“Māra,” by Moira Wairama

During the last week of term, I introduced many of my E.S.O.L. students to “Māra,” a poem published in Issue 52 of the New Zealand Junior Journal, a journal of writing geared towards students working in level 2 of The New Zealand Curriculum. The full journals, with illustrations and audio recordings, are available here at no charge: http://literacyonline.tki.org.nz/Literacy-Online/Planning-for-my-students-needs/Instructional-Series/Junior-Journal.

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A pēpepe I met in the Auckland Domain

 

In a smooth blend of English and Māori, the speaker invites us into her māra (garden) to meet all of the insects she meets there. The (free) audio recording available on the educators’ resource site highlights the poem’s magical, musical quality, capturing students’ attention in a way that simply handing them the poem as a silent reading assignment could not.

Though the poem is a great example of how students can use imagery, rhyme, and meter in their poems, I find one of the most important things this poem does is highlight the bilingualism and biculturalism that is so important to New Zealand. While I am an American citizen teaching English to non-native speakers, I feel a responsiblity to honour and lift up Te Reo wherever feasible in my teaching as well, and to set a norm in my classroom that all languages are equally precious. Of course, though the poem incorporates both languages, I don’t know if it actually tells us anything particular about Māori culture, so I should be on the lookout for more poems that do this. Learning English is never about replacing what one has grown up with but about adding something new. This is a topic for a future post, but does anyone have suggestions of other poems appropriate for young children that incorporate multiple languages fluently? I’d love to start a solid collection. Thank you!

Most of the articles in the journal come with teacher guides, but the poem does not, so I’ve written up some activities and prepared a vocab sheet for pre-teaching the Māori words and some of the Tier 2 English words that non-native English speakers would need support with. I included some questions to prompt a discussion about the concept of being “special” and what it means to consider something or someone special. My sessions with these students are each quite short, so we don’t have the opportunity for full on CoI, but as always, I’d love to hear of your students’ responses – just hit “reply” below! Adjusting for your students’ needs, I would discuss the unfamiliar words first, so that they have context. Then listen to the poem, giving each student a copy of the poem (from the journal) to have in front of them. Then proceed with the discussion and writing activity.

The guide is available here: http://tinyurl.com/maraguide

After a few drafts, I publish the students’ poems on the wall and give them a chance to read their poetry to each other. It gives each student a chance to showcase their own work and be publicly proud, to review what they have done vs. just turning in an assignment and never seeing it again, to recognize their own work as publish-worthy art, and to learn from and about their peers. I’d love to hear your experiences, successes, and challenges of young students writing and sharing their work!

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Animal Ethics Poems

All poems are either linked to or cited from a particular book that is listed in the Resources section.  If you are having trouble tracking down a copy of a particular poem, comment below for help and I’ll get back to you ASAP. These poem lists are not full modules, but suggestions of poems that could be good to work with, with some jumping off points for philosophical inquiry. If you would like me to write up more suggested questions and activities for an Example Module for a specific poem below, feel free to request! If you would like to write up a module for a poem, please contact me at madeleinebella@gmail.com for guidelines for submission, and I would be delighted to feature your work on the site. List in progress. Please feel free to suggest poems using the Comment box below! Thank you!

Blanco, Alberto. “The Parakeets.” Also filed under Social & Political Philosophy Poems.

Holub, Miroslav. “Napoleon.” Czechoslovakia. translated by Kaca Polackova. This Same Sky, p. 151 (see Resource List)

In this poem, none of the children in a classroom know who Napoleon Bonaparte is. A teacher asks questions about the historical figure, but the refrain comes back, “Nobody knows.” Presumably, the teacher has mentioned Napoleon Bonaparte as a historical figure, but has not discussed personal details of Bonaparte’s life. To the children, this figure is nothing but an abstraction. But then one child tells a story about a dog he knew personally named Napoleon, who was beaten and died of starvation. This Napoleon is someone the children know something about now, and “now all the children feel sorry/for Napoleon.” Since the children had been offered no way to connect to Napoleon Bonaparte personally, they have trouble genuinely caring about the individual, and they do not even remember who he is. Once they make a personal connection to the individual, they care for him immediately. This poem raises ethical questions about who we care for and why, who deserves equal consideration of interests, who should be included in our circle of moral consideration. The Community of Inquiry may like to consider: Is there anything special about the fact that Napoleon #2 is a dog? If the children had been told personal stories about Napoleon Bonaparte’s life, do you think they would have remembered him more clearly? If the teacher had introduced Bonaparte as if he were a person she had known herself, instead of someone who lived hundreds of years ago, would they have cared about him just as much as they begin to care about the canine Napoleon, or is there something special/important about his being a dog?

For more discussion of how children connect with non-human animals, see William Crain’s insightful book, The Emotional Lives of Animals and Children (Turning Stone Press, 2014). William Crain is a professor of psychology and founder of Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary. Click here for a review and discussion on the book from Our Hen House.

Norris, Leslie. “The Pit Ponies.” Wales. This Same Sky, p. 119 (see Resource List)

Moffit, Barbara. “Never to Crow.” United Poultry Concerns.

Silverstein, Shel. “Point of View.” Where the Sidewalk Ends, p.

“Point of View” challenges us to think about an animal-based meal from the victims’ point of view, rather than from the point of view of the eater.

Visit All Things Upper Elementary for Amy Satterfield’s activity suggestions for using this poem as a gateway to thinking and writing about alternative perspectives in fiction, day-to-day discussions, and the media.

Silkin, Jon.“Caring for Animals.” England. printed in This Same Sky, p. 112 (see Resource List)

Sound of a Battery Hen.” United Poultry Concerns, 1997.

Epistemology Poems

All poems are either linked to or cited from a particular book that is listed in the Resources section.  If you are having trouble tracking down a copy of a particular poem, comment below for help and I’ll get back to you ASAP. These poem lists are not full modules, but suggestions of poems that could be good to work with, with some jumping off points for philosophical inquiry. If you would like me to write up more suggested questions and activities for an Example Module for a specific poem below, feel free to request! If you would like to write up a module for a poem, please contact me at madeleinebella@gmail.com for guidelines for submission, and I would be delighted to feature your work on the site. List in progress. Please feel free to suggest poems using the Comment box below! Thank you!

Dickinson, Emily. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” (1263)

This lovely quick poem can be read aloud by a few different members of the group before discussion, taking time to enjoy Dickinson’s imagery and metaphors and letting the rhymes swirl around in your mouths before tackling the sticky epistemological questions around the concept of “truth.”

  • Dickinson advises poets to tell the whole truth but indirectly. Is this possible?
  • Can one person know everything that is true?
  • Is “truth” an objective thing?
  • Can something be true and not true at the same time? How, or if not, why not?
  • Dickinson tells us that the truth can “blind” people if we get it all at once too abruptly. Is it possible to know too much?
  • Are there any things you think it would be better not to know? Why or why not?
  • Why is “Truth” capitalized in the seventh line but not in the first? Is this an attempt to personify truth somehow?

Field, Edward (translator) “Magic Words,” ancient Inuit poem

My full discussion and module is linked to here.

The poem tells us things about this very-long-ago time as if they are facts. Are we meant to assume that they are true? If so, how does the speaker know? None of us were there – but do you have to have witnessed something to know it is true? There are plenty of things we tend to accept as true without having witnessed them ourselves, but they often rely on secondary experience: For example, most of us have never been to the moon, but we believe what astronauts tell us about it because they have been there. We believe what is written in history books, but we do not believe that the events written about in novels really happened. When we see words on a page, how do we know whether or not to trust them?

Field, Edward. “Heaven and Hell.” Magic Words. 

The last page of this book of poetry reads:

“Of course it may be
that all I have been telling you is wrong,
for you cannot be
certain about what you cannot see.
But these are the stories that our people tell.”

After reading the book, it could be great to have a discussion about what we know, what we believe, and what we assume. Some questions to consider:

  • Is there anything you know without having seen it for yourself? How do you know?
  • What does it mean to be “certain” of something?
  • Is there a difference between knowing something and believing something?
  • If many people believe something, does that make it more true?
  • Can anything be more or less true than something else?

Holman, Felice. “I Can Fly.”  At the Top of My Voice, p. 11

The speaker of this poem insists, matter-of-factly, “I can fly, of course,” explaining that since people would talk too much about it, they do so only when no one else is around. Is there any way to prove this claim true or not?

Tueni, Nadia. “In the Lebanese Mountains.” Lebanon. translated by Samuel Hazo, This Same Sky, p. 140

Like “Magic Words,” this poem tells of a time when the barriers between species were not so clear. The last stanza tells us “Remember—the child’s recollection/of a secret kingdom just our age.” Is it possible to remember something from before you were born? Do you ever feel like young children understand things in a deeper or different way than adults are able to? Why or why not? Is it possible to be born knowing something? Why or why not? Can you think of some examples?