Flexible Course Debrief (Spring 2013): Elements of Craft

One of the exciting parts of developing the course was that I could let students determine which assignments they would undertake.  I spent hours developing small assessments that students could complete to demonstrate an understanding of the different elements of craft that go into the making of a poem, hoping that early in the course they would complete these small achievements and then use that knowledge as they wrote their own poems and their critical posts.


As it turns out, I’d entirely mis-weighted this section of the course, causing students to do far fewer of these achievements than I’d hoped.  23% of all students did not attempt any of these individual achievements at all, focusing instead on the big-ticket items.  And it appears that was an efficient strategy: every one of those students ended the course with an A, and many of those students were writing engaging, complex poems by the end of their respective terms.

(Oddly enough, I can think of plenty of instances in which those students were using those elements of craft.  Most turned in one or more poems that met the criteria for these assignments, but failed to identify that.  And my policy is that you have to ask for credit when you use an element of craft, to demonstrate that you were conscious of what you were writing.)

Of the achievements that they did do, I had a hard time seeing much rhyme or reason in the trends.  Some students were aggressive in their pursuit of these small achievements at the beginning of the term, others waited until the end.  A few did two or three and lost interest.

The point values don’t seem to have been high enough to encourage any significant trends.  The most commonly completed achievement was for end rhyme, which I suppose is in keeping with peoples’ idea that poetry must rhyme.  (93% of the high schoolers completed this achievement.)  After that, the most popular achievements dealt with hyperbole, irony, consonance, and simile.  I don’t think that’s the list I would have chosen in my fantasy draft.

Students avoided metrical achievements like the plague; not a single one completed Metrical Maestro.  They also tended to avoid syntax-based elements of craft, like parallelism.

Some Tweaks

The initial draft of the syllabus had the individual elements of craft worth 150 points, a pretty paltry sum in the end goal.  That’s now up in the neighborhood of 300, which still isn’t a ton, but should be a little more enticing as a means to reach that final point tally.

In addition to revising the point values on achievements to try to get students to attempt certain elements of craft more regularly, I’ve gone through and added some additional clarification on how a student can get these points.

I’ll be removing a few elements of craft from the list, including enjambment and onomatopoeia, because completing those achievements seldom seemed to lead to increased efficacy.  I’ve removed the mixed metaphor achievement because I think it led people to think that was desirable.  (It’ll reappear when we get to “bad poem day,” which was a huge hit with the students and is definitely worth expanding.)  I’ve revised the rhyme achievement to include perfect, slant and internal rhymes, which should at least give them a chance to think about the uses of rhyme.

I’ll be adding alliteration, anaphora, hypotaxis and parataxis, second person, and verb tense.