Friday, May 6, 2016

V is for Vth Grade

One of the poetry challenges last month was to write six stanzas in the style of Wallace Stevens' poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. Every student who tried it did a terrific job-- it was some of the most imaginative and descriptive poetry of the month. One part of the directions was a little confusing to some, however. "Excuse me, Ms. S." one student said quietly. "I don't really get Roman numerals." He was referring to the way Stevens numbers his stanzas of course.

I learned Roman numerals a long time ago in 5th grade. The basics seemed easy enough. I equaled 1, and then it was hash marks until four. The word 'five' has a 'V' in it, four is one before five, and six is one after five, and so on. Ten and X? There was no trick to help with that, but once you knew it, you were fine.

I would have been totally lost when it came to the bigger numbers if my teacher hadn't taught us a phrase to remember them by: Little Cats Drink Milk. 'L' is 50, 'C' 100, 'D' 500, and 'M' is 1000. With that knowledge, I could write or decipher any Roman numeral you gave me. (It also helped that they always showed the copyright date at the end of movies and TV shows in Roman numerals.)

Once I showed that student the pattern, he too, was able to do it without any problem, and he was free to write a great poem.

Life Lesson: "I do not know which to prefer,/ The beauty of inflections/ Or the beauty of innuendoes" ~Wallace Stevens

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