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From the Classroom: One Poem, One School

By Tricia Ebarvia

Every year as April approaches, my colleagues and I gather together to make a decision. What poem will we choose to celebrate National Poetry Month this year?

For the last nine years, students at Conestoga High School have marked National Poetry Month with a celebration known as “One Poem, One ‘Stoga.” Each April, every English class takes a break from its regularly scheduled programming to study one poem together. That means that more than 2,000 students, from 14-year-old freshmen to 18-year-old seniors, read the same poem. It’s one of the few shared experiences students have that transcends age, grade, and academic level.

As you can see, we’ve celebrated National Poetry Month with a range of wonderful poems:

While reading such beautiful poetry is certainly worthwhile on its own, each year students also use the selected poem as a mentor text to write their own poetry. Over the years, we’ve had poems that explored thirteen ways of looking at sunsets as well as the fury of the backpack. One of the few poems I’ve written that I’ve actually liked—I openly admit to being poetry-challenged—was inspired by Li-Young Lee’s “The Weight of Sweetness.” My version, about the weight of motherhood, is below:

No easy thing to bear, the weight of motherhood.

Love, guilt, ambition, joy: motherhood
equals three of any of these gravities.
See the child through the lens,
unassuming and unburdened
by knowledge.

Hold the photograph, feel its texture, motherhood
and moment so heavy and light
between your fingers.
And, so, there is
the weight of memory:
Sun-soaked, a warm
fall wind breezes, refreshing
mother and child.
They laugh and count,
as the mother pushes the boy up farther, higher,
swinging until his toes
kiss the clouds.

The little boy’s hands clutch rusted chains
for dear life.
Now he watches
his mother walk away, carrying camera in hand.
See the look on the boy’s face
as his mother fumbles with the shutter
again and again, while his own smile grows tired
and the swinging slows down, as he learns
about the weight of motherhood.

To make this a truly shared experience, our poetry moves beyond our classroom walls. Student (and teacher) poems are posted up in the hallways, so that for a few weeks in April, you can’t walk through the building without encountering poem after poem after poem, each inspired by the same mentor text. It’s not uncommon to see students stop to read each other’s poems.

This year, we decided to try something a little new. We chose a song as our poem—Bob Dylan’s iconic, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” As Dylan does in his song, students grappled with questions about humanity, the wonders of nature, and the pressing social issues of our day. Others took a more satirical approach. Because Dylan’s poem is a song, particular attention had to be paid to the meter, rhythm and rhyme. And to cap off our celebration, “Blowin’ in the Wind” will be played during the morning announcements this week. (I’ve already heard students humming that familiar melody throughout the day.)

So if you’ve ever wondered what 2,000 additional stanzas of “Blowin’ in the Wind” might look like, you’d just need to walk our halls.


Tricia EbarviaTricia Ebarvia currently teaches 9th grade world literature and AP English Language & Composition at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, PA. This year, she continues her quest to inspire a love for reading in her students by integrating more independent reading and free choice. She admits that her heart skips a beat whenever she sees a student with a book in his hand she’s recommended. She is currently writing daily as part of the “Slice of Life” challenge at her website, mrsEbarvia.com. She can also be found on twitter @triciaebarvia.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Gabija Fischer #

    “Weight of Motherhood” is beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I have always enjoyed the shared experience of the One Poem activity. I missed it this year. It sounds like it was fun!

    Like

    May 3, 2015
  2. Aubrey #

    This is such an amazing idea! Sometimes, I think poetry is pushed to the side and not viewed as important compared to compositional writing so doing this activity every year makes that importance shine. I like how the same poem is used throughout the ENTIRE school. This creates a strong community not just within the classroom, or grade, but the entire school. Incorporating a song this year is a wonderful idea to show students how songs and music are a part of English too. Teacher’s neglect songs when they are actually a beautiful way into poetry, can spark interest in the students, and present the 6 traits of writing. I like how students use the poems as mentor texts to write their own because writing poetry is very difficult for a middle or secondary learner to do without much practice or knowledge. Also having the students read and write based on the same text, is very powerful for students in sharing their ideas. Lastly, I liked how you shared your poem with us because it is crucial for our students to see us go through the same writing process as them. This is definitely an idea I will keep with me when I graduate and get hired in a school district. Thank you for sharing!

    Like

    April 27, 2015
  3. NickJ #

    Mrs. Ebarvia,

    I am a WCU student focusing on middle grades. While I am not focused on LA, I do appreciate the subject and am always keeping an eye out for ideas for my future classrooms.

    I love the idea of using the same poem across the whole school, with every student. What a great way to build unity among the students. Posting the student poems around the halls is a great way to share also. It has to be a great feeling to walk the halls, see all of the poems, and see students appreciating each others work. This year sounds like it could be a lot of fun. Bob Dylan is a great song writer and the song that was chosen is a classic. I can only guess how much the students love hearing the song in the morning instead of reading the poem in class. In my opinion using the song, and playing it in the morning, is again another great way to bring every student together ignoring age and grade. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

    April 26, 2015
  4. Tricia, “The weight of motherhood” is beautiful — poignant and powerful — I love that your camera/lens is included in the poem. Thank you for sharing poem titles and the latest iteration of poetry month at Conestoga — and so many great ideas!
    Mary

    Like

    April 25, 2015
  5. Rita Sorrentino #

    Tricia, thanks for all the links to poems used in your project and for sharing your beautiful poem. Look forward to reading some of your students’ added verses. Lots of “Blowin in the Wind” today.

    Like

    April 23, 2015
  6. jmjd #

    Another idea to steal from a fellow Fellow!

    Like

    April 22, 2015
    • It’s not mine! I think the idea actually originated between Linda Kerschner and another one of our colleagues. So still a fellow Fellow, just not me. 🙂

      Like

      April 22, 2015

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