License to Poetry

 

Sunflower
William Blake’s Ah! Sun-Flower: Poem Analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://schoolworkhelper.net/william-blakes-ah-sun-flower-poem-analysis/

In my youth poetry was as elusive to me as calculus. It seemed unnecessarily complex and celebrated by the elite of literature. I wasn’t fond of reading in general back then. I definitely wasn’t going to champion wrestling over the hidden meaning of a poem.

 

And, really, if you want us to know that the sunflower symbolizes the afterlife, William Blake, just say so! Are poets trying to be annoying? In the same way no one imagines ever actually using calculus, poetry seemed worthless to me.

Songs_of_Innocence_and_of_Experience,_copy_AA,_1826_(The_Fitzwilliam_Museum)_object_43_My_Pretty_Rose_Tree_(cropped).jpgThen I became an elementary teacher. Poems are everywhere! Teachers begin the day with them. They are read on the morning announcements. Magazines end with them. Children’s literature is littered with them. Come to find out, some of my favorite authors celebrate poetry throughout their texts. Roald Dahl’s novels are packed with poetry. How did I never see this?

 

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Searching my Google drive revealed this poem I wrote in 2013!

Beyond the fact that I wouldn’t be escaping poetry, two things happened. I realized that this was a weakness. If I were a musician, I was playing rock and roll, ignoring the tendon of blues music that connected the muscle of contemporary privilege culture to the soul of bone-crushing hardship. Disregarding poetry would leave my students malnourished in the area of literary arts. The second realization I discovered was how interesting poetry can be. Come to find out it was fun to read and surprisingly easy to write!

 

I will say that before delving into this topic, I had to let go of the idea that only smart people can understand or read poetry. The fact that I might not “get it,” and would therefore feel dumb was holding me back from reading poetry. The concept that if I couldn’t write great poetry it would reveal a deficient intellect had to be released. Had I been defensively shielding myself from feelings of inferiority by purposefully ignoring this artful literature? Coming to grips with this possibility was the key for unlocking a love of poetry. 

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The librarian pulled a ton of poetry books for kids to hunt the styles after learning about them.
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These screenshots show comments between the librarian and I in 2014.

The first thing I did was prepare to teach the subject that I knew precious little about. I find that teaching helps me learn. I shared this idea with my school librarian, and the two of us planned to collaborate on a fun project of teaching several styles of poetry to my class. I convinced the librarian to use Google slides to make a slideshow that we could both add information to simultaneously and from any device. She hadn’t used this tool before. Sharing the same love of learning, my librarian jumped right in to figuring out this great collaboration tool.

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Link to Styles of Poetry slideshow for anyone interested to use, copy, and share

I learned poetry. The librarian learned Google slides. And, together we developed an exciting and fun interactive lesson that I still use to this day! Students are given a graphic organizer that has the names of the styles of poetry that they are about to learn on one side, five empty stars next to the name, and lines for writing. As they learn about the styles, they rate how they like them. In addition to coloring in stars, students are to write down a reason as to why they like or dislike  a style. I guide them through this activity, sharing some of my own opinions. We explore examples of the poetry, and even try writing some of our own. 

 

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Blog post “Poetry is Classy” has a poem (“Spelling Story”) about the homonym spell. It teaches the importance of spelling while demonstrating poetry’s liberty for misspelling. 

I by no means consider myself an expert on poetry. I have not read very much of it. The main change is that I am not afraid of it anymore. I’ve even tried writing some.

It helps that my audience is eight and nine-year-olds! By penning my own poetry and sharing it with my class, I am modeling giving it a try, even if you’re not good at it.

 

 

Not only that, but it is truly fun. One of the things that I like about poetry is the ability to break the rules. Like many things, it is important to know the rules, before breaking them. And then you don’t destroy grammar as much as bend it. My third graders are still a little young to truly understand “poetic license,” but they get the idea of bending rules. That’s for sure!

 

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I devised this “Grammar City” two week lesson in 2015, making metaphors of constructing buildings to symbolize the structure inherent in writing.

How do you share poetry? Why do you teach it? Why do you think poetry is important?

 

 

Classy Appearances

I’m not one to put too much weight in appearances; I’d say I am even opposed to “Lookism”; however, caring about the way others perceive you is classy. I wrote a blog about “Standing Out” in a crowd through modeling classy behavior. This focused on several specific ways to appear classy. This time I want to dig deeper. Where does the behavior come from?

Lunch Count
More than behavior management, I attempt “Behavior Inspiration”.

We, as parents and educators, care about our kids’ futures, but most kids are living in the here and now. It is difficult to get a nine-year-old to care about what an employer will think about him or her ten or twenty years from now. Then there is the whole, “We have no idea what 2030 will bring and what the world/job market will even be like” (thanks, Tom Murray/Eric Sheninger! 😉

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Having pride in one’s work is classy.

People, want to be respected. They want to be taken “seriously”. A child expects to be able to speak to an adult and have the grown up believe him/her. Here is a concept to help kids, and we mature humans must model and explain it to them: The classier a person appears, the more believable he or she seems. I am not advocating that kids not be kids. By all means, be silly, have fun, act out, even, but have dignity doing it.

[I wrote and rewrote the previous paragraph ten times. It was very difficult to say what I wanted to communicate. It feels wrong to teach confidence and self-assurance on the one hand, and then put weight in paying attention to what others think of you, on the other. We want our kids to “be themselves” and not worry about how others may judge them. There should be a balance. I’ve said before, “Out of the box thinking requires a box.” Poetry is a good example. A poet will finegal words, mixing the order, reinventing phrases, dice up spellings, and disobey the laws of grammar. In order to appreciate what the poet has accomplished, one must actually know the laws that were broken. Modern artists have gotten a bad rap by producing works of art that layfolk interpret with the phrase, “Even I could do that!” But, these artists have studied the Masters, the laws, the intricacies of color, line, texture, feeling, mood, etc. What they provide is an idea outside of the box of classical art. A person who splashes paint onto canvas and calls it “Modern Art” without understanding these aforementioned attributes, is “sitting on the box that true artists are thinking outside”. Although kids should “be their own persons”, they should, at the very least, be mindful of the “box” of respectable behavior and not stray too far. A bunch of letters scattered all over the floor isn’t a poem anymore than it is art. It’s just a mess, unless an artist or poet can show “the box” that the scattered letters “came from”.]

Back to Elementary Education: More than behavior management, I attempt “Behavior Inspiration”. I am not seeking to control my class. I want to lead it. In the same way that a good teacher facilitates learning, rather than shoveling information down students’ throats, teachers can positively reinforce the behaviors that model dignity, self-respect, confidence… class.

HoodyOne silly example I have for this is the way students hold their coats. It is that time of year when kids need coats for recess. The thing is, kids get warm when they run around, and they will take their coats off. Upon entering the school building, they have not cooled down completely, so they don’t want to put their coats back on. What many are inclined to do is place the hood of their coat on their head and let the rest hang behind them. They see peers doing this; Maybe they feel like it is a cape. Kids love doing this. It isn’t that I think that there is anything inherently “wrong” with wearing a coat this way. However, what I do each year is show my students the contrast of draping a coat over the arm and carrying it like a butler’s towel up to the room. It seems to me that students who walk with their coat draped over their arm stand more strait with their chins higher. They do not shuffle into the building. They parade with purpose. I told you that this was a silly example. It is simply an appearance thing, but it really works!

One more simple example is when students are working on classroom projects. Our school recently had a fundraiser where parents pledged money for laps that kids ran around a loop. In order to get students motivated, the company hosting the fundraiser, Boosterthon, issued classroom flags for kids to decorate. I always enjoy having my students draw and color the flags, but inevitably there will be some kids who are inclined to just scribble or throw color all over it. While I want the flag to be colorful, it is important to me that our classroom flag be something that we are proud of. (They get hung up in the gym in the end.) Coloring the flag is more than just an experience. It is producing a work of art. I want the students to care about what it looks like. This attitude can be applied to all classroom projects.

Last example: A person shuffles up to you. The individual’s appearance is disheveled. The eyes are shifty and not making contact. How likely are you to trust this person? In contrast, a student with coat draped across his arm, walking straight with good posture and an ere of determination, approaches you and makes eye contact. Aren’t you more likely to take the message of this last individual more seriously.

I, by no means, am advocating that teachers show less respect to students who wear their coats on their head. In fact, I allow it. I simply teach and model the better way to present yourself. If you want to be respected, command it; Look like a commander, act like a commander, speak like a commander, feel like a commander… a Commander of Class.

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7 Powerful Ways Classy People ‘Stand Out’

From ‘Control’ to Classy

Out-of-the-Box Thinking Requires a Box