‘I hold with those who favor fire’

From the smallest spark…

On Sunday 19 January, I came across this tweet from @wellylearning


I clicked the link, read Doug Lemov’s blog entry and was struck by how something so apparently simple might lead to complex thinking and articulation of ideas. I let it percolate for a while and then, on Wednesday 22 January, I did a lesson on Chinua Achebe’s ‘Vultures’ with my Year 9 class.

They had been asked to prepare the poem before the lesson, looking up any words they didn’t understand and trying to find at least one thing to say about the poem. It was one of those ‘free form’ lessons: no whizzy activities, nothing to tick any particular boxes. We chatted. They bounced ideas around the room and reacted to each other’s comments with great enthusiasm… ‘Oh, yes, and you could look at it this way…’, ‘It’s really like ‘Frankenstein’ isn’t it?’, ‘And it connects with ‘Animal Farm…’ – the discussion was vibrant, intelligent and had me gasping with gleeful wonder every so often.

It was a homework night and I didn’t really have a firm plan at the start of the lesson about what I might want them to do. I wasn’t entirely sure how far we would get with ‘Vultures’ and I didn’t want to move too much further with our experiments with PETAL paragraphs until we had completed the lesson I had planned for Friday.

And then suddenly Doug Lemov’s blog popped back into my head and I was ready! They had explored and expanded so much in their discussion of ‘Vultures’ that I wondered if they could summarise their thinking in a single sentence. I loved the idea of beginning with ‘At first glance’; this text seemed perfectly poised for that one. So, I set them the challenge.

On Friday, I collected their work. I have asked their permission to include a sample of it here, promising them that no one will ever know who they are. Having typed up and mixed up the sentences, I now cannot recall which one belongs to which student. I am extremely pleased with what they have produced, not only from the ‘succinct summary’ aspect but also from the grammatical perspective which has enabled them to grow as writers of complex sentences.

So, here is a selection of their fabulousness:

At first glance ‘Vultures’ seems to be about the brutal nature of a bird of prey and the way it compares to the philosophy of the Nazi troops but upon further inspection it seems to explain that a kernel of love can be found in even the most inhumane of creatures.

At first glance the poem ‘Vultures’ appears to be about the comparison between man and vultures; however, as you read between the lines you will notice that it is more about the surge of anger or death that walks hand-in-hand with love.

At first glance, ‘Vultures’ appears to be about how a vulture lives and about concentration camps; however it is actually about the good in evil, the evil in good and about love and death.

At first glance ‘Vultures’ is a poem about evil, ugly, dark things like carrion-eating vultures or evil concentration camp guards; however really it is a poem about love and how even evil and disgusting things have love in their hearts and have a gentle side which only a few can see.

At first glance ‘Vultures’ is a poem about death and how cruel it is; however if you look deeper it is about how love can appear in even the strangest of places and scenarios.

At first glance ‘Vultures’ seems to be about hatred and evil; however it really shows that inside everything that is evil, there is love and light.

At first glance, ‘Vultures’ seems to be a poem about love and how on the outside a person can seem horrible but there is always a light in their heart and affection to be given.

Thank you to @Doug_Lemov and @wellylearning for providing the spark. And thank you to Year 9 for continuing to fuel the teaching and learning fire…

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2 Responses to ‘I hold with those who favor fire’

  1. Pingback: 25 practical blogposts for the English teacher | Reflecting English

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