Monday, November 16, 2009

Llamas, opossums, and cats, oh my

Today was a great example of why I love teaching eighth graders.

We began a poetry unit last week, and there are several terms I have to try and get pounded into their brains for our state standards. We've talked about rhythm and rhyme, couplets, and free verse. At the end of the week last week, one of them asked about Haikus. We talked about those for a while, and some of them mentioned that they enjoyed writing them in elementary school. They asked if I'd accept a Haiku from them for extra credit. (Haikus are not in the eighth grade standards.) I said that'd be awesome, if some of them wanted to give it a go. Some said they would.

At that point, I grinned at them and said if I was evil, I'd make them write a sonnet - another type of poetry they need to be able to recognize. Well, they wanted to know why that would be so hard, and, of course, if there would be MORE extra credit available to them if they wrote one of those. I grinned bigger.

I laid out for them all of the requirements of a sonnet. 14 lines. Rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg. Iambic pentameter. Their eyes were as big as saucers and their mouths hung open. When they could speak again, they said, "Please don't make us do that, Mrs. Honeycutt!" I promised them I wouldn't, even confessed I'd never tried to write one myself.

Then it happened.

"Mrs. Honeycutt!" came a shout from the back. "I want to try!" And then, a second later, a voice from the front, "I want to too!"

I grinned again. And said, "Okay."

If they get it done, and get it done right, they'll get some decent extra credit points. But do you see the magic of the middle schooler?

I set before them a very difficult task. I told them they didn't have to do it. I even told them that I'd never done it. And some of them bit.

"I'm up to the challenge!" one boy said. And I do believe he is. Before class was over, he'd started his sonnet. He said it's about llamas and opossums. The other boy who told me he's going to try is writing one about his cats. How can that not brighten your day?

How many times as adults do we still say, "I'm up to the challenge!" with a wide grin on our faces, looking forward to the work? Not as often as maybe we should.

My middle schoolers energize me. (Thank God, because they also drain my energy on an hourly basis!!) I love that part of them - their willingness to jump in feet first, and to smile as they go.