Have you ever put a new topic, genre, or a unit of study out in your classroom with no lesson, no discussion, and then after a few days asked the kids what they’ve noticed? Dropping a new learning opportunity like this in writing workshop turned out to be an excellent way to anchor poetry in our learning community.
As the calendar neared April and National Poetry month was on the horizon, I began to display poetry books in prominent areas of our room. I put single copies of previously read poems in the baskets on student tables, and I read poetry aloud throughout the day. My colleague, Marie Nixon, and I started reading a poem a day to the first-grade classes as they ate lunch in the cafeteria. Unexpectantly, my class received a Voxer message from our writing mentors @haseltineclass. Our mentors were inviting us to join the #NaPoWriMo Challenge. Poetry was becoming omnipresent in our writing community.
Dropping poetry in our classroom silently was like sprinkling seeds and the students (in the classroom and our mentors in Ms. Haseltine’s classroom in Virginia) acted as the fertilizer. The students were learning about poetry and becoming poets before we had any lessons. From this point on, our study of poetry became an enlightenment of the curiosity and noticings of the students.
I read poems to the class as I would read a picture book, they became curious as to why I wasn’t reading the entire book. “Mrs. Frazier, aren’t we going to read the whole story?” The next time I choose to read poems from, Who Need’s Bird’s When Dogs Can Fly by Fay Robinson. I read three or four of the pieces, hoping they would see how they were loosely connected but not quite a story, without any mention of my intention. When I was asked again why I wasn’t finishing the story, I handed the book to Christy. The outcome was perfect, at the close of the workshop, Christy brought the book to share, “I noticed you don’t have to read all the poems. They aren’t like stories. Not in this book.” Christy had led us on a path to new discoveries; soon others were noticing how poems aren’t stories. Some even began to wonder if they had to make sense at all.
Wondering if poems had to make sense shot up a red flag for me as their teacher. I knew poetry would look and sound different to my students, but I didn’t predict they wouldn’t see a message or a purpose behind the writing. This question took us back to our minilessons in reading workshop, “How Do We Understand Author’s Message?” We began to read and discuss poetry using the same strategies we use for fiction. Students quickly realized how rereading cleared the way to a deeper understanding of the words and meaning. This rereading also made the students aware of the feelings, repetitions, and the beauty of poetry. The door was now open for students to discover reading strategies were relevant to our understanding of poetry.
Some heard the authors message and could support their thinking with lines from the poem. Others were still wondering. The uncertainty of some readers keeps our reading community active and engaging. Some tote a self-appointed badge of author’s message while others question and search for more meaning behind the words.
With this understanding came bravery and more students began to dabble in writing this new genre. I knew it was time to chart what they were noticing about poetry. I selected a poem from a student and uploaded it into Educreations. I wanted to have the thoughts of the students alongside a student poem, I wanted to be able to refer to this chart in my conferring, and I wanted the students to have it beside them as they worked. Educreations made this all possible.
We shared our thoughts about poetry over different days. I used different colors each day to help the students see how their thinking was growing and changing over time. As students began to see the similarities between their thinking and that of their peers, more students took the risk and began to write poetry. There were no lessons on line breaks, repeating lines, surprising endings, feelings in poetry or the length of poetry. The students discovered these elements of poetry through inquiry and their community of poets. Please visit our KidBlog and type #NaPoWriMo in the search box to read our poetry. We would love to have a few comments!
Next week, in our series, Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts, I will share the evolution of how these early student-written poems became the mentor text in our study of poetry.