Making the Wright Connection

An Online Community for the Study of Richard Wright

Students explore poetry through mp3 players and quilts

Posted on June 10, 2011 | No Comments

Emily Robbins, Summer 2010 Wright Connection Institute participant, utilized new teaching ideas in her Knoxville, TN classroom.

Although I have not had the opportunity to teach any of Richard Wright’s works this year, I have been able to use many of the teaching ideas that were presented at the NEH Institute last summer. As soon as I got home from the institute, I put in a request for a class set of easy-to-use SanDisk Mp3 players. I loved the different lesson ideas presented at the Institute, and I knew that I could build upon those ideas in my own classroom.

For one freshmen English lesson, I taped a guided analysis of how to read and analyze a poem; I also taped myself walking through two student example papers explaining how they were effective at analyzing a poem. When the students walked into the classroom, they were handed an Mp3 player and copies of two student papers, and they were instructed to turn to a poem in their literature books. On the Mp3 player I had taped instructions that would help guide them through the lesson.

First, they listened to a reading of the poem; then they were asked to pause the recording and take some notes in their books, highlighting anything that stood out to them. When they were finished, they listened to a recording that guided them through a reading of the poem. I wanted to model how to do a close reading. After they again paused the recording to take any notes they wanted to, they were asked to read through the first student example paper. When they finished, they turned on the recording and listened as I walked them through what made the student analysis work. Finally, the students repeated the last two steps as they read another student example. Just as we experienced at the Institute when we were given Mp3 players to listen to poems being read, my students were able to proceed through the lesson at their own pace. Additionally, since they were literally tuned into their recordings, more students were able to grasp a concept that might have been difficult to follow in a whole class situation.

Later in the year, I had my freshmen students use the Mp3 players again, but the second time they listened to songs that connected to To Kill a Mockingbird. Their assignment was to listen to the songs and write a brief paragraph explaining any connections they were able to make between the text and the song.

Another activity I learned at the Institute and brought back into my classroom was the creation of a narrative quilt. At the Institute we worked in groups to make a quilt square that represented one of Richard Wright’s haikus. In my British Literature course, I adapted the assignment to use with some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Each student was responsible for his or her own sonnet. They were to interpret the sonnet, construct an artist’s statement explaining how they chose to visually represent their interpretation, create their own quilt square, and, finally, record themselves reading their sonnet and their artist’s statement. I then loaded their podcasts onto the Mp3 players, placed their quilt squares around the room, and had them tour the room as if they were at the opening of a museum exhibit. Each student took notes as they listened to every podcast while observing the work of their peers. Later, I put all of the squares together and created our first sonnet quilt.

Sonnet Quilt

Who is Emily?

Emily Robbins received a M.A. in Literature and Literary Theory with a focus on Caribbean literature/theory and auto/biography from the University of Kansas in 2007. She currently teaches British and American Literature and Composition at the Webb School of Knoxville. Her scholarly writing has appeared most recently in Antipodas: Journal of Hispanic and Galacian Studies and The William Carlos Williams Review.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.