Tag Archives: Poetry

The Pedagogy of Poetry Instruction: Join us for #PoetryChat

img_0341-1I have had the joy of watching Amy get revved up about a variety of teaching topics, but I’ve never seen her with a brighter glow than when she talks about her experience at The Frost Place.  Their Conference on Poetry and Teaching is an amazing opportunity for teachers, readers, and writers of poetry to experience the “reading-conversation-writing-revision cycle” that is so central to conference director Dawn L. Potter‘s poetic philosophy.

I’ve been reading much of Dawn’s aforementioned poetic philosophy, and seeing it in practice, in her book The Conversation–which is blowing my mind.  A thick, wordy tome with small print offset by the white space so signature to poetry, the book is full of wisdom that is the conversationrevolutionizing how I view the teaching of poetry.

As such, we are thrilled to have Dawn as our guest during March 7’s #PoetryChat, where she (and other chat participants) will converse about how to teach poetry.  Dawn’s expertise as a teacher and poet are incredible, and we can’t wait to hear her thoughts on our questions, and see her responses to chat participants’ questions as well.

Below are our questions for the chat–please share any that you have in the comments, and join us Monday, March 7 at 7 CT/8 ET for this month’s #PoetryChat on the pedagogy of poetry instruction.

  1. What poets and poems inspire(d) your love of poetry?
  2. What’s your best advice for helping students read and understand poetry?
  3. What’s your best advice for helping students WRITE poetry?
  4. How can teachers move away from poetry units and toward embedding poetry in ALL instruction?
  5. What is the best way to help make poetry relatable (and not intimidating) to its readers?
  6. As a poet, how do you approach reading poetry?
  7. What are your thoughts on revision?

Share your questions in the comments, and join us for the chat

Mini-lesson Monday: Taking on the Thesis Statement

Right now, my students and I are writing spoken-word poems. I’ve wanted to play with language this way for a long time now, but finally mustered the courage — and figured out a way to make this kind of poetry fit into my AP Language goals and the needs of my students as they prepare for the AP Lang exam.

While watching and listening to many spoken-word poems, I realized that most of them are an argument, filled with not only beautifully crafted language — devices galore — but they also show craft in the use of the appeals. With the help of my student teacher, Mr. Zachery Welch, we designed a unit that centers around the rhetoric in spoken-word poems. And we are all writing our own. (This is a challenge for me, but I absolutely believe the the importance of a teacher writing beside her students. Thanks, Penny Kittle, for teaching me that!)

The performance task for this unit reads:  Craft a spoken word poem that addresses a personal conflict and/or a social issue, include rhetorical techniques and literary and rhetorical devices to convince your audience of the need for positive change. Perform your poem for the class live, or create an automated slide show with visuals, or a video recording as a way to digitally perform your poem.

This lesson stems from our work  — and the need for students to include stronger thesis statements in all of their argumentative essays.

Objective:   Using the language of the depth of knowledge levels, students will identify powerful lines in a spoken-word poem that serve as position statements. They will discuss and then categorize these statements in order of importance as it pertains to the poet’s overall theme. Students will then formulate three powerful thesis statements of their own and revise their drafts to include these powerful thesis-like lines.

Lesson:  Watch and listen to “Paper People” by Harry Baker. Ask students to pay particular attention to the lines of the poem that hold the weight of the poet’s position. They must listen carefully because Baker’s poem is primarily crafted with the alliterative “p”. Give students a copy of the lyrics, and on the second listening, having them mark specific lines they think represent Baker’s position. Then, ask students to discuss the lines they marked with their small groups. As a class, determine the line that best serves as Baker’s thesis.

Next, instruct students to write three thesis statements for their own poems. They should discuss their thesis statements within their groups and help one another develop powerful statements that hold the weight of the meaning in their poems. Then, instruct students to revise their poems, including all three of their new strong lines.

Follow up:  Students continue to revise and strengthen the arguments within their spoken-word poems. They should also remember to write three powerful thesis statements in their argumentative essays and challenge themselves to use all three in their writing.

Mini-Lesson Monday: Imitating Poetry

Reading more poetry with my students has been a goal of mine these past few years, and it’s been a goal I feel has been readily achieved with ideas like creating Heart Books or reading novels in verse.

But writing poetry–well, that’s a different story.

Students who aren’t accustomed to writing poetry need a scaffold before they can leap into free verse composition without a topic, genre, or form prompt.  For this scaffold, I use imitation.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  Identify patterns of language, structure, and punctuation in a given poem; Modify the style of the given poem to suit your purpose; Create a poem in the style of a given poem.

41KeFnbnPfL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Lesson — Before the mini-lesson, I will have already booktalked two of Mary Oliver’s books–A Poetry Handbook and Dog Songs, which is always a favorite with my students.  As the mini-lesson begins, I’ll read to them from Oliver’s chapter on imitation.

“You would learn very little in this world if you were not allowed to imitate,” Oliver begins. “Before we can be poets, we must practice; imitation is a very good way of investigating the real thing.”

“I have some poems here today for us to imitate and investigate,” I follow up.  I pass out the following options, lately garnered from my incredible poetry seminar with Mary Ann Samyn:

“Read over these quickly, and choose one you’d like to imitate.  Then open to a fresh page in your notebook.”

“I’m going to write with you, and I’m going to choose ‘A Display of Mackerel,'” I say.  “It seems long, but look how short the lines and stanzas are.”  I put my chosen poem under the document camera.  “Now, this poem is about a display of fish, and I want to imitate it and write about a display of something.  There’s a pretty big display of colorful objects in my room…” I trail off.

“Your library!” Nathan helpfully supplies.

“Yep,” I agree.  “I’m going to imitate this poem and write about my bookshelf.  I’m just going to change a few words per line, but I’m going to keep all the punctuation and the numbers of words the same.  It’s so easy to write poetry this way.”

On the document camera, I begin my imitation next to Doty’s original:

They lie in parallel rows,                   They rest in slumped rows,

on ice, head to tail,                           on shelves, spine to spine,

each a foot of luminosity                   each a sheaf of wisdom

“See how easy that is?  I keep Doty’s structure, punctuation, and even some of his words.  I just change a few to make the poem about my display of books, rather than his display of mackerel.  Now you take a few minutes to give this a start.”

We set about writing together.

After 10-15 minutes, we each have a full imitation poem.  We break into small groups, working with others who imitated our same poem.  We read our poems aloud.  Feedback is given on what we notice–similarities to and diversions from the original, and the effects of both.

Follow-Up — We’ll practice imitation a few more times before we leap into writing poetry independently.  When we do, I’ll ask, as always, that my students create a small anthology of their work on that genre–some samples of their early forays into poetry through imitation, as well as a few examples of their own independent attempts.  I’ll definitely include my “A Display of Books” in my own anthology, as I find it a lovely description of my library that I’d like to preserve.

My Imitation Poem: “A Display of Books”
by Shana Karnes & Mark Doty

They rest in slumped rows,
on shelves, spine to spine,
each a sheaf of wisdom

creased with cracked spines,
which divide the plots’
most gripping sections

like bands of color
in a double rainbow.
Vibrant, luminous

prismatics: think indigo,
the wildly rainbowed
spectrum of a springtime rain,

think sun spearing through clouds.
Wonder, and wonder,
and all of them in every way

unique from one another
–everything about them
a onetime blend of letters. Thus,

they’re all creative expressions
of a million different souls,
each a tenuous effort

of the soul’s footprint,
writer’s essence. As if,
after a lifetime of drafting

at this printing, the author’s
taken irreversible steps,
each as permanent

in its inked completion
as the one next door
Suppose we were shoulder-to-shoulder,

like these, the same but different
from our universe
of neighbors—would you want

to be yourself only,
unduplicatable, doomed
to be in print? They’d prefer,

plainly, to be award winners,
forever honored. Even now
they seem to be straining

forward, heedless of their lifelessness.
They don’t care they’re ink
and simple paper,

just as, presumably,
they didn’t care that they were imagined:
all, all for all,

the rainbowed shelf
and its acres of brilliant words,
in which no verb is singular,

or every one is. How eager they seem,
even on shelves, to be different, selfish,
which is the price of publication.

Mini-Lesson Monday: Connecting to Poetry with Heart Books

Today is my first day back with my students, since my excellent student teacher departed on Friday.  Having observed their learning and their needs for the past six weeks, I have lots of goals for them in mind.  But, most urgently, I am struck by how much I want readers to connect more authentically to literature–to nurture their investment in, and passion about, literacy.  I want to begin helping them do that by creating and curating Heart Books, which I heard the excellent Linda Rief present about at NCTE in 2013.  Thank you to the very thorough Vicki for this excellent description of Heart Books.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  Identify a topic/theme to explore in heart books; Collect and display a variety of poems about this topic/theme over time; Connect your poems to your topic and yourself.

IMG_9708

My heart map

Lesson — We’ll begin the lesson by returning to the Heart Maps (here’s a great handout on those) we created early on in the school year.  “Choose one topic on your heart map that you’d like to explore further.  On my heart map, I think I’m going to choose my students–this kind of includes themes of learning, growth, and teaching, too,” I’ll explain.

Once students choose topics from their heart maps and expand on what themes they might include, we’ll create a new section in our writer’s notebooks called HEART BOOKS.  Then, we’ll browse various poetry anthologies and collections (check Amy’s selection out if you seek inspiration for building your poetry shelf!), searching for poetry that matches their selected theme.  I’ll ask students to copy the poem into their notebooks once they’ve made a selection.

IMG_9709

My poetry shelf, unshelved

From there, Linda Rief suggests having heart-bookers illustrate the poem, write a response about why it was chosen, and research the poet to find out what he or she might have to say about reading and writing.  I’ll encourage my students to do the same, but also will ask them to make a note of their favorite bits of language from the poem–words, phrases, or even punctuation.  The craft moves poets make are valuable teachers of writing.

Follow-Up — Next class, I’ll ask students to share in groups their Heart Books.  Perhaps we’ll have a notebook pass in which we write in one another’s notebooks, responding to each other’s poems.

For the remainder of the year, once per month, I’ll set class time aside for curating Heart Books.  By the end of the year students will have created a personal anthology of ten poems that help them explore a key theme in their Heart Maps.

What routines do you have in place that help your students connect to literature and explore personal themes?

Why We Should Challenge Our Students–And Ourselves

I’ve recently found myself in a learning situation I’ve rarely experienced before–a classroom where I am the slowest, lowest, and neediest learner.  The one whose work is nowhere near the level of everyone else’s.  The one who asks the dumbest questions.  The one who is silent and stricken after asking the dumb question.

IMG_9356

My own messy attempt at a poetry exercise

Those of us who grow up to become English teachers are skilled readers and writers, for the most part, and we were generally successful in educational settings.  We loved reading, we enjoyed writing papers, we received positive feedback from our teachers about our work, and we got good grades.  This is eminently true of my own educational experience, so I’ve never been able to truly empathize with how my struggling students might feel about our class time together.

The work of learning is tough in general, but standing out as the worst learner is a pretty unsettling feeling, I’m finding out.

The poetry workshop I’m involved in, which has shattered my confidence as a writer (while simultaneously strengthening my writing skills) is taught by award-winning poet Mary Ann Samyn.  This Bolton Professor for Teaching and Mentoring is the leader of our little band of misfit poets, and has been “poem-ing it up” for decades.

Mary Ann’s resulting ease with the language of writing and teaching poetry is obvious to witness.  She has clearly internalized and automatized much of the vocabulary of poetry–she tosses out phrases about meter and iambs and syllables and line breaks with such grace that I can tell she’s been thinking and talking about poetry for years.  “A line of poetry is a unit of measure,” she said.  I hastened to write down that line, marveling at its simple wisdom.

IMG_9355

My classmate, an MFA student, scrawls her own messy poem

It occurred to me, as I jotted down that poetic utterance of Mary Ann’s, that this is how I must sound to some of my students–as though I’m speaking another language.

As I sit in the workshop on Thursdays, surrounded by MFA students who have years of experience as real writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as well as teacher-poets who have published their own verse, I feel so lost.  I am in a world I don’t feel I belong to–I do not yet identify as a poet, but I feel surrounded by them, trying to do the work of writing poetry and reading poetry and thinking about teaching poetry.  I wonder if I’ll ever get to their level as they gently question me about my writing, trying to make sense of my meaning, and give me suggestions about my work.

Regardless of how I view myself in the group, one thing is clear during the workshop–I am part of the community of poets, for 90 minutes every other Thursday.  I give and receive feedback in the same way the other writers do.  I participate in the exercises everyone else does.  I write poetry within the same time constraints as the others.  I am treated as a poet, even if I don’t think I am one.

Being part of a writing community with such rigor is hard, but it’s valuable.  I would never use the word “fun” to describe my time in the Bolton workshop, but I would argue that perhaps the best learning is not fun.  I find myself determined to write poetry alongside those real poets, even as I dread reading my words aloud to them moments later.  In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink argues that my drive to do this is innate to all learners:

“We have three innate psychological needs—competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy.”

I make an effort to improve as a poet because I need to feel competent, much like our students work to improve as readers and writers because they desire competence, too.  In all educational situations, learners perform not because of the dangling promise of a grade, the threat of failure, or the pressure to comply with a controlling teacher.  They perform because they want to prove competence to themselves.

I asked a few students about this topic.  This summer, Shailyn read the Pulitzer-winning All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  She said the vocabulary was difficult, the book was long, and the writing style was strange–it was one of the toughest books she’s read.  “Why did you have the confidence you could read it?” I asked her.  “When you encountered those challenges, what made you say, ‘I don’t care.  I’m gonna read this anyway.’?”

“Because I have goals.  I like to feel challenged, and when I finally figured out how [the protagonists’] stories came together, I felt satisfied.  And I felt like I learned a lot from that book when I finished it,” she said.  Shailyn wanted to know that she was a competent reader–comprehending that book showed her she was.

Hunter, too, recently finished a book that challenged him.  “I hate this book,” he told me in the midst of Lone Survivor.  “You can abandon it,” I reminded him.  “No!” he said, forcefully.  “I’ve gotten two-thirds of the way through it.  I’m not giving up now.”  Hunter finished the book of his own accord, exercising his autonomy.

Lakynn agreed that learning is intrinsically motivated.  “You feel better about yourself when you’re more educated about a topic,” she told me.  “If you’re not knowledgeable about something, you can’t relate to someone more educated.  You want to learn about things so you can have those conversations with people about them,” she explained.  The social aspect of a learning community is evident and powerful here–Lakynn sought information about the Republican presidential candidates to fulfill her relatedness needs.

The more I talked with students, the more I discovered that what I thought was frustration with my difficult learning experience was actually profound satisfaction.  Yes, my confidence was crushed–I thought I was a good writer.  But knowing that I had so much room to grow created a hunger for more knowledge–I needed to learn, to belong, to feel competent again.  And so, I leave the Bolton workshop energized, confused, and with my mental wheels turning, every time.  The rigor of that learning–the toughness of it–is what makes it so satisfying.  I’ll remember that the next time I sit down beside the accomplished poets in my class, and every day I design lessons for my students.

Our students flourish when we create an authentic, rigorous learning community for them to be part of.  Difficult books, intimidating writing pieces, and high expectations combine to create an ideal situation in which autonomous learning can occur.  The beauty–and the learning–lie in the challenge.

I’ll leave you with a gem from one of Mary Ann Samyn’s collections of poetry, Beauty Breaks In:

Beauty breaks in everywhere.
Welcome to the wind-powered poem.
Like the ocean or the woodcut of the ocean.
I heard the hardest thing and listened.
Syntax says, you first. Shimmer half-scolds.
I said, I am loved. Sometimes a correction happens.
Fear made it one full week. A human action.
I stopped making it worse than it was.

#FridayReads I Want All My Students to Experience This Kind of Reading

I’m always a bit nervous about how to introduce the volume of reading we will do in my AP Language class. Although students have heard that AP is “hard,” they don’t really know what that means until they start to see some of the texts they must read, understand, unpack, and analyze.

The biggest problem with all this reading:  most 16-year-olds are not readers. At least not when they come to me. (They do change.) Somewhere along their educational journey, the love of reading has gone by the wayside. Most tell me in our very first conference that they used to love to read. Few can tell with any specificity why they stopped. (I have my own theories.)

I’m constantly thinking of ways to help my readers fall in love again. If students are not reading, they are not growing as readers. It’s pretty simple logic.

And frankly, I want to live in a community of people who read. My current students will live on my street, work in the shops I patron, send their kids to my new grandson’s school. I want to be surrounded by families who enjoy literate lives because their lives will rub shoulders with mine.

Literature could change the world if we let it — if more people read it.

If we encourage what Louise Rosenblatt calls a sense of emotion, an aesthetic experience, in our young people, more of them would read. Rosenblatt explains how our readers need transactional experiences with the books they read:

“The transaction involving a reader and a printed text … can be viewed as an event occurring at a particular time in a particular environment at a particular moment in the life history of the reader. The transaction will involve not only the past experience but also the present state and present interests or preoccupations of the reader.” It’s like the letters on the page come to life, and the meaning of the words dance into the reader’s mind and heart. She has an experience with the text that remains long after she closes the book.

I want all of my students to experience this kind of reading.

novels in verse 1So the first week of school I opened packages. Thanks to Donors Choose I had package after package arrive at my classroom. Each packaged filled with brand new novels for my brand new students. Most of them novels in verse — a powerful gateway back into reading with next to no stress. Few words on the page, and engaging story, vivid word choice, and a storyline brimming with emotion.

I book talked Chasing Brooklyn. It found a home in eager hands, as did To Be Perfectly Honest, The Crossover, Like Water on Stone,  My Book of Life by Angel, and many more.

If you’d like to build your Poetry shelf, or just add novels in verse to your classroom library, here’s a sampling of the books sweet donors gifted our classroom with this fall:

Like Water on Stone

The girl in the Mirror: A Novel

Audacity

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling

The Red Pencil

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

Perfect

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

To Be Perfectly Honest: A Novel Based on an Untrue Story

What My Mother Doesn’t Know

The Simple Gift

The Secret of Me: A Novel in Verse

The Crossover

One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies

Every You, Every Me

Brown Girl Dreaming

I Heart You, You Haunt Me

Sold

Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall

Love, Ghosts, and Facial Hair

All the Broken Pieces

Geography of a Girl

Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?

(Note:  Shana’s the expert on building a classroom library by getting donations. Read about how she does it here. She’s got more ideas than just Donor’s Choose for books.)

Share your ideas on helping students have personal and meaningful experiences while reading…

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

How to Respond to All Writers–Students and Professionals Alike

In a workshop classroom, all authors are mentors.  They are teachers of the craft of writing, and the foundation of the workshop model is built on acknowledging and celebrating them as such.  All writers are apprentices of other writers–Stephen King notes this in On Writing, Katie Wood Ray points this out in Wondrous Words, and Penny Kittle champions this in Write Beside Them.

This week, we’ve practiced treating two types of writers as mentors in our classroom–published authors and student writers.

Once we set up our writer’s notebooks, we began filling them with all things personal to us.  Heart maps, important photos, our hands, lifelines, reading histories, and more.  Then, we turned to adding the words of other writers.

IMG_9251

My writing atop Jacqueline Woodson’s

I wanted to show students the power of other writers’ words.  I wanted to teach them to read poetry not to “torture a confession out of it…to find out what it really means,” as Billy Collins writes, but to celebrate the act of simply reading that poem.  So, we glued in an excerpt from Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.  I modeled for students how to respond to Jacqueline as a real writer, to notice and note her craft moves, to be inspired by her ideas and write more about our own feelings on those topics.  We wrote atop her poem, prioritizing our responses, reactions, and ideas rather than some analysis or “dulling down” of her meaning.  Responding personally and authentically to published authors will become an important part of our daily routine in our writer’s workshop.

I invited students to enter into a written dialogue with the authors we read.  So, as I settled down this weekend to begin reading a tall pile of student writing that had been turned in, I knew I had to walk the talk, as Amy always reminds me I must.  I ask students to treat authors as real people worthy of critical response, so why would I treat my student writers any differently?  I’ve always struggled with how to grade/evaluate/respond to student writing, but I’m thinking about it in a new way this year.  I just want to have conversations with my students about their writing, whether it’s in the form of a writing conference or in a weekend session with a stack of papers.  I know that when these conversations occur, student growth will follow.  In the excellent Portfolio Portraits, edited by Don Graves and Bonnie Sunstein, Linda Rief writes in an essay IMG_9248titled “Finding the value in Evaluation:”

I have discovered that students know themselves as learners better than anyone else.  They set goals for themselves and judge how well they reach those goals.  They thoughtfully and honestly evaluate their own learning with far more detail and introspection than I thought possible.  Ultimately, they show me who they are as readers, writers, thinkers, and human beings.

My thinking aligns with Linda’s.  When I remove myself from the role of “grader” or “evaluator,” I become an authentic reader of my students’ writing.  I invite students to assess their own writing, which in the words of Linda Rief “shows the value in evaluation.”

So this weekend, I read my students’ writing like I read books.  I noted beautiful lines they wrote, jotted down spiffy words they harnessed, and responded to thought-provoking ideas I saw them getting at.  I asked them questions, wondered about their meanings, and looked very much forward to reading more of their words in the future.  I will confer with students as I return their papers, and we’ll talk about how they might move forward with some of the topics, ideas, and stories they’d begun in these early writings.

In our classroom, we consider our responses to published writing as important as the writing itself.  The value of reading and writing lies in the interaction between the reader and the words, as Louise Rosenblatt describes.  When I transfer that value from the way I want my students reading writing to the way I want to read my students’ writing, new and important opportunities for student learning occur.

#PoetryChat – Boys & Poetry – Monday, August 3 8ET

IMG_8888This week, the writers of Three Teachers Talk are together in Durham, New Hampshire at the UNH Literacy Institutes.  For five days now, we’ve learned with Penny Kittle and Tom Newkirk about strengthening our practice and our thinking.

Newkirk’s class, centered around his Misreading Masculinity (2001), is focused on boys and literacy.  We’ve read and discussed issues of violence, humor, personality, sexuality, power, and more–all surrounding boy readers and writers.

Join us to continue this conversation on the topic of poetry.  The four of us will be together in Portsmouth, ready to chat on Monday at 8ET.

1. How do you notice your boys responding to poetry in your classroom?

2. Should boys write poetry in an English class?

3. How is poetry uniquely valuable for boys?

4. How do you hook boys into poetry?

5. What are your best poems, poets, or poetry resources to engage your boys?

Poetry Chat August 3

Poems to Write Beside

Last evening was #poetrychat. We talked about poems that inspire writing. Here’s a list of all the poems mentioned. I wrote them in my notebook, and then I pinned them to my poetry board. Then I read and wrote a bit.

Eyes Fastened with Pins by Charles Simic

The Fall of Icarus by WC Williams

Musee des Beaux Arts by W. H Auden

This is Just to Say (a book) by Joyce Sidman

Making a Fist by Naomi Shihab Nye

Where Dreams Come From by Marge Piercy

Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon

Hailstones & Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neil (elementary)

(anything by Douglas Florian) (elementary)

Change by Charlotte Zolotow

Legacies by Nikki Giovanni

How to Live by Charles Harper Webb

A Passionate Shepherd to His Love by Christopher Marlowe

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

(poems by Tony Medina and @SirJohnBennett and Claudia McKay)

The First Day by Joseph Green

Days by Billy Collins

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

(other poems by Billy Collins, Christina Rosetti, and Sandra Cisneros)

For the Young Who Want To by Marge Piercy

Possibilities by Wislawa Szymborska

Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

Do you have other favorites to write beside or to ask students to write beside? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

And Happy Writing!

I plan to read and write to one poem every day this month. I find it fulfilling. Strange word, maybe, but there it is. Once I get the pen moving, I can write for hours. That’s what I need is hours of writing time.

How and what are you writing this summer?

#PoetryChat Tonight, 8ET

poetry-prompts-rantLet’s talk poetry.

A few months ago, a pre-service teacher I know asked me to give her some feedback on a poetry unit she’d written.  Her mini-unit, a 25-page document filled mostly by her professor’s formatting requirements, troubled me for a few reasons.

First, as Amy established, poetry is more than a unit–it’s a powerful way of teaching linguistic precision, the art of writing, and the freedom of expression.  It shouldn’t be a two-week item to scratch off a curricular checklist.

Further, pre-planning a unit in such a detailed way takes the power out of learning. “You’re doing too much of the thinking in this unit, and your students aren’t doing enough,” I wrote to her. She had selected every poem, every genre, and every skill for her students to learn–in doing so, she took away a valuable opportunity for her students to seek out, evaluate, and share found and original poetry.

Second, this teacher’s unit was full of contradictions.  I loved seeing her ideas about including slam poetry, spine poems, blackout poetry, and other engaging, unique poetry possibilities.  However, I was confused by what seemed to be an obligation she felt to teach every literary and poetry term ever.  “Focus on getting your students to learn how to WRITE poetry by studying other AUTHORS of poetry,” I advised. “When Dickinson was writing poems, it wasn’t because she was like ‘oooh I love metaphors’–it was because she had a broken heart.”

In teaching poetry, it seems like too many of us are yoked to an antiquated view of poetry–metaphors, dactyls, metric feet.  We are focused too much on the HOW of poetry, and not enough on the WHY.  As we teach our students, let’s focus on them as poets, not simple readers of poems.

Join us tonight at 8ET for a #poetrychat about ways to transform our students into poets by getting poetry off our shelves and into their hands, introducing them to mentor authors, and encouraging play with nontraditional poetry forms.

#PoetryChat Questions:

Warm-Up: Your favorite line or phrase from a loved poem

1. Why do you think many students find poetry intimidating or inaccessible?

2. When you teach poetry, how do you balance the students’ READING of poetry and WRITING of poetry?

3. What are your favorite genres of nontraditional poetry (prose poetry, spine poems, etc.)?

4. Who are your favorite mentor poets? How do you use them to teach your students?

5. What can our students gain from novels in verse? What are your favorite in-verse titles?

6. Let’s finish by sharing our most successful poetry teaching stories. What’s yours?

%d bloggers like this: