Tag Archives: poetry

Teaching Students about Their Learning Strengths and Weaknesses

by Michelle Garcia Winner, Social Thinking

Over the years, I have observed so many students get upset by the fact they had “autism” or “Asperger syndrome” or “ADHD.” While they could verbalize these terms aloud, they still didn’t seem to understand what their learning challenges actually were.

I have also observed many adults explaining to students that the reason they were having difficulty socializing, studying, and learning was because they had “autism” or “Asperger’s syndrome”, or “ADHD.” I thought this was a really abstract way of explaining to students with limited abstract thinking how best to understand their own learning challenges. I also have observed that many of our smart but socially not-in-step students were using their label as an excuse for not working at learning new ideas; they interpreted the fact that they had a diagnostic label as a reason to not continue to learn.

I have also been inspired by the writings of other professionals who describe learning abilities and challenges within a framework of “multiple intelligences” (see Howard Gardner). Essentially this means that each of us have different types of intelligences and we each have our strengths and weaknesses with regard to our own brain’s design.

Strengths and Weakness Lesson

The lesson I developed is about teaching our students and adults how to understand their social learning challenges in the context of their overall abilities and then how they can use their strengths to learn more strategies related to their weaknesses. I have done this lesson with students as young as eight years old and as old as they come.

The lesson is very simple. To save explaining it all with words, see the chart below.

Strength and Weakness Graph

Here are some basic things I do as I develop this type of chart with the student:

  1. Each chart is completely personalized for the person I am developing it with. It is not about recording test scores that purport to show competencies. The chart is about how the student perceives his or her own strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, you create the chart using any areas that are individualized to the student.
  2. To determine the ideas/areas to post on the chart, take time to talk to students and listen to what they enjoy doing and what they feel they do well.
  3. Always start by graphing out their strengths. It is good to show many perceived strengths. Again, strengths are not about listing academic tasks exclusively. If a student says she is really good at playing a specific computer game or Legos then we make that a category and talk about what number to give it on the chart.
  4. It is also important to find some areas where students perceive they are just OK – their skills are not good or bad. They perceive themselves to be similar to the average person in that area of functioning, or a “5” on the scale. With kids, you can use language such as:
    • “First tell me what you think you are really good at compared to other kids you know.” After you and the student have listed three to five areas on the chart then say,
    • “Now tell me something you are just OK at – you’re like most other kids during playing or learning.”
    • “Now tell me some things that your brain doesn’t make easy for you…things you have noticed most other people can learn easier than you.”
    • Who talks a lot in your class?
    • Who doesn’t tend to do their homework?
    • Who is really good in math?
    • Who is super friendly?
    • Who is mean?If students aren’t used to thinking about how they function compared to others, I will shift gears to explore the idea that we all think about what others around us are doing. At this point, I will ask the student to tell me things like:

    By having this discussion, you help them notice that they are aware of others’ strengths and weaknesses. This often helps them put their own abilities in perspective.

  5. If students can’t answer the questions, I go back and suggest ideas similar to my earlier conversation with them. Ultimately I am doing this to help them put their learning challenges in context. Our students with social emotional learning challenges are usually not good at spontaneously describing what they don’t do well; this is not something people usually talk about. Some ideas I ask them to consider include:
    • How do you do with keeping track of your homework assignments and doing the homework?
    • How do you do with writing paragraphs or reports (writing short responses on paper may have been a strength, while writing longer information is often a challenge)
    • How do you do making guesses about what you are reading?
    • How do you do with playing in a group?
    • How do you do with getting into a group?
    • How do you do talking to other kids?
    • Or I may just ask them about their “social skills”

    It’s important not to overwhelm students when discussing things that are harder for them to do. This is uncomfortable for most of us! Choose some main idea to explore based on what concerns exist with a particular student. At this point, students are usually willing to list these as weaknesses compared to the other areas on the chart.

  6. What to do if students rate a weakness as a perceived strength?I routinely make a chart of my brain’s strengths and weaknesses so they experience their teacher/leader admitting to weaknesses. Then, I’ll write the area they mentioned as a strength on the chart and pause there to discuss it more in the context of the others’ strengths. More often than not, students decide it should be listed as a lower number on the scale. However, I have worked with students who are genuinely afraid to list something as a weakness. In those cases I reassure them that everyone has weaknesses, including me. On rare occasions, I have said to a student, “Actually, this is an area that you are not as good at and this is why you are here today.” Then I lower the ranking on that social area on the scale compared to the other areas listed, while explaining that it is expected and OK that people have learning weaknesses.
  7. If you are familiar with the teachings of Social Thinking® you will also be able to explain how socially-based learning weaknesses (organizational skills, written expression, social relationships, reading comprehension, etc.) are all related. Making this connection with our students helps them see how they don’t have all that many weaknesses. Instead, there is a weak root system that leads to different areas of weakness. (For more information on this please read about the ILAUGH Model of Social Thinking in the book Inside Out: What Makes Persons with Social Cognitive Deficits TickThis concept is also the focus of the article, Social Thinking – Social Learning Tree.”)
  8. You will find your students are usually pretty honest about themselves. It is often amazing how they are willing to talk about the fact they have strengths and weaknesses when it’s presented this way. When they have strengths in language and learning facts, we can then explain how these abilities will help them learn more information in the areas where learning is not as easy or natural to them.
  9. Once the chart is completed, I then go on to talk about what it means to have a learning disability: that the student has relative learning weaknesses compared to their strengths or even the “OK” areas of learning. Remarkably, many of our students don’t understand what learning disabilities or differences are, so they react to their weaknesses with anger rather than understanding they can usually use some of their learning strengths to help them in their weaker areas. I have worked through anger about learning differences much more successfully using this scale.
  10. You will find that your students/adults are much more willing to discuss how they learn, what they are good at, and what they are not so astute at learning in this context, compared to simply talking to them about the fact they have ASD, AS, ADHD, etc.
  11. Once you’ve reached this point with students, the next step is to discuss specific things they can work at learning to boost their area of weakness to a higher number on the scale. I also explain that they likely will never get their weak area as high as their strong areas, because their strengths are what their brain is naturally good at learning. But they can improve how they do in their weaker areas as long as they work at learning!

Once you make the chart you can refer back to it session after session. It is also a helpful tool when explaining to parents/caregivers what our students’ labels really mean in terms of their learning abilities.

A note on language: The language-based explanation, “Your brain doesn’t make this easy for you,” helps many of our students put their challenges in context. Make sure you regularly point out when they are doing things their brains do make easy for them, and not only talk about their areas of weakness or areas that need improving.

Final, final note: The “art” of teaching is critical in this lesson. Stay in step with your students emotionally while you go through this lesson. Spend some significant time talking about what they are good at and pretty good at, rather than rush to their weaknesses and then spend all your time on this area. Remember, our students are often really talented when we are not demanding they participate in socially-based situations. Take time to celebrate the many things they do well to give them the strength to talk about what they don’t do as well.

Source: https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=Teaching+Students+about+Their+Learning+Strengths+and+Weaknesses&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=article_teachingstudentsabout

[My note: Social Thinking is a terrific resource for families and professionals dealing with children who have socializing challenges.]

for Orton-Gillingham reading, writing and spelling help in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


+ Writing Exercise

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From The Writers Almanac, a bonus.

Favorite Writing Exercise:  “I like to read a poem to my students (one easy to take in by ear, one that I think is rich with possibility, one not too long but long enough for everyone to find a word or phrase or something that catches imagination) and I tell them to jot down something from or about the poem. After that, we write for ten minutes or so and see what happens.”

– Joyce Sutphen

tutoring in columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Philip Levine is the New Poet Laureate of the US

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The Library of Congress announced last week that Philip Levine, 83 and known for his big-hearted poems about working-class Detroit, is the new poet laureate.  He succeeds W.S. Merwin, wrote Charles McGrath in the New York Times.

According to James Billington, the librarian of Congress, he was selected from a long list of nominees.

“I find him an extraordinary discovery because he introduced me to a whole new world I hadn’t connected to in poetry before.”

He’s the laureate, if you like, of the industrial heartland.  I don’t know that in other countries you get poetry of that quality about the ordinary workingman.

Referring to Levine’s ironic and self-effacing nature, Billington says that wasn’t a factor in the choice. 

…[B]ut he doesn’t seem to have that element of posing we all suffer from to one degree or another.  He has that well under control.

This will make Mr. Levine one of the oldest laureates.  He is the author of  20 collections of poems.  He won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Simple Truth.”

Levine spoke on the phone with the McGrath and said “I feel pretty good.”  He’s still writing, he says and he finds great inspiration these days in the poetry of Thomas Hardy.

Levine grew up in Detroit, back when it was still a “vital city,” he says.  His parents were Russian immigrants, who for some reason told him he was of Spanish ancestry.  As a young man he was fascinated with Spanish anarchism and the Spanish Civil War, which still turn up in his poems.

After his father died when Philip was 5, the family was nearly destitute, and before taking up poetry he had a succession of difficult jobs.  He built transmissions for Cadillac, worked in the Chevrolet gear and axle factory, drove a truck for Railway Express.

His early poems, written often in narrow, seven-syllable lines, were “gritty, hard-nosed evocations of the lives of working people and their neighborhoods,” writes McGrath.

The subject matter hasn’t changed, but the lines have lengthened and the edge has softened.  Lately the poems are narrative, anecdotal elegies for that vanished working-class world.

Can you taste / what I’m saying?  It is onions or potatoes, a pinch / of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious, / it stays in the back of your throat like a truth / you never uttered because the time was always wrong…

The early poems were more formal than the ones he writes now.  As a young man he studied with formalists: Lowell, Berryman, Yvor Winters.  But also, he says, he did it to compensate for the formlessness of his life back then.

The looseness and freedom came about when he brought order to his life, he asserts.  Sometime in his 40s, he was struck by tenderness in the poetry of others and thought, “Why isn’t there more tenderness in my own work?”

His late poems have that tenderness.  There is also a Hardyesque humbleness.  A 1999 poem is called “He Would Never Use One Word Where None Would Do.” 

He hadn’t aspired to be poet laureate, he says.  But he’s pleased that the honor has come his way after a very long career. Given the distinction of the work produced by most of the previous poets laureate, he embraces the title. 

My editor was thrilled, and my wife jumped for joy.  She hasn’t done that in a while.

source: Charles McGrath’s article in the New York Times.  For the complete article, visit      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/10/books/philip-levine-is-to-be-us-poet-laureate.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=charles%20McGrath&st=cse

The book to buy if you haven’t read Levine, says Dwight Garner in a related article, is “What Work Is,” which won a National Book Award in 1991.    

Visit http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/10/books/philip-levines-poetry-is-full-of-people-a-rarity.html?scp=2&sq=Dwight%20Garner&st=cse

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Three Days of Poetry This October in Manhattan

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The Academy of American Poets is holding their Poets Forum on October 20-22, 2011 in New York City.  You may purchase tickets online at www.poets.org/poetsforum or by calling 212-274-0343.

The Poets Forum gives this most intimate of art form as a public context in which it can shine.  [–Mark Wunderlich]

The Pass price is $120 (before September 15, $95).  A limited number of Saturday-only tickets for the discussion sessions are available for $60.

Poets Reading or Participating in Discussions

  • Victor Hernandez-Cruz
  • Mark Doty
  • Rita Dove
  • Marilyn Hacker
  • Lyn Hejinian
  • Juan Felipe Herrera
  • Edwards Hirsch
  • Naomi Shihab Nye
  • Ron Padgett
  • Carl Phillips
  • Marie Ponsot
  • Kay Ryan
  • Gerald Stern
  • Anne Waldman
  • Susan Howe
  • Yusef Komunyakaa
  • Joan Larkin
  • Carol Muske-Dukes
  • Gabrielle Calvocoressi
  • Matthew Dickman
  • Cathy Park Hong
  • Ilya Kaminsky
  • Cate Marvin
  • Matthew Rohrer
  • Evie Shockley
  • Tracy K Smith
  • “and many others”

The Poets Forum is a true assembly of minds, a market-place of ideas.  You’ll find no posturing or pronouncements, no peacocks or princesses — just poetry poetry poetry.  [–Rita Dove]

Thursday, October 20 

7:00 pm:  Readings.  An unforgettable evening — on one stage — by some of the most acclaimed poets of our day reading from their latest work.  New York  University Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

Friday October 21

10:30 am and 2:00 pm: Poetry Walking Tours through the same streets traveled by Walt Whitman, Marianne Moore, EE Cummings, Langston Hughes and countless others.  The tours will explore the literary history of Harlem, the West Village, the Museum of Modern Art and SoHo.

12:30 pm and 2:00 pm: Discussions on Contemporary Poetry: two panels of younger poets examine imaginative uses of language and how ideas of place and travel operate in their work and in the poems that have influenced them.  New York University School of Law, Greenberg Lounge.

Vision & Innovation in Contemporary Poetry” with Hong, Kaminsky and Shockley

Regional Aesthetics & Sensibility in American Poems” with Calvocoressi, Dickman and Marvin

3:30 pm: The Blaney Lecture on the topic of poetry and telepathy, by Susan Howe, winner of the 2011 Bollingen Prize in poetry.  NYU School of Law, Greenberg Lounge.

7:00 pm: Poets Awards Ceremony to celebrate recipients of the premier collection of awards for poetry in the United States.  Reception will follow.  The New School, Tishman Auditorium.

Saturday October 22

10 am to 4 pm: NYU School of Law Tishman Auditorium 

  • Getting Away With It: Risk in Poems” with Hacker, Komunyakaa, Stern
  • Humans & Others” with Herrera, Ryan and Waldman
  • Breaking the Line, Breaking the Narrative” with Dove, Olds and Padgett
  • Suffering Through Joy” with Doty, Hirsch and Shihab Nye
  • Repetition and Refrain” with Hernandez Cruz, Phillips and Ponsot. 

 Says Edward Hirsch:

Poetry is an ancient art that is ever new, which is proved each fall by the Poets Forum — a splendid gathering, a rambunctious and diverse chorus, a forum of spirited solitaries.  As John Berryman put it, “We are on each other’s hands / who care.”

The Academy of American Poets is located at 75 Maiden Lane, Suite 901, New York, NY 10038.  Ph: 212-274-0343; FAX 212-274-9427.

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com.

+ Happy Birthday Dr Seuss

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On March 3, we celebrated the birthday of Theodor Geisel, whom we all know as Dr Seuss.

He is considered the most popular children’s book writer in our history, and he is the best selling children’s book writer of all time.

Born in 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts, he was the grandson of German immigrants (says today’s Writer’s Almanac — see below) and a lifelong Lutheran.

He was a Dartmouth graduate, but an Oxford dropout.

His mother read him bedtime stories every night.  His father became a zookeeper who brought Theodor with him to work.  The boy grew up at the zoo, running around cages with baby lions and tigers.

At Dartmouth, he majored in English and wrote for the humor magazine.  But one night he was caught drinking gin (this was during Prohibition) and disciplined.  He was forbidden to engage in extracurricular activities such as writing for the magazine, of which he was the editor-in-chief.

He continued to write subversively, signing his pieces with his mother’s maiden name, Seuss.

By the way, the German pronunciation of the name is “Zoiss.”  But people in the States kept pronouncing it “Zooss,” so that became the sound.    And it rhymed with Mother Goose.

In 1937, he published his first children’s book, “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.”  He said he was inspired by the rhythm of a steamliner cruiser he was on.  It was written in rhyming anapestic meter, also called trisyllabic meter.

The meter was catchy — people enjoyed the sound.  It is made up of twoo weak beats, followed by a stressed syllable.  As in

“And toDAY the Great YERtle, that MARvelous HE / is KING of the MUD.  That is ALL he can SEE.

In the 1950s, a  study called “Why Johnny Can’t Read” was written by an Austrian immigrant, an education specialist who argued that Dick and Jane primers were not only boiring, but worse, not an effective method for teaching reading.

He called them “horrible, stupid, emasculated, pointless, tasteless little readers.” 

And they went “through dozens and dozens of totally unexciting middle-class, middle-income, middle-IQ children’s activities that offer opportunities for reading ‘Look, look’ or ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘Come, come’ or ‘See the funny, funny animal’. ”

A publisher at Random House thought that Dr Seuss, who had published a few very imaginative but not well-known children’s books, might be able to write a book that would be very good for teaching kids to read. 

Geisel was invited to dinner and told, “Write me astory that first-graders can’t put down!”

He spent nine months composing “The Cat in the Hat.”  Using just 220 different words, it was 1,702 words long.  He revised meticulously.  He said

Writing for children is murder.  A chapter has to be boiled down to a paragraph.  Every word has to count.

Almost immediately, “The Cat in the Hat” was selling 12,000 copies a month.  It sold a million copies in the first five years.

Dr Seuss has sold more books for Random House Publishing than any other writer in its history.

sole source: “The Writer’s Almanac,” a radio show/online newletter produced by Prairie Home Productions and presented by American Public Media.  Broadcasts are supported by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine for over 90 years. 

Visit  http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/archive.php  to subscribe.  You’ll receive a daily poem and a list of writers who were born on that day…  I look forward to it every morning.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Walt Whitman Award: Deadline Extended to December 1

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The Walt Whitman Award brings first-book publication, a cash prize of $5000, and a one-month residency at the Vermont Studio Center, to an American who has never before published a book of poetry.  The winning manuscript, chosen by an eminent poet, is published by Louisiana State University Press.

The Academy of American Poets puchases copies of the book for distribution to its members.

The award was established in 1975 to encourage the work of emerging poets and to enable the publication of a poet’s first book. 

This year’s deadline has been extended to December 1st, 2009.  An entry form and fee are required.


The judge for the 2010 entry is poet Marvin Bell.

Check this out, if not for this year, then for other years.  And http://www.poets.org is a place to learn about (nearly) all things poetry.  Many awards and prizes are available, including translation, and college writing.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com .

+ “Poets House” Gets a Beautiful New Home

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For twenty-five years, Poets House has been an anchor for poets and poetry lovers.  It was located first in a home-economics room at the High School for the Humanities in Chelsea, before settling in on the second floor of a loft building at 72 Spring Street in SoHo.

Today, writes Robin Pogrebin in the NY Times, Poets House opens in a spacious new home in Battery Park City, right by the Hudson River at the corner of Maurray Street.

Lee Bricetti, executive director for 20 years, says

The goal of the place is to make everyone feel that poetry belongs to them.  Anyone can come and experience poetry in a new way that will deepen their relationship to language.

Poets House has a rent-free lease through 2069 from the Battery Park City Authority.  Poets House raised the money for construction of the interior, $11 million, from public and private sources, including $3.5 million from the city.

According to Kate D Levin, New York City’s cutural affairs commissioner, “There has been an upswing in the appetite for poetry.” 

She sees the advent of poetry slams and spoken-word events as factors in moving poetry away from an “association with a rarefied crowd to a more populist world, and the Poets House folks are tapped into that.”

Poets House is one of the first cultural organizations to open downtown since 9/11.

David Emil, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, says “It’s part of an effort to make Lower Manhattan an arts community.”

And Warrie Price, founder and president of the Battery Conservancy, feels  

It gives us an anchor in the creative arts.  Melville lived here, Eugene O’Neill — our landscape has hosted great writers.  To have Poets House create a center is in a sense going back to that history.

Because previously there was always the chance of losing the lease, Poets House patrons and writers always had a provisional feeling.  Poet Edward Hirsch, who is president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which awards fellowships to artists, scientists and scholars, ays “Now there is the sense that something sold and permanent is there.” 

The interiors of the new Poets House, with its extensive use of glass, was designed by Louise Braverman.  

Stanley Kunitz, who was a founder of Poets House in 1985, wrote in the preface of his “Collected Poems:”

I dream of an art so transparent that you can look through it and see the world.

Glass walls surround the entryway, in which a Calder mobile floats.  Glass walls also enclose the second floor exhibition space.  The blocklong second floor reading room offers views of trees and water and is punctuated by nooks and a quiet reading space, writes Pogrebin.  There is no talking aloud.  Photographs of contemporary poets, taken by Lynn Saville, line the walls.

The children’s room contains old card catalogues with poems in the drawers.  It is to feature special programming beginning next April. 

The staircase is wired for sound, so when people pass, a motion sensor might trigger a spoken line from a poet like Robert Frost.

Marie Howe, a poet and professor at Sarah Lawrence College, says she plans to bring her students to Poets House.  “They should have a huge sign outside: ‘Rest is here.  Safety is here. Nourishment is here.”

Stanley Kunitz, who was US Poet Laureate at the age of 95 and who died in 2006 at the age of 100, is a huge presence in the new space.  The conference room bears his name.  His library was donated to Poets House, and fills the shelves.

And his private collection of paintings by the Abstract Expressionist Philip Guston cover walls.  Many  feature lines from Kunitz’s poems.

Poetry has a history in Battery Park City.  Poets House has held outdoor poetry readings there.  New York Waterway has adorned a few of its ferries with verse from the poets featured in those readings.

In Rockefeller Park, just a few yards south of Poets House, poems are engraved on the stones: Seamus Heaney’s “Death of a Naturalist,” and Mark Strand’s “Continuous Life.”

In North Cove, nearby, lines from Whitman and Frank O’Hara are welded into the fencing that surrounds the harbor.  Lines from Marianne Moore and Claude McKay are etched at Stuyvesant Plaza.

Actor Bill Murray says “Poets need a refuge — they need a hideout, a clubhouse.” 

He gave the lead gift to create a catalog for Poetry house. 

The actor participates in the annual Poetry Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, during which Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is among the poems read aloud.

Bill Murray says some people may never recognize the literary treasure trove in their midst, just as most people walk by St Patrick’s Cathedral or use it as a place to light a cigarette or make a phone call. 

But those who find themselves in the vicinity of Poets House

will be right next to this sort of human church.  There’s a possibility.  That’s all you can do — create a possibility.

sole source: Robin Pogrebin’s article in the NY Times on 9/25/09.  www.nytimes.com       visit Poets House site at    http://tinyurl.com/ybpfwqz

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021  or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com