Having just graded midterms which revealed some impressive engagement with the poems we'd read earlier in the semester, I continue to be frustrated with the blankness on the faces in my first-year class, with the sense that if I don't push the wheel, it rolls to a stop.
Yesterday I tried what I called a poetry blitz. They'd have 10 minutes of private reading and writing time with each of three short poems by Anne Simpson, Michael Crummy and Lorna Crozier. After each 10-min spot, if they wanted to talk, we'd talk. "This is read and react," I told them. "As directly as possible."
There's more obedience than responsiveness with this group. I noticed that many students would read the poem, write their piece--"write a letter to the poem," is how I put it--then sit back and wait for the 10 minutes to expire. Before the second set, I pointed out that they could devote the whole 10 minutes to the task if they wanted, perhaps to supplement, deepen, further explore their preliminary response.
Today I'll see what observations and questions they might have. If none, we'll move on. I'm going to simply refuse to tell them about the poems (as if I know anyway). If all that matters is what they have to "know" for the exam, they'll have to settle for what the ten minutes, or any further private consideration they might apply, told them.
5 hours later: I did end up offering a few observations of my own about the poems. No matter how stoutly I reminded them that I might be full of beans, some students wrote down what I said. I'd rather they paid more attention to their own reaction to the poem.
The idea didn't work, but come on, it's Halloween afternoon. And I've got a new idea for next week.