I Am UnBroken: Deconstructing Modern American Poetry to Promote Self-Actualization For English Language Learners

Author: Lisa (Yuk Kuen) Yau

School/Organization:

Kirkbride Elementary

Year: 2019

Grade Level: 5

Keywords: Emily Dickinson, long poems, Reading, short poems, Walt Whitman, writing

School Subject(s): English, Poetry, ESL

/Abstract: The roots of American modern and contemporary poetry can be traced back to two radically different camps: Emily Dickinson’s short poems full of big ideas carefully compressed into a small reclusive world with few words, and Walt Whitman’s long poems full of free verses celebrating “blah of the pave” street noises of a democratic ideal world to include everyone. With this curriculum unit, my goal is to use modern poems from both ends of the spectrum to teach English to English Language Learners (ELL) and struggling readers as well as the native English speakers and advanced readers with effective innovations. Students are challenged to be open-minded, modern, risk-taking, and focused-while-playful as they work, break apart a poem, resemble it back together into its original form, or create a new poem out of the old form.

Imagine learning English for the first time as a child or an adult. Imagine how broken you would feel when every time you try…, you are interrupted with how your English (a new part of you) is wrong and incorrect. Classmates and teachers don’t understand you and vice versa. All school assignments are difficult, overwhelming and confusing. Likewise, modern poetry also suffers this stigma of being incomprehensible and unapproachable. For most ELL, learning English means “follow the rules” and don’t ask questions as to “why” and “what if.” Incongruously, there are exceptions to every rule in the English language; most of these rules make little sense, even to native speakers. Modern poets are unafraid to challenge the language norm, ask why and propose something new: make new “what is old” and make new “what is new just a moment ago.” I have designed my curriculum unit to promote self-actualization of all students — especially struggling ELL — as they deconstruct and reconstruct their worlds through reading and writing of modern poetry.

Download Unit: Yau-L.-19.01.05.pdf

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