Friday, February 26, 2010

Metaphor Collages

I am trying to help my students understand the concept of metaphors. As they are tenth graders, I am relatively sure I could ask them to define the word and have more of them able to do it than not. I am also relatively sure that parroting back the age-old definition does almost nothing to help deepen their understanding—or even to see if there is any understanding of it there to begin with. So when I read about an idea called metaphor collages in Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, I decided that might be something to help my students. At the very least, it could be—dum-dum-DUM—fun.

They would work to create collages of visual metaphors for a word of their own choosing. It took a while to remind them of the idea that metaphors are comparisons between two completely different things. To help remind them I showed them Eve Merriam’s “Metaphor” and Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry.” I also showed them Merriam’s “Simile: Willow and Ginkgo” as a refresher on similes.

We talked about what the metaphors meant. With “Introduction to Poetry” we even got to the point where we decided getting complete understanding of every metaphor in the poem was not necessary to understand the poem as a whole. The initial images of fun and unexpected images contrasted with the torture image at the end were obvious enough to make an impression with even a partial understanding.

Then I took us into the idea by Pink. I had each of my students pick a word and then cut out images from magazines that were metaphors for the word they chose. I found out for myself that using an abstract word worked better than using a concrete word. When I tried to make one for coffee, I got stuck after about three images. When I switched to freedom it went much better.

I did mine on a PowerPoint so I could project it on the screen at the front of the room. I pointed out how each picture was a metaphor for freedom. Then I set them loose.

Note to self: never set them loose without written instructions for how to proceed.

Additional note to self: Especially when it is the first time you are trying a lesson to see how well it works.

The students were into cutting pictures out of the magazines. Well, most of them. Some were busily looking in the magazines for words to cut out. Why were they trying to cut out words? I dunno. They must have somehow thought that was the assignment. Some of them were looking through the magazines to find a word to make metaphors from. Why? I dunno. I guess they thought that was the assignment. Some were just into chatting with their neighbors, doing nothing, and reducing their number of daily participation points. I corrected the misperceptions as I went around and checked on their progress.

Walking around the classroom is always an interesting experience. The way the bubble of hushed tones seems to follow me is always a little amusing. Then there are the young ladies who just have no volume control whatsoever. They aren’t trying to be loud; it just sort of happens. Ah, the joys of teaching.

The one large problem I noticed were the number of students who were not looking for metaphors, but rather for examples: the person who chose happy searching out nothing but smiling faces; the person who chose sadness and just cut out pictures of sad-looking people. I had to repeat over and over in each of my three blocks—almost to each individual—that they were not looking for examples, but for comparisons—for things their word could BE.

I kept going back to my own example on the board. I kept trying to point out how the pictures were not examples of freedom, but were instead metaphors for freedom. Sigh.

Last night I when I went home I decided I had to write up an instruction sheet that they could refer back to. I did it on Google Docs, so I could access it anywhere I might need it. You can check it out if you want: Metaphor Collage.

So today I give them a little something of a refresher page on similes and metaphors for a bell ringer. Then I went through my cards and gave out extra credit for answering the questions. Have I explained my card system yet? If not, ask about it and I will.

After that back to the collages. For the students who were here. I had students absent, in ISS, at the ALC, on field trips, playing in the state Final Four basketball tournament, excused from school to go to said tournament, were out driving with their driver’s ed instructor, and just plain skipping. That’s normal though. Except that the proportions were higher today. My third block class had literally half the students out. Fourteen out of twenty-eight. Geesh!

Next week we will be delving into the wonderful world of standardized testing. It is again time for the Graduation Exams. I will post a rant on that next week.

And then this afternoon I ran a Google search for metaphor collages and found this one, that is a much better way to do it than mine. Next time maybe I’ll check first and not reinvent the wheel.

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