18 February 2011

High School juniors 1, Coleridge 0

None left.photo © 2010 Stephanie | more info (via: Wylio)
Some days, you just have to go where they lead you, and you cross your fingers that it is a road that leads them to identify your purpose with theirs. As part of the British Romantics unit, I'm teaching "Kubla Khan" this year, trying to make up lost snow time by skipping the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." One of the pitfalls of "Kubla Khan" is that they don't always get how exotic the poem is, that eating honeydew and listening to an Ethiopian play a dulcimer would not have been in the realm of Coleridge's experience when he wrote the poem. They, of course, don't think it is all that big a deal. And then there is the inevitable fixation on Coleridge's opium habit. If you are not careful, the discussion can wind its way to heroin production in Afghanistan--and they tried it today.
But then magic time started when one student protested that she did not know what was going on in the poem, that yeah the imagery was great, but nothing happened in the poem fragment. And suddenly there was a poll on the whiteboard to judge whether it was a bad, good or great poem.  "Good" won. The discussion moved to each person's criteria for judging the poem, and most of those who voted "good" decided the vivid imagery made it good, but it could not be great because it was only a fragment. They felt the poet's purpose was missing, and therefore, the reader's satisfaction would be limited. The person who hated it said it made no sense. We all had to agree to that one too. And finally, I asked, should this poem even be in the book at all? And they answered pragmatically, as only teens can: only if it means we get to skip the longer poem. They crack me up! Have a great weekend.

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