Loyola Academy students watched the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday, January 20, 2021, like many other students across the country. English/Language Arts (ELA) teacher Ms. Emily O’Brien decided to create a spontaneous two-day poetry deep dive for her Grade 8 students following the event.
After watching Amanda Gorman, the United States’ first-ever youth poet laureate, recite her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, Ms. O’Brien knew the poem was striking a chord for her students.
“The poem is really meaningful, timely and included everything I wanted them to learn about poems – allusions, alliteration, tone, rhyme scheme, etc.,” said Ms. O’Brien.
She found the full transcript of the poem, which is four pages long, and assigned it to her eighth-grade students. Specifically, she had them read and annotate the poem three times. In round one, they read each page for meaning and were asked to put the poem into their own words. In round two, they were asked to read for reaction and shared what came to their own minds while reading. And in round three, they read for structure, annotating various rhyme schemes, parallel structure, metaphors, and other poetic elements.
Following the initial assignment, Ms. O’Brien says there was a lot of class discussion. Each student chose one line from the poem that spoke most to them and shared why it was so meaningful. Further, they were asked to find references to current and historical events as well as religious references. To practice annotating text in preparation for high school, the students color-coordinated their thoughts to better organize them on the page.
After much class discussion, the group watched Amanda Gorman recite the poem a second time, showcasing that the performance itself brings additional meaning to the words.
When discussing the assignment and deviation from the planned lessons, Ms. O’Brien shared that the poem allowed her to preview an important English lesson (a poetry unit is taught later in the school year) and tie it to an important historical event that students were already watching. She was also able to pull in students’ perspectives on current events and history from Social Studies class.
She appreciates the flexibility and freedom she has at Saint Columbkille to make a creative decision to focus a couple days on such a dynamic lesson. The students, she shares, loved the assignment and were eager to share their thoughts on the poem.
“The most fun moments are when the students go off on a tangent when learning about something,” says Ms. O’Brien. “They are curious enough to ask questions and I encourage that openness in my classroom.”
See below for examples of the students' annotated work.