What I Need to Change

I was going to write about all of the things we have been doing to try to break down the barriers to poetry in class.  All of the eye rolls I have been seeing, the grunts and groans.  The many “Roses are red…” poems I have sen in the last few days as I ask them to write me a poem, any poem, just write something.  I was going to write about how many of my students hate poetry because of all of the rules we have forced upon them in our pursuit of helpfulness and understanding.  I was going to write about how my students are slowly inching further away from a disinterest or total hate to a small interest or even like when it comes to listening to poetry.  Writing it is an entirely different battle.

But I decided that this was bigger than that.  This moment, in our classrooms, is bigger than that.

It is not that my students are the only ones that hate poetry.  In fact, some of them do, some of them don’t.

It is not that my students are the only ones who hate writing.  Hate reading.  Hate book clubs.  Hate English.  Some of them do, some of them don’t.

It is not that my students are finally expressing their hatred not to be mean or out of spite, but so we can do something about it.

It is not that my students are different from most students.

It is more that I have had the same conversations every year.

It is more that every kid has something they hate about school because of choices I have made, choices we have made, when we decided to teach a certain way.

It is more that student curiosity seems to have been drowned out by our carefully planned lessons.

That inquiry and critical thinking have been buried by the pursuit of the one right answer.

That we have taught students that school is black and white while life is multicolored.

That we tell them to sit still so much that they forget their own voice.

That we make all of the choices for them and then get frustrated when they cannot create on their own.

That is what I need to write about because that is what I have discussed with my students.  That is what teaching poetry has revealed so far.  That is what I need to change.

Who knew poetry would be the place my students found their voice.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

6 thoughts on “What I Need to Change

  1. Your first paragraph to this blog post is exactly how I feel every year when I tell my 6th graders we are starting poetry. You hit it on the nose. I just don’t know how to shake it. I started reading aloud The Crossover today to use as a mentor text since it is written in verse. I plan to start slow. Read poems. Read more poems. Then, write poems in the same style as another poem. And build from there. I would love to hear what you plan to do with your students to inspire them.

  2. I have taught poetry to Grade 7 many times.
    I usually start with songs, as lots of teachers do, I imagine.
    When it comes to writing poems, I start with scaffolded non-threatening structures that I model for them in class without preparation.
    First stop: Turning a descriptive sentence or two into a poem. I ask students for a subject. Once, they gave me “The Floor of the Classroom.” So I wrote a few descriptive lines about the classroom floor on the board (Yes, the board, that’s how long ago it was. Now, it would be an interactive board). Then, we talked about where we could separate the thoughts to make them stand out. After that, we looked at the language again. Last, a title. Then, it was their turn.
    Step 2: Acrostics. Once again, I modeled. Same process.
    Step 3: Concrete poems, even like the Spellamadoodle trick in First Steps Writing.
    Step 4: Now, they have some confidence, and they’re not scared any more. They know they don’t have to worry about rhyming or rhythm if they don’t want to. I often use If you’re not from the prairie . . . by David Bouchard. Students could write, If you’re not from [insert your school, community, country], you don’t know . . . Or, a further extrapolation, If you don’t play football, dance, play hockey, belong to Scouts, etc, etc, you don’t know . . . I model again, both without rhyme and rhythm (first time) and with some rhyme and rhythm (second time).
    Step 5: Then, we can try mentor texts.
    Believe it or not, I’ve had lots of success with this process.

  3. I start poetry with “This Is Just to Say”. We use it as a template to write sarcastic apology poems. Once I’ve shown the kids a few examples (This is just to say, we have eaten the missionary that came over from England… found that one online somewhere, or show them examples from previous classes), we write one together (this year we wrote one to our principal claiming we had stolen something from his desk. Best part is the AP came and told us he thought it was true!!), and then they are off and running. It has been the best way to start the unit every year. We do other funny poems like limericks as well, but also move on to more serious poems, free verse, their own version of George Ella Lyons’ “Where I’m From”, poems focused on exploring identity and culture, etc. But starting it all off with This Is Just to Say has really helped them find a voice and a way to BE in poetry that they didn’t have when I started other ways in the past.

  4. This bigger problem you write about is really resonating with me. I used to teach in a school where the majority of my students felt like school was about them. Now I’ve been switched to a school where it’s clear my students feel no ownership in their learning. The difference has really been amazing and hard.

  5. Sorry, poets. Writing poems is not a college/career readiness skill. Get on those arguments, informatives/explanatories, and narratives. No time wasting with frivolities.

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