April 10th, 2012
To celebrate National Poetry Month, we asked poet and author Shirley McPhillips (A Note Slipped Under the Door) to share some of her ideas about bringing poetry into the classroom and making it accessible for teachers and students alike. This week she continues her series with a post on how one teacher uses a classroom blog to help his students respond and engage with poetry. Check back with us again next week to get more of Shirl’s practical, classroom-ready ideas. And get writing!
Blogging about Poetry
When technology puts us at a distance, I’m not interested. But when technology brings us together to talk about things that matter to us, count me in.
—Chris Kostenko, Teacher, Grade 5
Young Poets Blogging
In last week’s post, I quoted former poet laureate Ted Kooser who said, “The best way to learn the art of writing poetry is to read as much of it as possible.” I suggested starting a poetry blog as another way to invite students further into a world of poetry. But learning to blog in thoughtful and respectful ways doesn’t just happen. It arises from a carefully laid seedbed of talk and response around literature that is nurtured early on.
How Chris Kostenko Sweetens the Soil for Poetry
- Reads poems to the class off and on all year (not just during a poetry week/month) so students fill up. They expect to react and talk to others.
- Gives them copies so they can revisit these poems and watch their folders burgeon. They begin to feel at home with poetry, with poets.
- Puts out piles/folders of poems that have been photocopied over the years, ones he likes or feels are provocative, that students have responded to in the past, ones the current class is reading. Highlights baskets of different types of poetry books (including novels written in verse: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, Something About America by Maria Testa; a memoir written in verse: Been to Yesterdays by Lee Bennett Hopkins) and multiples by the same author (e.g., Langston Hughes, Cynthia Rylant).
Introducing the Idea of Blogging Early On
What happens on the blog is fodder for the poetry mill back in the classroom as they continue creating energy over time. Chris created a “Reading/Writing Blog” early in the school year. Following is his first invitation to students on the blog. It sets the tone. He is inclusive, warm, and passionate—as he is in the classroom—and demonstrates high expectations. He holds students accountable in a respectful way.
I am excited about this new place we have in cyberspace. Our own space. An important place.
This place will become a library of our thinking. Be thoughtful. Do slow thinking—and then write.
Do you remember passing around a ball of blue yarn on one of the first days? We created a web as we passed that ball and shared something about ourselves. Do you remember when I pulled on the web? We all felt the tug.
I want you to think about this blog in the same way. We are making connections, so be honest, be thoughtful, and be positive to your peers. Every connection we make in this place will help to build our beautiful web.
But always remember. When anyone posts and pulls on our web, we’ll all feel the tug.
• Be honest
• Be thoughtful
• Be considerate
Look forward to building a complex web of smart thinking and good writing.
I want to be sure that we’re on the same virtual page. Send a comment that lets me know that you agree to use our space responsibly.
Early Poetry Blog Posts
Early on, Chris chooses the poems and writes a blurb telling why, what stands out to him, and what that makes him think. Students read this and respond, sometimes taking a different tack, agreeing, expanding, finding different angles. They read each other’s responses and talk back. Keeping it simple.
Chris makes some response opportunities optional and some mandatory. He doesn’t call this “homework.” This is work done outside of the school day.
In an example of an early post, Chris writes the poem “Wars” from Jean Little’s Hey World Here I Am, with the simple instruction: “So what do you think about this poem?” In the poem the author remembers when she was in second grade, telling her father adamantly that she thinks all wars are wrong. Then she catches her sister playing with her paper dolls without asking, and they have what she calls a war. Here are two students’ responses:
Daniel: People have to know how to compromise. For example, if two people on the same team think that a play should be played differently, they have to compromise in order for the team to win. People have to discuss things more often to find the best solution.
Leonard: Some people just want ongoing war. I agree with Gabby and Claudia because the character did not really understand the meaning of war, and how horrible it can be. But I think he could understand what war is, if he knew. Sometimes kids have a soul to understand the things happening around the world.
Creating Opportunities to Be Surprised
Chris creates a category called “Poems That Make You Stop and Think.” He posts, for example, Tom Henson’s poem “The Life of a Day.” The poet writes in paragraph form, talking about the uniqueness of a day—wonderful details, kind of philosophizing. Students learn to agree, disagree, interpret, theorize.
The class is reading Maria Testa’s Something About America, a novel written in verse. Chris writes, “Let’s try to write our thoughts in verse.”
Students Preparing to Post Poems
Eventually, Chris turns the selecting and posting process over to the students. He no longer feels the need to choose the poem and write what he thinks in order to nurture them.
He demonstrates how he might choose a poem to share with others. He reminds them of the “vast jungle of poems in the classroom they can wade through in order to choose.” He instructs them to choose a poem that “speaks to you” and to write a short piece to explain why and in what ways. They might refer to some lines that resonate.
He meets with four students a day to talk about poems they want to post. Each student reads aloud the poem as well as the piece she or he wrote to explain why that particular one was chosen. For example, one boy chooses “Valentine for Ernest Mann” by Naomi Nye. He likes the voice of the poem. “This author has attitude,” he explains. She’s feisty. She finds ordinary things fascinating. She is surprising and strong about her feelings.
Group members have an opportunity to respond to each of their peers. Chris doesn’t dominate; he’s part of the conversation. Sometimes, as result of this meeting, writers want to revise their pieces before posting. He repeats this process with each group.
Posting, Responding, Plowing Back
Chris types a few students’ poems and comments as they are ready: title, author, sometimes the book the poem is from. He introduces the student comments by saying something like, “Dan chose this poem. Here’s what he thinks.” At the end of each entry he asks the rest of the class to comment: “What do you think?” The poem appears in blue, the reader’s notes appear in red, and Chris’s notes to nudge them to write appears in green.
Chris requires students to respond to two poems that have been posted. “Of course,” he says, “you can respond to more. Reading and responding to the blog is part of the work we do.”
Often, as Chris reads student poems and responses on the blog, he will bring those back into the classroom for more attention and deeper conversation. This is lively because the students have already read and reacted. And they have more to say. They’re not trying to pull water from a dry well. The written is plowed back into the richening soil of classroom work. Most important, students see the work they’ve done on the blog becoming even more valued on the home front. It’s not lost in cyberspace.
Student Posts, Interaction Online (Example)
“There” from Been to Yesterdays by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Here’s what Daniel had to say about the poem he chose:
This poem caught my eye because it has a lot of emotion to it.
It is very hard for me to read because my parents are divorced, but it really brings me back to that moment in time. This poem gives me a sad emotion.
I like how this poem doesn’t write what is happening; it describes it very nicely. It never says “my parents are divorcing.” I had to actually figure that out by reading the clues in the poem.
I notice that there is one sentence or less in one stanza, and about one to two words on a line. Each stanza really describes the feelings of the character.
What do you think about the poem Daniel chose? Give him some feedback.
I can feel all the emotion in this poem. Even though my parents aren’t divorced, I can feel the way this girl/boy feels because of the way Lee Bennett Hopkins describes it. At first, I didn’t know that she/he was talking about divorce, but once I read it over a few times, I figured it out. I also like this poem because it doesn’t give the obvious right away. If I felt like how this girl/boy felt or even Dan, I would be sad and I would never leave it alone either, but I would go back to the happy moments.
I think Dan picked a good poem because he knows how this girl/boy feels and he can relate to it. It’s good also because of all the emotion which really makes the poem strong.
I agree with you because when I read the poem I got really sad even though my parents aren’t divorced. I like how the author did that because it touches everyone in their own way. It touched me because it was hard for an adult to cry and I felt so bad for the kid in the poem. I wanted to help the kid so bad. That shows a good poem.
Entry Filed under: Writing