The 2020-2021 school year will likely be different than any other school year we’ve ever known. While last year ended with emergency remote learning in most places due to COVID-19, the year began like all others before. We had the opportunity to get to know our students deeply and establish classroom communities. I teach on Long Island in New York and Governor Cuomo just announced that schools can reopen at this time. The district where I teach will have elementary students in the classroom each day. In other words, I am heading back to teaching in a school building. Plans are in place for remote instruction should an outbreak of COVID-19 occur. I will need to be flexible, as everything I knew and could rely upon about a school day is changed. Social distancing in the classroom will change the very essence of how I taught- no longer will students gather around my rocking chair, no longer will I sit close by as a student reads to me, no longer will students work in teams on group challenges and projects. There will be so much to learn about how to teach well in this new reality. There is much that will be out of my control when it comes to teaching my third graders this year.
Here’s what I can do: Whether I am teaching behind a face shield or mask, or through the screen on Google Meet, I can find ways to connect with each student. I can create opportunities for each student to be seen, valued, and heard. Writing is one tool I can use to get to know each child and build a classroom community, because that still matters. With so much that we don’t know and can’t control, it still matters that our students feel connected to us and each other.
Poetry can be a powerful bridge from who we are as individuals to who we are as a class community. By allowing students to share their identity, and then sharing those poems together as a class community, students can learn more about themselves and their classmates while growing as writers. Poetry can be scaffolded for our youngest learners or our EAL or special education students. It can also allow students to show their creativity and sophistication with language, enriching those who are ready for a challenging task. As you plan your back to school lessons and activities, I hope you might consider poetry as a way to get to know your students and build a class community.
In her book, Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater writes, “Poems change us. Anyone lucky enough to have been read poetry as a child carries certain lines forever, and anyone who has found poetry as an adult knows to hang on as if to a wild horse. For poems wake us up, keep us company, remind us that our world is big and small…”
Sarah K. Ahmed writes, “Poetry is accessible and identity has been a long-time theme of poetry. Identity poems can be be used as icebreakers but, like identity webs, they are more than that. They are a window into the lives of your students, a stepping-stone toward rapport and mutual respect in your room. As with any tool for starting to build community, the focus is on how you use the tool itself. If we use poems as a way to learn about the kids – reading the poems, responding to them, conferring with students about the things they wrote, having peer conferences – we are sending the message that kids’ backgrounds are valuable not only to them but also to the classroom community.” (Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Build Social Comprehension, pages 21-22)
Please click on the presentation below. It includes lessons, templates, examples, videos, mentor texts and more for different forms of poetry you could introduce to students as a way to get to know them better and build your writing community. Please adapt these ideas to meet the needs of your students, whether you are learning in person, in a hybrid model, or fully remote.
You can visit the Google Slides presentation here as well.
Poem of Closing Thoughts
A raging global pandemic,
a national racial reckoning,
through the dust of this wreckage,
we see the children.
Children need us
to help them feel safe,
The children need us
to have high expectations for them,
with understanding hearts.
The children need us
to be hopeful
and joyful about learning,
despite our own sadness,
fears and anxieties
in this new way.
It’s been a traumatic time
for the children in our country,
in varying levels.
In these first few weeks of school,
we seek to know our writers
as humans first, learners next.
Poetry: a way
to be seen,
How do you envision poetry helping you learn more about your students? How will poetry bring your classroom community closer together in this most unique year ahead?
- This giveaway is for a copy of En Comunidad: Lessons for Centering the Voices and Experiences of Bilingual Latinx Students . Thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy for one reader. Please note: You must have a U.S.A. mailing address — Sorry, no FPOs — to win a print copy of this book.
- For a chance to win this copy of En Comunidad, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, August 9th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Betsy Hubbard will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, August 10th.
- Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Betsy can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
- If you are the winner of the book, Betsy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – SEEN, VALUED, HEARD. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.