I love giving people advice (my sisters tell me I like it a little too much). Some of my favorite social media posts involve creative ways of giving advice, like this one I saw just this morning.
I notice that students like giving advice too, so as the year starts rounding third base to home, I’ve been thinking about how students might leverage that love of advice to reflect on their learning this year.
Years ago I was in a class at Miami University with Tom Romano where he introduced us to Charles Webb’s poem “How to Live.” (Penny Kittle also writes about this poem in her book Write Beside Them.) I remember being captivated by the declarative nature of the poem. The directness in language, the specificity. I loved the way Webb broke the lines, almost like the white space was a deep breath as he pushed through to more advice. I loved the way verbs featured so prominently.
After spending a bit of time thinking about what we liked about the poem, Dr. Romano invited us to write in the style of the poem. This was before I had a grasp on mentor texts and for me, someone who didn’t identify as a poet, I felt empowered. I could tell people how to live! I’m a bossy person; it’s a natural fit.
I wrote several versions of the poem with different audiences in mind, but my favorite was the one I wrote to my children, twins who were 3 at the time. Over the years, I’ve revisited this poem and the same audience, tweaking my advice to Jacob and Emma at various stages of life.
I’ve found that students love writing in this way too. They also have so much to share. They know some things, and when we invite them to consider their audience, it helps them focus the kind of advice they share.
Over the years, I’ve been collecting advice poems, and I’m sure you have too. What would happen if we gave students the opportunity to write advice poems now? As they close another school year, one unlike any other, how might they give advice on how to live? Or how to learn? Or how to…
I was reminded of these advice poems today as I was reading through Rudy Francisco’s latest book I’ll Fly Away, I came across the poem “Instructions for black people,” and I was struck again by the declarative nature (an early version can be found here). The sentence variety, the space on the page. I’d like to bring this to students and put it next to Webb’s poem. Study the tone, analyze the way the theme of the poem contributes that tone.
More importantly, I’ll invite students to write their own advice poems, to offer instructions to someone.
Some of my favorite advice poems:
“Entreaty” by Catherine Pierce
“Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out” by Ron Koertge
“How to Play Night Baseball” by Jonathan Holden
“Ten Things I’ve Been Meaning to Say to You” by Jason Reynolds (this is a list but I love the idea of advice in a list)
In the spirit of the assignment, here’s my version:
To Those of You Teaching Right Now
Share poems with students,
spend a day (or two or three) reveling in the language,
consider structure, craft, line breaks, tone.
Invite students storm their braints,
asking what they might be able to offer advice about.
Name an audience — who most needs to hear what you have to say?
of the poems as a guide,
as a road map,
as a GPS.
Let the keys click-clack, the words creep across the page.
Write with them, in front of them, in their midst.
Trust the gush (as Dr. Romano says).
Let us know what other advice poems you love to share with students, or how you might use this with your writers.
Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in the Cincinnati area. When she’s not running kids to baseball practices or trying to get her dog to relax, she enjoys reading (duh) and binge-watching her latest guilty pleasure Younger starring Sutton Foster.