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Embedding Poetry in Core Literacy Instruction

TCTELA2015

Selfie at our session. –“The Sound of Sense: Putting Poetry at the Core of Literacy Instruction”

Saturday Heather and I presented a session on poetry at the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts. When I wrote the proposal last year, I had been accepted but had not attended The Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, and I had hope that my life would be transformed through poetry after my stay in Franconia at the end of June. I knew I’d have ideas to share with other teachers at this conference. I was right.

That’s how faith works.

I shared the strategies that have shaped my teaching into fine points for skills acquisition since I learned them at the

Frost Place:

Dictation. When we dictate a poem, slowly, speaking each word and each line with care; when our students write each word, each phrase, each metaphor and simile, they take ownership of the language and see into the craft of the poet. In this ever-moving world, our students need to s-l-o-w-d-o-w-n and feel the beauty of the print on the page. Words become tangible and approachable. Comprehension improves. Analysis advances.

Arguing a Tone. My friend Margaret shared this strategy:  Choose a poem that begins with “how” or “why” or one that you know can be read in opposing tones. (Dickinson’s “How gentle is the little brook” works well.) Divide the class into two teams, and ask one side to read the poem with a tone of anger. Ask the other side to read the poem with a tone of happiness. Instruct students to find text evidence that supports their given tone then hold a debate. After discussing, students can then take their thinking to paper and write paragraphs that show analysis of the tone.

I Wonder for Revision. At the Frost Place, I loved being in the company of working poets. They inspired me with their thinking and their calm. I learned as I listened to their language. One afternoon we sat in a circle as a poet shared his work. We listened and offered feedback in the form of “I wonder…” He listened and took notes. And he left with a page of possibilities that he might have wanted to play with as he revised his poem. I’ve used this strategy with my students and had great success. I wrote about it here: A Feedback Protocol for Revision Workshop.

At the end of our session on Saturday, I read my poem I wrote modeled after Meg Kearney’s poem “Creed.” Just like at the Frost Place, I cried when I read about my mother. Poetry is emotion. And it’s an emotion that we need to help our students see and feel and play with. Sure, we can reserve a unit in our curricular year to devote to poetry, but our students will love it, understand it, and appreciate the wonders of language when we embed poetry in every unit throughout the year.

It is possible, I know, because I do it.

What are some of your ideas for embedding poetry in your core instruction? or, what are some of your favorite poems to share with students?

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7 thoughts on “Embedding Poetry in Core Literacy Instruction

  1. Rebekah February 6, 2015 at 1:30 pm Reply

    Amy — question about dictation! When you do it with students, are they ONLY focusing on getting the words on paper, or are they also trying to copy down line breaks, punctuation, etc? Would love to hear more on this to use with my IB students!

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    • Amy February 6, 2015 at 5:19 pm Reply

      Rebekah, to answer your question — it depends on what focus you want to take. I’ve dictated everything with some poems, including capitalization, spelling, punctuation, line breaks. If I want students to take ownership of the poem on their own page, this works well. They write the structure and focus on getting everything correct just as I say it. We always compare the real deal with what they write afterwards.

      If I want to focus on something else, say a mini-lesson on line breaks, I might just dictate the poem and ask students to put the line breaks where they think they go. This leads into a nice lesson on why poets make the choices that they do.

      I’d love to hear how dictation works for you, or other ways you use it. Please keep in touch.

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  2. […] has gently drenched us with her new found love for teaching poetry; inclusive of strategies, techniques, and student buy-in that emerged for her this summer at Frost Place.  Shana (and her hubby) […]

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  3. Ruth January 27, 2015 at 12:22 pm Reply

    Amy, you were such a gift to us at The Frost Place last summer. As you know, I used yur pooem and Meg’s original in a workshop that I did in the fall with women in a church group.Fiind Jean’s live toolbox and also her lesson plans withthe kindergarten for more on pooetry and common core

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    • Amy February 6, 2015 at 5:20 pm Reply

      You are a sweetheart, Ruth. I am using Meg’s “Creed” poem with my students soon. I’ll share mine, too, although that is still scary. I shared it at a conference in Houston a few weeks ago and cried. I guess that’s what poetry is though, right? All about emotion.

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  4. […] Embedding Poetry in Core Literacy Instruction by Amy Rasmussen (with Heather Cato) […]

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  5. David January 27, 2015 at 8:32 am Reply

    Wonderfully said, Amy.

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