things
walls, floors, and dreams.
On one line of my poetry
they hung out the wash to dry.
They ate my words
for dinner,
they kept them
by the head of their beds,
they lived with poetry,
with the light that escaped from my side.
came a mute critic,
then another babbling tongues,
and others, many others, came,
some blind, some all-seeing,
some of them as elegant
as carnations with bright red shoes,
others as severely
clothed as corpses,
some were partisans
of the king and his exalted monarchy,
others had been snared
in Marx’s brow
and were kicking their feet in his beard,
some were English,
plain and simply English,
and among them
they set out
with tooth and knife,
with dictionaries and other dark weapons,
with venerable quotes,
they set out
to take my poor poetry
from the simple folk
who loved it.
They trapped and tricked it,
they rolled it in a scroll,
they secured it with a hundred pins,
they covered it with skeleton dust,
they drowned it in ink,
they spit on it with the suave
benignity of a cat,
they used it to wrap clocks,
they protected it and condemned it,
they stored it with crude oil,
they dedicated damp treatises to it,
they boiled it with milk,
they showered it with pebbles,
and in the process erased vowels from it,
their syllables and sighs
nearly killed it,
they crumbled it and tied it up in a
little package
they scrupulously addressed
to their attics and cemetaries,
one by one, they retired,
enraged to the point of madness
because I wasn’t
popular enough for them,
or saturated with mild contempt
for my customary lack of shadows,
they left,
all of them,
and then,
once again,
men and women
came to live
with my poetry,
once again
they lighted fires,
built houses,
broke bread,
they shared the light
and in love joined
the lightning flash and the ring.
And now,
gentlemen, if you will excuse me
for interrupting this story
I’m telling,
I am leaving to live
with simple people.

-Pablo Neruda

Socratic Seminar Model

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

The Socratic Seminar model is a wonderful tool to use with students of all ages. I am including a cool clip below of a collaborative project that my 12th grade students did with 5th grade students at Atkinson Elementary School. Atkinson Principal, Ivonne Dibblee, who had observed this method in my classroom suggested the idea of getting our students together. She connected me with excellent 5th grade teacher, Nicolette Smith. We have now collaborated for two years in a row! Here are some basic directions for holding your own Socratic Seminar Discussion.

The method is based on the original concept of “the dialectic” which is attributed to Socrates. The Socratic dialectical process is exemplified in the conversation that happens between intoxicated, friendly philosophers in Plato’s Republic. Do you remember reading this in high school or college? I do–I remember when I was assigned this book as a Freshman at New York University. It took me a little while to understand the format of the book, but I soon found myself deeply engaged in the discourse between these interesting characters. I began to understand that Plato was using this conversation as an example, actually, of Utopia. The philosophers, each with their own distinct personality and perspective, argued with one another about the nature of reality, and about the ideal society. Their teacher always responded with a deeper question, leading to a deeper question, and a deeper question after that. In the end, Plato (who was a student of Socrates) argues that communication, dialogue, and questioning –the dialectical process– are the Utopia–the privilege to search for truth is as good as it gets.

Although there are many feminist critiques of Socrates, I see the Socratic Method as a tool for establishing equity in the classroom. Why–you ask? It is a great tool for creating a more equitable environment because an authentic Socratic Seminar is about the supremacy of each individual’s right to question without being put down or debated. It is a celebration of free speech. It is a thrilling spectacle of critical thinking. It is a stage on which to practice free thought. It is about the empowerment of every voice.

There are many ways to facilitate a Socratic Seminar discussion, and just as many people trying to sell the method as their own; however, each teacher has the right to interpret the method in their own way, as Socrates himself is no longer among us–or is he?

Susie’s Socratic Method:

All students sit in a circle or square.

Students ask two questions about a major text they read as a group, an essay, a film or film clip, a poem, or a quote (quotes work well with younger children).

The teacher explains the guidelines:

Two before you (two students must speak before anyone else speaks)

Unheard voice rules (the person who has not spoken yet must be called on before a student who has already spoken)

The student who spoke most recently must call on the next student. If there are no hands up, they may call on anyone.

Silence is golden. Silent moments are not to be feared. They are moments for deep meditation before the discussion blossoms again.

No Side Talk – Please write down your thought and share with the group!

Round #1

After these guidelines are established, every student in the circle must propose their question to the whole group. Just go around the whole circle. If working with high school students, all students must take notes on what every student says, and then star a few who they would like to respond to. If working with middle school students, they should simply take notes on what three or four students asked. High School students must turn in their notes at the end of the discussion for assessment.

Round #2

After all students have asked their question, the actual conversation begins. I often revisit the bolded guidelines above one more time. My role, as teacher, is now to ensure that the students stick to the guidelines. If one student is allowed to dominate and a conversation erupts between two students in the circle, this is not an authentic Socratic Seminar.

In round #2, each student must ask a question about the question another student raised in the first round. It is a challenge for students to drop the practice of domination and debate and simply learn to question one another’s ideas. Sometimes, students may just want to make one remark about what another students said…or to take the conversation in a slightly different direction. Tangents must be allowed. Don’t be afraid of going off topic a little bit. A silence will once again emerge at some point. When it does, let students know ahead of time that this is the moment to return to one of the questions that a student raised in the first round. Those questions are the fuel of the discussion.


Since we know that young people perform best with both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, I do offer points for the Socratic Seminar discussion. The points could look something like this:

Listening & Notetaking – 10 points

Round #1 Question – 20 points

Round #2 Participating and Listening – 20 points

Points can be taken for not following the guidelines. Students are made aware of this beforehand. Sometimes it takes a little practice to get it all going. Hold fast to the guidelines so this can be a great, operable strategy for the school year.

I have far more successful discussions when I require notes and post the points system. Students deeply enjoy clarity!

Does the teacher involve herself? I tell students that by the end of the year, I want to see them operate a Socratic Seminar Discussion alone so that I may film it. However, I do enjoy participating in the first half of the year. If it is about poetry, I can barely stop myself from joining in; however, I TOO MUST FOLLOW THE RULES, RAISE MY HAND, AND BE CALLED ON. The students love this sense of equality. I highly suggest trying it out!