Saturday, 13 April 2013

History repeating itself… repeating itself - repetition in poetry

There are three reasons why I started blogging. One: curiosity. Two: so I practised what I preached to students. How can I lecture students on writing, when the only time I write something is to comment on a student’s writing? Three: to share resources, or to make sure I don’t lose resources.  Well, the following took place this week:

IT guy: Hello, Miss Curtis.  
Me: Miss?
IT guy: Sorry, I have a cold.  
Me: Mr Curtis. Yes?
IT guy: It is about your portable memory drive.
Me: Yes.
IT guy: The one you couldn’t access and were worried about.
Me: Yes. What’s wrong with it?
IT guy: It’s dead.
Me: No, no, it’s just resting.
IT guy: Look, mate, I know a dead hard drive when I see one.
Me: No, no , I know memory sticks – it’s just resting. High capacity. Holds lots of data.
IT guy:  Data has nothing to do with it. It is stone dead.
Me: No, no, no. It’s just hibernating.  It is in sleep mode.
IT guy: All right then, if it is sleeping, I will just wake it up then. (Shouting) Hello, Mr Hard Drive. Wake up! I have lots of things here for you to store.   
Me: (Makes a whirring noise) There it made a noise.
IT guy: No it didn’t. That was you making a noise.
Me: I never.
IT guy: Yes, you did!
Me: I never, never did anything...
IT guy: (yelling and hitting the drive) HELLO SCANDISK Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing! This is your nine o'clock alarm call! (He picks up drive and sticks it into the computer)Now that is a dead hard drive.
Me: No, no…. he’s just frozen.
Me: Yeah, frozen. You just made it freeze or something. Portable hard drives always freeze.
IT guy: Look. I’ve had enough of this: it is dead. I have done everything, but it is dead because of an electrical surge.
Me: Well… well…. Well, it is probably pining for a faster computer. 
IT guy: PINING for a FASTER COMPUTER ?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that? Look, why doesn’t the light flash on?
Me: It is sulking.
IT guy: Look, I took the liberty of opening the thing up and I noticed there was sellotape holding it together. 
Me: Well, I had to sellotape it. It would have got messy and make loud noises, if I didn’t. 
IT guy: NOISE. Mate this drive wouldn’t make noise if you put a million volts through it. It has died.
Me: No, it’s just pining.
IT guy: It is not pining! It has passed on! This drive is no more! It has ceased to be! It has expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn't sellotaped it together it would be pushing up the daisies! Its metabolic processes are now history! It’s kicked the bucket, it’s shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible! THIS IS AN EX-HARD DRIVE
Me: Have you got any others?
IT guy: No. What about a CD?

To cut a long story short, I lost 6 months of resources this month. My hard drive died and sadly/ stupidly / annoyingly I hadn’t backed things up since September last year. Therefore, I have decided to put even more resources on the blog, so that if it happens again, I will at least have some stored online. The pain has subsided, but now I have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Charge of the Light Brigade
The following are the resources from a lesson on repetition in poetry and more specifically ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. The resources and ideas here were used in an observed lesson, and I did very, very well – I don’t like to talk about numbers! In the lesson, I introduced the poem and explored the use of repetition in it.

They walk through the door
As students walk through the door, I play a PowerPoint of several different images and play an appropriate piece of music linked to the conflict in Afghanistan. While the music is playing, I prompt students to put down what their thoughts and feelings are towards the conflict on an A3 sheet of paper.  


The Starter
I then chose students at random to give me three words that summed up or related to the conflict.  I went round the room at collected these as a whole class. These were written on the board so we had a word bank for the rest of the lesson.  Some examples the students gave were: pointless, futile, irrelevant, unjust and noble.

At this point, I explained to the students that we are going to look at a conflict from Britain’s past; however, the conflict holds some relevance to the current conflict in Afghanistan. I then posed the following task:

Imagine you are a poet and you want to make a point about the conflict in Afghanistan. What would your message be?

Using the following words, students then wrote their messages on the outside of the box on the sheet they had started at the beginning of the lesson.

What was produced wasn’t obvious. To persuade people of the relevance of the conflict. To inform people of the frustration of the Afghanistan people.

Introducing  the poem and comparing stanzas
Now that I had the seeds of some messages, I then introduced the poem. Rather than give them the whole poem, I felt that if we focused on two stanzas it would mean that we could be more precise with our analysis. Therefore, I gave them two stanzas to compare.

First they had to spot the differences, in pairs. However, in spotting the differences they had to also explain why there may be a difference there.
Once we had made several observations, we then made connections to the conflict in Afghanistan. The ‘jaws of Death’ and ‘mouth of Hell’ jumped out for the students. Most of them said they wouldn’t want to go because of what they have heard in the news. Furthermore, some students highlighted the sense of isolation and sense of entrapment.  Also, some students spotted the change from ‘boldly’ to ‘hero’.

The structure of the poem
Then, in groups they had to explore the following image. I asked them to think about what went in the gaps. If they were writing the poem, what would they put in the other stanzas?

Repetition Time
Then, we looked at the whole poem and I informed them of the historical conflict that the poem is written about.  While reading the poem, I asked students to come up with ideas about why the poet wrote the poem. Not surprising really, but a lot of students made a direct connection to their messages about conflict.

We then got the highlighters out and highlighted every bit of repetition.  After a few minutes, we had coloured in the whole thing. I then posed the following question: Why does the poet repeat the following lines? Why also does he change it at the end of the poem?
Rode the six hundred.
Rode the six hundred.
Rode the six hundred.
Not the six hundred.
Left of six hundred.
Noble six hundred! 

All the class recognised the repetition of the ‘six hundred’ highlighted the shock of how many died, but we got some interesting answers when it varied from the set repetition.  

I then explained to the class that:

Repetition is used for a number of reasons. All of them standout, sadly.
We repeat things to teach people:

Lee make sure your top button is done up!

We repeat things to convince people of something:
David: "I did do the homework. I did".

We repeat things to reassure:
That is really neat work. Really neat.

All of this was to stop the predictable ‘it stands out’ phrase.


Going deeper

I then gave the students this to students. They had to match up the possible reasons for the use of repetition. I also suggested that they could come up with their own if they had some ideas of their own.  
[a] The repetition of the phrase ‘half a league’ …
[b] The repetition of the number ‘six hundred’…
[c] The repetition of the word ‘cannon’…
[d] The repetition of the phrase ‘into the’…
[e] The repetition of the phrase ‘theirs not’ …
[f] The repetition of the verb ‘flash’d’…
[g] The repetition of the word ‘honour’…
[h] The repetition of the phrase ‘storm’d at with shot and shell’ …

…reflects the sound of the horses’ hooves. 
….reminds the reader of how many people this conflict affected and how that number changes at the end.
… highlights how trapped the soldiers were.
… shows us how loyal the soldiers were and how they didn’t question the orders given.
….shows us how far they have had to travel and deep into battle they went. 
...reflects the chaos of the battle and how things were happening too fast.
…shows how the reader must respect what the soldiers fought and died for.
…highlights how the fighting was constant and there was no peace or time for pausing.

Writing it down (Plenary)
So they had a grasp of the concept of repetition and how writers use repetition.  They could quite clearly articulate their ideas verbally. It was now time to focus on their writing. The group I did this lesson with was a C/D group.  I showed the following slide on the board and we picked apart the two bits of analysis.  


As a group they came up with the following points:
  • Must refer to the reader and how they think or feel
  • Must say what the writer used the technique
  • Must use a quote
  • Must link ideas to the message of the poem – what the poet wants us to learn / think / feel

Task: Write an explanation of how a writer has used repetition in 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'.

Finally, on their own students wrote a paragraph about repetition in the poem, using what they have learnt. These were then the focus for next lesson, where we assessed the analysis and added an extra technique to the analysis.

Overall, I think the lesson worked because I was teaching in a precise manner. I wasn’t going to town on everything, but focusing on a few specific things. It was a very student-led lesson. The students were coming up with the ideas and I was just fuelling their interest. But, by the end of it students had a better grasp of repetition and its complex use in poetry.

And finally
I had to repeat the idea of losing all that work in my head. Finally, it did sink in only after lots and lots of repetition.

Thanks for reading,

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