Yesterday Lori Hickman and I launched a poetry unit of study in her kindergarten classroom. Since we wanted to see what they already knew about writing poetry, we decided to have them write a poem. This made me a little nervous. What if they just stared at the paper or chaos ensued because they had never written a poem before. What if they panicked? (What if I panicked?)
Instead, I shared with them Zoe Ryder White’s poem called “Pencil Sharpener.” In the poem, Zoe talks about how it sounds like bees are buzzing in the pencil sharpener. Lori sharpened pencils while the students listened. Then we asked the class what else they hear when pencils are sharpened. We told them a secret about writing poems — Writers look for new ways to see things when they write poems. The class pulled on their poet hats and began to hear the pencil sharpener in new ways.
“It sounds like rushing water.”
“It sounds like a rusty old car.”
“It sounds like a song is in there. Sh-sh-sh.”
(This lesson was inspired from Units of Study for Primary Writers: A Yearlong Curriculum, Poetry: Powerful Thoughts in Tiny Packages by Lucy Calkins and colleagues.)
Then we gave each student a dandelion and challenged them to see it with new eyes. They shared their observations with partners.
Now was the time to see what they could put on paper. It’s important to have writing at the beginning of a unit of study in order to plan instruction, as well as to show growth over time. So we gave them paper and I asked: “Would you draw the dandelion as you think a poet would see it?”
I have to admit I was a little surprised as everyone settled in and quiet overtook the room. They put on their poet hats and were illustrating dandelions in fresh ways. After several minutes, I nudged them. “If you want to write a poem, go ahead and add it to your paper.” Most took the challenge.
During sharing, many shared their poems. Lynk sang his poem. I had to get him on video. He knows poetry sounds like music. I plan to use his video later in the unit to help teach this big idea about poetry.
Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about as I reflect on this launch into poetry.
- It is soooo important to embrace the expectation that students already know some things to anchor their learning in a new unit of study. Although most students didn’t write conventional poetry, they still knew some things about poems. Almost all were able to embrace the idea of putting on a poet’s hat and looking for fresh ways to see the world. (Also, I consider it a good thing that most weren’t writing conventional poetry or I would have had to restructure the entire unit. I look forward to seeing the kinds of poems they write in a few weeks.)
- I’m never disappointed when I step out and trust students. I was nervous about the invitation to put on a poet’s hat and see the world in a new way. Yet, I was impressed by their first attempts.
- Beginning of the unit writing prompts help me plan for differentiation. I’m able to see the different needs and consider them as I plan minilessons, conferring time, and share sessions.
- I never regret taking the time to document our learning through video, photos, and blog posts. It is a very good thing.