Friday, July 20, 2012

Poetry and Skills: Oxymoron?

Last Friday I had the opportunity to do a workshop for some 100 librarians (and a few teachers) in the Dallas area-- all about poetry for young people. (Thanks, Terry Roper, for the invitation and for a wonderful morning!) Each participant received a copy of my latest book, The Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists, and I brought, presented, and circulated some 50 poetry books.

As I talked about new trends in poetry for children, collection development, and poetry across the curriculum, I shared poem after poem after poem-- involving the audience in reading key lines out loud, making sound effects, or participating in some way. I also tried to point out as we rolled along, how each of these poems met one of the skill elements that are now part of the Texas school curriculum (called the TEKS = Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills).

I tried to show how to navigate that balance between sharing a poem in a fun and engaging way, while subtly guiding learners toward noticing aspects of poetry that are identified in the skills. By the end of the morning, I pointed out that we have "covered" all of the skills for poetry in K-5. They were so impressed! Here's the list I provided of my examples, in case you'd like to see how that might work. Keep in mind:

1. ... that poems should first be enjoyed for their own sakes
2. ... presenting poems in participatory ways (in various choral strategies) gets your learner "into the poem"
3. ... coming through the "back door" to skills is the goal-- helping your learner see and hear the poetic elements after enjoying the poem through multiple readings

The following list is just a sample. MANY poems could be selected for any one of these skill variables. And each of these poems could easily highlight more than one of these skill variables. My choice of matching poem to skill is my choice alone.

Poetry Aloud Here:
Sharing Poetry with Kids in Classrooms, Libraries, and Beyond, K-12

20 TEKS Poetry Elements and EXAMPLES

(See also: Glossary of Poetry Terminology, The Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists, p. 268)

Poetic elements:
1. rhythm (“Words” by Nikki Grimes from Another Jar of Tiny Stars)
2. rhyme, rhyme scheme (e.g. end, internal, slant, eye) [“Bob’s Bicycle Helmet” from Button Up by Alice Schertle]
3. meter (“A doe will pick a thicket” from Nest, Nook & Cranny by Susan Blackaby)
4. repetition (“Trespass” from Emma Dilemma by Kristine O'Connell George)
5. imagery (“In the Hood” from Mirror, Mirror by Marilyn Singer)

Poetic form:
6. narrative poetry (“School’s Out” from Countdown to Summer by J. Patrick Lewis)
7. lyrical poetry (“Amazing Face” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich from Amazing Faces edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins)
8. humorous poetry (“Techno Cat” from A Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco)
9. free verse (“Liberty” from Declaration of Interdependence by Janet Wong)
Figurative language and literary devices:
10. alliteration (“Welcome to the Night” from Dark Emperor by Joyce Sidman)
11. onomatopoeia (“The Choosing” from Won Ton by Lee Wardlaw)
12. personification (“Index” from Bookspeak by Laura Purdie Salas)
13. metaphors (“Purple pours” from Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman)
14. similes (“Dream Variations” by Langston Hughes from Poetry Speaks Who I Am edited by Elise Paschen)
15. hyperbole, understatement, overstatement (“1975 Year of the Cat” from Inside Out & Back Again by Thannha Lai)
16. irony (“Missing” by Cynthia Cotton from America at War edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins)
17. paradox (excerpt from “Chapter 1: Because of You” from Orchards by Holly Thompson)

Poem format:
18. graphical elements (e.g. capital letters, line length, word position, punctuation) (“Drone” from Unbeelievables by Douglas Florian)
19. line breaks (“Tideline” from Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs)
20. stanzas (“Places I’d Love to Van Gogh Someday” by Bob Raczka from The Arrow Finds its Mark edited by Georgia Heard)

The audience loved this help in this list format at the end, so I thought I might share it here too. Of course I hope this kind of guided poetry sharing will be in the context of LOTS of poetry sharing. After all, the best part of summer swimming lessons is playing in the pool!

If I haven't mentioned it already, all this focus on poetry, skills, TEKS, and the Common Core has led to a new collaboration with friend and poet Janet Wong. Brace yourselves... we're about to publish The Poetry Friday Anthology, a collection of 218 new, original poems for kids (K-5) by 75 of today's top poets, complete with skill links for each poem for the teacher/librarian/parent. Much more to come on this project very soon, I promise!


Caroline Starr Rose said...

Yes, yes, yes to your three points about presenting poetry in the classroom!

Charles Waters said...

Love this post Sylvia! Very informative. Your blog is always a must read. Miss you!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Hi, Caroline-- thanks for stopping by. And congratulations to you and your wonderful new book!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks, Charles-- you're so sweet to stop and comment. Miss you too-- although I feel like we've seen each other lately since I've been immersed in reading your terrific poems!

Renee LaTulippe said...

Wonderful post, Sylvia! Love the way you covered so many skills "through the back door" as you say. And the list of poems/skills you provide would be invaluable for those teachers who still aren't sure what to do with poetry. Hmmm....perhaps another book filled with just such recommended lists? :)

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks, Renee. I'm glad you find the list helpful. That's my hope! Another book? Great idea! But one at a time... :-)

Joe Sottile said...

I believe in your three "keep in mind" comments. When I do poetry for kids, the kids love interacting by repeating lines that are said more than once in each poem. They love laughing, predicting what word comes next, and discovering the power of poetry...Excellent article!

tess said...

This makes a lot of sense. Enjoyment first from the individual readers position, what the reader brings to it. That always needs to be affirmed, again and again. Poets write for readers, never for teachers.
I've always felt if you force meaning on a poem from the "expert" vantage point, you've killed it.
Also, When students create their own poems, then they really get it.
Thanks for your wonderful post.

laurasalas said...

Sounds like a fabulous presentation (as always). I think your point about getting kids (and teachers and librarians) to enjoy and interact with poems *first* and then pointing out the various techniques/skills, etc., is right on the money!