Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Poet In All Of Us

April is National Poetry Month and as a poetry lover, I've intertwined poetry into almost every lesson this month. Poetry presents a tremendous opportunity for students to grow their language skills. It gives learners the chance to expand vocabulary knowledge as they analyze and experiment with language choice. Reading poetry requires us to not only attempt to understand the meaning of poems, but to also look closely at the poet's words and the feelings intended to provoke, all the while covering literary devices, figurative language, inferences and analogies - just to name a few. Poetry writing strengthens composition skills by removing boundaries and developing creativity, paving the way for many other forms of writing. Reading poetry aloud emphasizes speaking and listening skills which are often neglected despite the implementation of CCSS.  Granted, these skills are essential for everyone but for English Language Learners, they are paramount.  Some teachers dread covering poetry, however, I embrace it - making April my favorite month of the school year.

This year, I've stepped up my poetry instruction a bit. I was determined to instill a love and appreciation for poetry in the hopes of making a poets of my ELLs.  Some of my most reluctant writers embraced poetry, discovering a creativity within them that they never knew existed.  Like an athletic trainer developing physical strength, I've heard quite a bit of moaning and complaining, yet they completed their tasks and I witnessed their growth. Some were quick to express their pride, some simply showed it through their gleaming eyes and bright smiles.

As in prior years, I have used this wonderful website recommended by one of our middle school Language Arts teachers.  It provides interactive poetry forms offering structure and sentence starters - a creativity push that is a much needed scaffold for most learners, but especially ELLs.  Some of my students used the site all month, but a few were able to write from scratch after a few times. In prior years, poems were read and interpreted as a class and they also wrote poems about themselves and/or characters in a book.  This year, I had students read their poems aloud and even recorded one group in front of a green screen which they later used to create videos of themselves.  This was helpful in developing reading fluency as well as listening skills. After writing their poems, they published them on their blogs for all the world to see. Their blog addresses were shared with some of my PLN and their posts were read and commented on by teachers and students across the country.

One thing I really want to brag on is my integration of Poetry and Informational  Text.  In lieu of reading informational text and answering questions, students were asked to write poetry in response to an article they read and discussed with their peers. Not only did I search high interest articles, I intentionally chose topics that would stir their thinking and facilitate the writing process. Topics ranged from cyborg cockroaches to stories of the Jim  Crow South to cross dressers of the Civil War.  At first thought, informational text may appear grossly unrelated to poetry, but this odd couple quickly became a perfect match.  Students were more engaged in their writing those days than they had been all year. I am very pleased with my integration of poetry and informational text - a strategy that I will fine tune and perfect for the coming year.

I will have to reluctantly admit that I probably overdid it this year and may have burned out a few, so I learn from my mistakes and build on my successes.  I will certainly continue to integrate poetry into my units during April, but I realize that I will need to introduce it earlier in the year and perhaps bring in a little more drama and fun during April, making it more of a celebration of National Poetry Month.

My goal this month was not only to teach poetic elements and all that goes with it, but to also instill a love of poetry and generate some unorthodox thinking and writing. Some enjoyed the unit, some did not, but they all wrote great poems.  Some required more scaffolding than others, but they got their creative juices flowing and I'm immensely proud of every single one of them. Was my mission accomplished? For the most part, yes.  I set out to help them discover the poet in themselves and I did. While some of my ELLs don't yet fully appreciate the beauty and opportunity of poetry, I certainly planted a seed. Regardless, they will all agree that there is a poet in each of us waiting to be exposed.