Morning glory. Jason Boldero. CC BY
Following a poetry unit in fourth grade, the teacher invited me to collaborate on arts-integrated assessments. We set it up by having students choose 1) Poetry concepts they learned and 2) The vehicle for conveying their understanding, one of the multiple intelligences: arts smart, math smart, music smart, body smart, self smart, people smart, word smart, science/nature smart, and one extra that we added, tech smart.
Students could collaborate if they’d selected the same “smart.” They were free to think and design as long as the activity or product defined or represented the selected elements of poetry – imagery, personification, alliteration, simile, etc. Some students chose to make games and puzzles (math smart) with their poetry concepts. Some went straight for Chromebooks. Some preferred sketching and drawing (later in this process one student who struggles with academics will show me how she intentionally incorporated perspective and 3D elements in her art smart visual representation of imagery). A team of body smart students began choreographing a dance to define three concepts. One student wanted to write a song.
So much excitement, so much brilliance, yet no one picked “metaphor”— the word sat all alone on the chart where students placed their names beside the poetry elements that they wanted to demonstrate.
And no one chose “word smart” as the mode. They had, however, written their own poems during the unit.
I pointed out that word smart is naturally interwoven with music smart in writing a song, and with body smart in the chants accompanying the dance. Words play their part in slideshows, in the puzzles and games, and in all the conversation the kids were having about how to best represent the concepts in these ways.
As for metaphor . . . the students grinned. With lots of teeth. “You said you’d give us a model.”
Ah. So I did. Is that why no one picked “metaphor” and “word smart”? Was this a conspiracy? A throwing down the gauntlet?
I smiled inside myself. I would have chosen metaphor anyway (I think). And what better “word smart” way to convey its meaning than through poetry?
When I returned, rough draft poem in hand, I posed a question: “First, I need to make sure you know for yourselves what metaphor is. How would you define it?”
“An image that stands for something else.”
“It helps paint a picture in the reader’s mind.”
“You can’t say ‘like’ or ‘as’ because that’s simile. You have to say something IS something else.”
“Really, guys? And none of you picked metaphor? Seriously?” I asked in mock exasperation.
Giggles. They sit gathered round my chair, on the rug at my feet, these young sages waiting for me to read.
What is metaphor?
Metaphor is the sun behind the clouds
the heavens reaching long, shining fingers
down to the earth of our minds.
Metaphor is the moon on the ocean of knowledge
bits of silver smiles shining on a dark surface
that’s always moving, moving, moving.
When I say that home is the velvety warmth of my dog
and the laughter of my family around the dinner table
What is metaphor for?
Well, meta means beyond.
Metaphor is understanding
in a deeper way.
imagery is a just a strange skeleton
without flesh and color
something we don’t recognize.
Metaphor is what we know
helping us to see better.
Metaphor is new glasses.
Metaphor is the cloak
thrown over the invisible
to make it appear
and have shape
and make sense.
poetry would shrivel
and maybe die.
Metaphor waters the poet-tree
and keeps it alive.
That’s what it’s for.
In one motion their hands went up to flutter or “sparkle” in silent applause; I had a fleeting sense of being in a beatnik coffee house, minus the sound of finger snaps. Of course these artists, mathematicians, scientists, all, will be chomping to give me specific feedback with the rubric that I helped them create. They’ll do it thoroughly and gleefully, rest assured.
Such a jewel-encrusted, double-edged sword, teaching.