Paths Towards Articulation

Do you ever have one of those lessons, where everything goes as you planned? Better yet, things work-out beyond your expectations? Kids leave your room a buzz with excitement and inspiration? You feel you have somehow added to the betterment of humanity, through the enlightenment of the best minds of the next generation?  Today was not one of those lessons.

I had this last minute whimsical idea, but it didn’t really provide much visible fruit. Although, I was disappointed by the product, the process has been ripe for reflection. As always, nuts and bolts first, followed by reflection.

A seed has been planted in my heart, ever since I first saw Caine’s Arcade a few days ago. If you haven’t seen the film yet, take ten minutes to watch it below.

All year, we have been exploring the idea that poetry need not be confined solely to text. We have tinkered with film and photography as methods to capture the poetic experience, so here was a great example of visual poetry. I wanted my students to feel the emotional tug created through Caine’s Arcade. I wanted them to consider the depth of possible themes, and finally I wanted them to write a poem based on their experience with the film.

We discussed the context of East LA, as a low-income area of Los Angels before we watched the film. I asked them to jot down emotional observations as they watched, which we shared after the film. I was impressed by what they shared:


  • Caring
  • Hope
  • Dreaming Big
  • Never Say Never
  • Innocence
  • Joyfulness
  • Determination
  • Passion

They got the film.  This was clear. On a surface level, they connected to emotional baggage being presented. Next,  I asked them to take these themes, unpack them and write a poem based in what they found inside. Yup, I threw them into the deep-end just like that. It was not pretty. There was a lot of staring at blank pages, a lot of empty looks. They were drowning and drowning fast. A few of them were okay, but the majority were overwhelmed by the freedom.  They need more scaffolding. This is a Language A class of some pretty high flyers. I know they are working on an advance level as was evidenced by their great films. I did not want to offer them a pair of “water wings” if they didn’t need them, but at this point they needed something more from me.

Next, we explored some deeper themes and ideas.

  • Odds against you
  • Cardboard/reuse
  • Boredom versus creation

We talked about the idea of the arcade itself being a gamble. It is designed to cheat the player, much like life. They mentioned that it was interesting that this place of hope was created from reused cardboard boxes. I presented the idea that it was important to notice how like the boxes themselves, Caine had been abandon too. That maybe this film was the filmmakers way of reusing him and his story to create hope. We discussed the act of creation and how it stems from boredom. We had some great talks.

They went back to writing. They still struggled. I failed.

Well no! This is my epiphany. So many times we expect perfect little products after we “teach” kids how to do something. I will teach you about poetry (as if that is even possible) and you will write a poem. Here is your A! Isn’t school fun? It is never that easy. Sometimes maybe the struggle is the point. Maybe exposing kids to frustration and forcing them to keep at it is what we should be teaching. Expecting grade seven students to write great poetry is a difficult challenge, but teaching them how to recognize the poetry which surrounds them and offering them paths towards the articulation is a great first step.

We began the journey down this path today. We identified the poetry in a simple short film and allowed it to play with our guts. We examined the results and became frustrated when we couldn’t easily create art from our experience. This is not failure. This is a beginning. This is learning. I won’t be able to assess this or put it on a rubric, but I hope that my students will be the better for it. I hope they will explore their emotions, spend quiet time with their hearts and see what comes pouring out. It will be messy and jumbled and possible incompressible, but it is my job to help them sculpt a poem from it.

I asked them to watch the film again at home and spend more time with it tonight. I asked them to simply write what they think and feel. Forget about poetry. Do not think. Just write. I shared this little nugget:

Poems are not written. They are excavated from pages of notes, scribblings & emotional detritus.  A poem is not written it is sculpted.

Tomorrow I will show them this and see where we go next. I am not exactly sure where we are headed, but that is okay. We are on a journey. We are together. This is enough for now.

During the writing of this post, I received this tweet from Narvin, the creator of the film.

Who knows, maybe he will have some ideas of where we go next…


4 thoughts on “Paths Towards Articulation

  1. avatarKristi

    Thanks for sharing ‘not one of those lessons’. Don’t we have these most often? Isn’t your epiphany that it is OK to have a lesson that causes some angst and deep thought, but doesn’t necessarily produce ‘perfect’ work? I love that you threw them into the deep end knowing that they may thrash about, but they wouldn’t drown (even if they felt like they were). You show your students that you trust their ability to think. They will grow from this. I thank you for it.

    Caine is an amazing kid and I am sure there are companies already wanting to hire him for his positive attitude, ingenuity, and ability to think through the box.

  2. avatarJacqui
    Twitter: jacqui5p

    love it!

    Always feel we get poetry wrong in schools – we shouldn’t “teach” it like some formula you follow until we’ve amassed a pile of boring haikus written for no other reason than to appease the teacher – we should immerse kids in it and tune them in to the moments that make them want to write

    But strange you think you can’t assess what they’re doing – what about what’s happening can’t be assessed? I’m not fully versed in MYP – but isn’t there stuff there about creativity, interpretation, process? Not saying that everything worthwhile needs to be assessed – but maybe there’s a problem if leading students through a writing process like this is that far removed from the curriculum……

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  4. avatarMathew
    Twitter: mrneedleman

    I’m of the frame of mind that good teaching SHOULD be like pulling teeth though thats never a good feeling. If you give up on pulling teeth you never get to the extraordinary moments.

    For me, the most striking thing about Caine was how he kept tinkering with his machines, trying to make them better. The persistence that he showed in not giving up is perhaps one of the qualities that mark the difference between frivolous pursuits and genius.


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