Slice of Life: Improvisation

My AP Lit Class

This morning my Keurig decided to break. I have a single-serve Keurig that I have to fill with a cup of water each time I use. Only half a cup came out. I knew there had to be water trapped inside, but I wasn’t able to open it to see. So I turned it upside down over the trash can, and super-concentrated coffee went everywhere. Including the legs of my chinos. I knew they’d dry fast based on the kind of material they’re made out of, and my previous experiences getting them wet taught me I could try to wash the coffee out of my pants in the bathroom, and they’d probably be dry by class time.

I sat down and checked Blackboard. I started my doctoral program yesterday, and we are introducing ourselves to each other in both of my classes. I also wanted to see if my professor had answered my question. She had.

Then I thought to check my plan book to see what my AP Lit classes had on the docket for today, and I realized with horror that I’d made a big mistake. I had actually finished a project with them a day earlier than I had anticipated when I created my plans. I didn’t have anything for my students to do.

I knew I wouldn’t have time to create a meaningful lesson out of whole cloth, and I couldn’t move ahead because I had given my students until tomorrow or Thursday (depending on which class they are in) to finish Thomas C.  Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor.  It wouldn’t be fair to tell them they had to create seminar questions today when they might not be quite finished reading.

The project my students had just completed was to learn how to use a literary analysis tool (one was TPCASTT) and teach it to their peers in a presentation in which they also share their analysis of a literary work using the tool. In past years, I’ve been frustrated that the tools have been introduced early in the year and haven’t gained any traction. The students thought they were useful, but later on, they simply didn’t return to them when they were analyzing literature. We fall back on habits and methods that we know. We forget.

I thought fast. What if my AP Lit students worked in groups to choose a poem in one of my new collection of books by (mostly) living poets, chose a literary tool they learned last week (not one they themselves presented), analyzed a poem, and shared their findings with the class?

I tossed my poetry books in a box and made my way across campus. It was just starting to rain. I was glad I had remembered my umbrella so the books would stay dry.

All went well in my first class. After you’ve taught for a while, you come up with some handy go-to techniques you can use to stretch a lesson.

As I made my way back across campus slowly and carefully in a torrential downpour that was the remains of Hurricane Florence, I tried to keep the books dry and succeeded in making my pant legs wet all over again—the puddles were unavoidable—and arrived back at my office about ten minutes late for my “office hour” ( really half-hour). Thankfully, no one was waiting for help. I dried off my shoes with a paper towel from the bathroom and prepared to do the lesson again in my second class.

What started out as a mistake turned out to be serendipity. The students dove into the poems and presented thoughtful analyses. They considered which tool to use thoughtfully, thinking about what their chosen poems included in terms of diction, literary devices, imagery, symbols, and other elements. It was brilliant. And I think it may have helped me along the path to achieving my goal of convincing students to use these tools to analyze literature.

Thank you to #TeachLivingPoets, and thank you to generous AP teachers everywhere who share their ideas. In spite of me, I had some great classes today.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a weekly writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

12 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Improvisation”

  1. What a great post! How quickly did you change out of your clothes when you got home? Those pants seemed cursed! Loved your last line, “In spite of me, I had some great classes today.”

    1. Like I usually do, it was right away. I go right into my pajamas. Interestingly enough, I was absolutely right about those chinos. They dried super fast. Both times.

    1. Thank you! I couldn’t do much but laugh, either. I don’t think anyone at school realized I had struggled that much, so that’s good at least.

  2. This probably won’t be your last serendipitous class as a grad student. Gld you had the chance to experiment. Gladder that you trusted yourself. Your kids are lucky to have you, coffee pants and all.

  3. I would be interested to know what other strategies for analysis did you introduce to the students and to which do they gravitate? I wholeheartedly agree to “we fall back to methods we know,” even if it is not the most fruitful method.

    1. The other ones I introduced were DIDLS (Diction, Imagery, Details, Language, Structure/Sentence structure), TWIST (Tone, Word choice, Imagery and detail, Style, Theme), and SIFTT (Symbols, Images, Figures of speech, Tone, Theme). Obviously, there are redundancies. The students seem to gravitate toward DIDLS when they really want to examine the language. A lot of them like TPCASTT. But they didn’t really exclude any of the tools. At least one group used each of the four different tools.

  4. This is not quite the point of the post, but I just had two different Keurigs (my home 1 cup machine and the larger one in our faculty room) with the same problem. Both times, the issue was that a large coffee ground got stuck in the needle on the top part of the machine (the one that punctures the lid of the K cup). I used a toothpick at home and a small bent paper clip at work to poke at the hole in the needle, ran an empty cup of water to test, and it seemed to work fine afterward. Might be worth a try?

    (Great improv, by the way. I always appreciate hearing other teachers reacting to these types of situations!)

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