My former profession was teaching – English, specifically. Here’s one of many “bad teacher” confessions: by the time April rolled around, and it was National Poetry Month…I didn’t care. I didn’t spend ANY time on it. I probably read something on the first day we had class in April, but I didn’t really weave it in to my lessons.
I should have. I recently deduced from this video that only 9% of students report that their teachers know about the “out of class” writing that students do. That means that we are missing the boat. Kids like to write and read poetry. We need to show them that we think it’s valuable.
Plus, contrary to “old school” beliefs, you don’t necessarily have to do analysis with every poem you encounter. I didn’t know that. I had a student teacher who, bless her heart, elected to teach poem extrapolation to my sophomores…it was an attempt, albeit an ill-timed and misguided one, at bringing poetry to a more academic level. They fought her, and hated poetry.
She taught me well. After that, any poetry I did with students was largely on their terms. We would touch on the traditionalists, but we also looked at contemporary poems, poets, and songs. I would attach it to larger things I did. Students created podcasts that highlighted a theme, a poem, and a song of their choice, and we listened to a podcast every day. We wrote our own poems, but not according to rhyme and meter – we wrote free verse. I told them not to rhyme everything. They did anyway. We did a lot of mimicking. All in all, I think we experienced poetry instead of “doing” poetry or having a unit on poetry.
Poets.org makes it easier than ever to integrate poetry into lessons. The site lists 30 Ways to Celebrate for National Poetry Month. There’s even an app for getting poems sent and compiled via your smart phone. There are a plethora of other available resources, including a search feature for poets, poems and in an advanced search, keyword, theme and movement.
Challenge your students to find their favorite poem or song – and highlight the writing. Challenge them to write their own poems, and that a poem doesn’t have to be formulaic with requirements, but it has to speak its truth. When there’s uncertainty all around us, and information overload, it may help to stop for a minute or two, and focus just on one simple truth that speaks to the heart of someone.
What a cool thing for students to do.