It's a funny thing with middle schoolers. They are, for the most part, not even quite on the outskirts of abstract thought. Of course, that's part of why the language arts are so important. A huge part of my job is to teach them how to think abstractly; heck, that such a thing exists. I, having been out of that stage of cognitive development for almost a decade now, have a fair amount of trouble figuring out how in the blazes to get them past the concrete (this is why you do basically the same thing in English class from 6th grade up -- it's really tricky stuff, and it takes a lot of practice).
So when I show them a poem that you and I, Dear Reader, instantly recognize as an ode to that deep, unspeakable, intimate love that exists in a parent's heart for a child, 8th graders read, "The kid's dad lit a match to check on him and he had a happy look on his face."
Alright kids, let's look at this a little a little closer:
He wore, it seemed to his small son,After reading these six lines very slowly with deliberate annunciation, and a lot of hinting and prodding, I got these responses:
A bare heart on his hidden one,
A heart that gave out such a glow
No son awake could bear to know.
It showed a look upon a face
Too tender for the day to trace.
- "Maybe the dad is dead and he's seeing a ghost."
- "Maybe he died but the son still feels like he's watching over him." (Give her credit for going beyond the surface.)
- "Why doesn't he just tell his son he loves him?"
- "Maybe the son is crazy and the dad was sad because the son is crazy." (Give him credit for making a personal connection.)