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Power in a Blank Sheet of Paper

Published October 27, 2011 by Susan Woodward

First of all, I want to admit that I got the idea for this exercise from a teacher on FaceBook.  Secondly, I want to say that this was probably the most powerful lesson in Symbolism that I have ever given in my 15 years of teaching, and I intend to use this from now on to introduce the concept.

I teach 9th grade English, and I’ve been working using Visible Thinking tactics to better reach my students.  As a lead in to the short story “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst, I wanted to find an exercise that would teach students about the power of symbolism in literature.   Who says that FaceBook has no value other than social networking?

I had students take out their writing journals and a clean sheet of paper.  In the journals, they had to put the heading “Symbolism” at the top.  They were then instructed to look closely at the clean sheet of paper sitting on their desks and to write (in the journals) anything that they saw about the paper.  They had to preface the notes with “I see…”.  I then asked them to preface a few sentences with “I think…” as they continued to look at the blank sheet of paper.  The kids looked at me like I was nuts, but they wrote in their journals anyway.

As soon as they finished writing, I told them to take the sheet of paper and crumple it up.  They could stomp on it, they could pound it, they could bite it… but they just could not tear it in any way.  That they got into.  Kids were balling up the sheets, throwing them on the floor and jumping on them.  One put the wad of paper into his mouth and chewed on it (I had to tell him to be careful about ripping it).  Then I had them put the wadded paper on the desk in front of them and repeat the writing exercise.  They had to preface each section with “I see…” and “I think…”.  They seemed to have more to say this time because it took them a bit longer to do the writing piece.

Once they finished that, I asked them to very, very carefully (so as not to rip it) unfold the crumpled ball and flatten it out as best they could.  While they were doing that, I instructed them to say, “I’m sorry” to the piece of wadded up paper.  Ok, so some kids got silly with it and started kissing the paper while apologizing, but they managed to get them opened up without tears.  Some were trying to use the edge of their desks to run the paper along it to try to flatten it.  Once they were ready, I had them repeat the writing exercise, prefacing with “I see…” and “I think…”, but this time I added the extra component of “I wonder…”.

After they finished that portion of the exercise, they then had to write their own definition of Symbolism… whatever they thought that Symbolism meant.   As a sign that they were completely done writing, I told them to hold their symbols high in the air (the pieces of paper).   When all students had the papers over their heads, I told them to now hold the paper right in front of their face and look at it while I talked.

As they looked at their papers filled with creases and footprints and, in some cases, saliva, I told them that they were looking at a symbol of a bullied person.    The creases in the paper symbolized the effects of bullying, and even though the paper was still whole and as completely usable as its unmarred counterparts still in the notebook, it will never be exactly as it was before it was crumpled.   I told them to remember that even though they said, “I’m sorry” to the paper as they were unfolding it, no amount of apologies could take away the scars left behind.  The creases may lesson over time, but they will never fully go away… much like the hateful behavior left behind by bullies.  Unkind words and brutal actions leave their mark, even if the one who did it says, “I’m sorry”, or “I was just kidding…”.   Kids sometimes just do not realize the power of words, especially negative ones.

I then asked them to write in their journals about the exercise.  I wanted them to write once more, “I see…”, “I think…”, and “I wonder…” after they were told about the meaning of the symbols.  I also asked them to write about the effectiveness of symbolism based on this exercise.

As I explained this, some kids laughed.  Some kids got very quiet and then hurriedly picked up their pens and started writing when prompted.  Some put their crumpled papers down and just looked lost in thought for a bit.

One in particular hung his head down, staring at the blank paper.  It was the boy I wrote about in an earlier post who had been bullied by many of those same kids sitting in that room at the moment.   I knew going into the exercise that this was going to impact him, but I felt it was an important lesson, especially the part about still being whole in spite of the creases.   I also asked the students to carefully fold up the pieces of paper and put them in their pockets to take with them and to look at from time to time throughout the day.  That one boy was very meticulous about folding his paper and putting it in the pocket of his binder.  I also asked that they share the exercise with their parents and ask them to sign the paper so that they could be returned to me the next day.

I have been holding onto these signed pieces of paper for five months.  Many may have forgotten about the exercise, so I will remind them when I return the pages to them before Spring Break.

All in all, I felt that it was a very powerful exercise.  Sometimes people don’t realize just how much power their unkind words can carry… and now I hope that some will make that connection and stop the crumpling.  Even if only a couple of kids got the message, that’s a couple fewer potential bullies for the time being.

I hope and I pray, though, that there will be a whole lot fewer for life.

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“Reward”

Published October 16, 2011 by Susan Woodward

A brown-gray spider

On a web of woven

Gossamer

Rambled up

Dew-sprinkled rungs

Toward the tight bud

Of an amethyst tea rose,

Awaiting its fragrant reward

For the climb.

 

The moon smiled her approval.

“Check, Mate”

Published October 16, 2011 by Susan Woodward

Q – QR5

Q x Q (!!)

Kn x Q

 

Why drop your mouth in amazement?

You dangled her right in front of me, daring me—

You’re the one who thought I’d run

And do all I could to hang onto something

So obviously important

In order to keep her in

Reserve for later,

Just in case…

“I never expected you to do that”—

You’re damned right!

I’ve learned it’s better to not have expectations;

That way, I can never be disappointed again.

You took it for granted that I would

Never make such a huge sacrifice—

As a result, it cost you your most precious piece,

Your Queen,

And, ultimately, the game.

“Player”

Published October 16, 2011 by Susan Woodward

Like a chimp swinging

Branch to branch

Easily through the trees,

Attaching itself firmly

To the next before

Releasing the

Hold it had on the last,

Being mindful of the branch’s location

In case it needs to fall back on that

Anchored limb left behind.

Maybe the branches will tire and

Refuse to take part in this

Game being played

And let the chimp fall to travel

On its own two feet.

“Kundalini Totem”

Published October 16, 2011 by Susan Woodward

Along the path I see him

Nestled on a fallen log

Awaiting my arrival.

Are you the one?

Yessssssssssssssss…

Should I fear you?

Only arroganccccccccce issssss complete abssssssencccccce of fear

In the faccccccce of the unknown…

Coiling ‘round my feet

Rising gyres

Upward spirals;

A slithering embrace

Brings me face to face

With the yellow eyes of green Kundalini.

 

Diving into my throat without warning,

Burrowing toward the heart;

A dull tugging at this chakra

As Kundalini continues

Downward

To exit from the vulva,

Carrying in his mouth

A large, black mass from within.

One bite of his fangs

Releases a yellow ooze

From the dark lump;

The poison of my pained heart

Puddles on the ground.

 

Transmutation begun

But not complete…

“Shamanic Journey”

Published October 16, 2011 by Susan Woodward

Down, down, down

To the drumming sound

Damp, dark steps

Descend to the depths

To the womb of our Earth Mother.

 

This earthen smell

Leads not towards hell

But to the part

Where beats the heart

Of the love of our Earth Mother.

 

The tunnel floor

Reveals a door;

Once opened wide

There is inside

The realm of our Earth Mother.

 

Leave fear behind

In hopes to find

The spirit guide

Who dwells inside

The heart of our Earth Mother.

 

Be welcomed by our Mother.

“Grounding”

Published October 16, 2011 by Susan Woodward

A tap root emerges from deep within my womanhood

Plunging downward to pierce the ground beneath my feet

Penetrating, tunneling, driving toward the

Throbbing pulse of the Mother

Through layers down to where the

Core expands as a crystal cavern

Gleaming white, bright light

Surrounding a warm, deep pool

That accepts the presence of my root.

Drinking deeply of the Mother’s love,

Sending it pulsating up through the tap

Into the depths of my own cavern;

Its throbbing energy stirs the senses,

Commanding my full attention.

Arms outstretched reach toward the sky,

Lengthening, branching out

To embrace the warmth of the sun,

Drawing his energy into my limbs;

An electrifyingly intense current

That seeks out the pulsating rhythm in my womb,

There to unite with the Mother,

With me,

Mingling sensations of an internal dance;

Cosmic energy now contained.

 

I am one with the Earth,

One with the Sky,

Their united power in me.

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