In high school, I used to despise expository writing. I did not like crafting essays or reports analyzing books or moments in history. I did, however, love creative writing. I enjoyed writing stories based on the crazy ideas running rampant through my mind. It was a great escape. Then, I discovered poetry. Sure, I had been introduced to the world of stanzas and lines back in elementary school, but it was always taught to me in a formulaic way. “Write this acrostic poem this one way, following these rules.” That didn’t work for me. It felt too restrictive. In high school, I had an amazing writing teacher who helped me see the freedom in poetry. She helped me to understand that poetry is like pouring your heart and soul onto the page. You can expose your true self through figurative language with poetry. From that moment on, my love affair with poetry has been burning brightly. I love taking risks and combining words in new and unique ways. I enjoy being able to twist my perspective to show a memory or idea in a very different way. I love playing with words to share a part of me with the reader.
As a teacher, I make it a personal goal of mine to help my students learn to see poetry in a similar way. I want them to see that poetry doesn’t have to be flowery and based in nature. Poetry can be free, loud, fun, colorful, scary, sad, serious, and so much more. I want to help my students broaden their perspective on a type of writing that is usually instructed in a particularly constrained manner.
Over the past two months in my Language Arts class, my students have been entrenched in a unit on poetry. They learned how to interpret poems, use figurative language, craft many different types of poems, and recite poetry aloud. It was a wonderful adventure filled with laughter, sadness, struggle, failure, and success. My students dug deep to bare themselves in their pieces. They took risks and tried new things as they crafted their poems. A few students struggled to craft some of their poems, but persevered through that adversity to come out on the other side better for having had the experience. Many of my students loved our lessons on different types of poetry. They enjoyed listening to examples of various forms of poetry crafted by other gifted and famous poets. They seemed enthralled by Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky as much as they were with the lyrics from City and Colour’s song Against the Grain. They really got into our unit. They utilized a growth mindset and were open to the possibility that poetry could be something they might like. For many of my students, the highlight of the unit was the final project. They loved compiling the best of their pieces into a booklet that they then shared aloud with our families and friends in a Poetry Slam this past Thursday. They really got into reciting their poems. It was a blast watching and listening to each of them share their poems for the world to ponder. Check out video of the big event.
This unit brought me much joy as I observed my students putting forth great effort to experiment with a completely different form of writing. For a few of my students, they had never been exposed to poetry before, which seemed amazing to me, but also heartening, as I knew that they would be like blank slates without any prior knowledge in either a negative or positive way. I was fortunate enough to go on this often bumpy but beautiful poetic ride with my students. Some students were blown away by the pieces they had written, as though they had no idea they were capable of such magic. Other students enjoyed writing poetry so much that they wrote more poems outside of class and then shared them with me. Amazing! A few students did get stuck on some of the forms of poetry that we tried. Acrostic poetry proved challenging for some of my students, as they felt like each line had to be separate. When I reminded them that when it comes to poetry, rules are meant to be broken, they took a new route to success. The Jabberwocky-inspired form did bring two of my students much frustration, as they were stuck in thinking that their piece had to be completely made up. When I reminded them that they could transform a personal story into an epic adventure with some newly minted words, they took a deep breath and jumped into the task headfirst. Throughout this unit, my classroom felt like a stage upon which my students were the actors in a whimsical musical about life. As the director, I provided them guidance, but also challenged them to step outside of their comfort zone when singing poems of vacations, lost love, self-reflection, and pets. It was a hoot. The Hopkinton Poetry Weekly gave us ****. “It was a wild ride painted red with words of wonder and awe.” Kidding aside, this unit was my favorite so far this year because of my students. They made it enjoyable and memorable.
Examples of Poems My Students Crafted
The sun’s rays dimming,
the stars are getting worried.
They come to help,
but the rays keep getting dimmer
coming to a pause,
have given up.
has come to an end.
Their happiness and smiles.
Inside My Brain
Why is my teacher so weird?
Why does he try to be funny?
What school will I go to next year?
Why am I so scared about it?
How should I calm down?
Should I take a deep breath?
Why am I hungry?
What can I eat?
Where can I get food?
Why do I sound like Brogan?
Why do I keep thinking of my teacher?
Is it because I am typing this?
Should I stop typing?
Why is this annoying to me?
What can I do to make it more fun?
Should I think about Christmas?
Would it make it more entertaining?
What will I do at soccer practice tonight?
Will we have to do sprints?
Can we do a scrimmage?
Why can’t I just go home?
Can I play with my dogs when I get home?
Will I be able to rest?
I have so many questions.
It is driving me crazy.
When she started dreaming
I realized that everything
She had done
Had resulted in beauty.
But when she walked
And wagged her tail
And cuddled up
On my bed
I realized that I would
Forever be sad
When she dreamed
To wrap up our poetry unit and pay it the great respect it deserved, this past Friday afternoon, I had the students complete a reflection survey via Google Forms. I wanted their honest feedback on this unit. While I may have loved it like Valentine’s Day, did they get out of it what I had hoped? Were their perspectives broadened? Do they see the value in poetry?
Here’s what I learned…
“I loved it when we began the unit and I still love it but now I love reciting poems almost as much as creating them.”
“I did not really know what poetry was but now I do and I like it.”
“I feel like a cloud. When I think of a cloud I think light, happy, and I think that it goes the speed it needs to succeed. That’s what I think of poetry.”
“I thought it was useless and pointless. I thought it was a not needed and lesser form of writing. But now I have been shown the truth. Poetry is a rainbow of emotion: Blue sadness, red rage, yellow happy and more.”
“At first I didn’t think it would be fun but after we finished, it was really fun. I think of it as a fun and creative form of writing as opposed to boring-told-what-to-do writing.”
“I now think of poetry as a way to express your feelings, as in the beginning I thought of poetry just a different way to write and I also thought you could only rhyme.”
I think they got it. I think my students enjoyed this unit almost as much as I did. That’s terrifc news. I’m so glad to know that my students had a fun journey playing with words and bleeding some of their true selves onto the page. Poetry is such a different form of writing that it can be overwhelming or boring for students. Perhaps my love of poetry was contagious and allowed me to bring passion to my lessons. Whatever the cause of this wonderful outcome, I am happy that my students now see poetry in a different, brighter light.
An Ode to My Fifth Graders
Brave and courageous, they live to learn
like unicorns long to be freed from our imagination.
They write with passion,
not afraid to reveal the truth,
unlike most adults who live behind
a mask, unwilling to share their true selves.
They care for each other like family,
and like all great families, there are struggles
but my students persevere and solve their problems
with compassion and kindness.
Each day, I awake with happiness and cuiosity
for the wonder and amazement that will
fill my day in the fifth grade.