Poetry Thoughts: What Do Students Think?

Welcome to this new series. Poetry thoughts will have excerpts, revisions and ideas from and about my dissertation. Let’s begin with an excerpt:

CHAPTER I

THE RESEARCH OBJECTIVE

Mother’s Day

My beautiful mother’s face

Flowery perfume on her skin

Laughter and happiness

Fresh baked cookies made just for her

My mom’s warm hug brings me joy!

Mother’s Day

JFS

Grade 4

This poem is representative of the creative efforts of children in a classroom that I observed for one year.  I embarked on these observations to find out about the learning and teaching of poetry.  I came away learning so much more. Specifically, I learned what it was like to teach and learn under very difficult circumstances and still maintain a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.

Introduction

This study explored teaching practices and student involvement with poetry in a fourth grade classroom. Although there is an abundance of literature exhorting teachers to bring children and poetry together, there are few research studies that focus on poetry or its use in the classroom. The few that do exist help substantiate and focus the common sense and expert wisdom surrounding the joys and uses of poetry for children. This research was designed to extend the sparse knowledge about poetry teaching and learning in the classroom, and examine it in light of the statements made by experts in the field of literature advocating the use of poetry in the elementary school. 

The study stems, in part, from my own pleasure in experimenting with language, especially through writing.  As a child, I enjoyed reading and being read to and the pleasures that come with experiencing words and music put together.  In many ways, poetry represents the best of all of these to me.  As an adult, I am fortunate enough to extend these experiences into my professional work. I enjoy writing poetry for myself and sharing it with others, and I take pride and pleasure in collecting poetry for anthologies.  Finding what I consider to be the right poem for a particular spot in a collection is a real triumph for me.  Beyond writing and collecting poetry for children, my work with poetry in classrooms with teachers and students has influenced the shape of the proposed research.  

Every year, I visit dozens of elementary school classrooms in which I use a variety of devices to engage children in poetry and related activities. I read to them from various anthologies and encourage their response and participation.  I am particularly gratified when the expressions on their faces suggest: “Hey, I didn’t really expect to like this, but I do.” 

In addition to bringing poetry to students in their schools, I also make presentations to teachers on the use of poetry in the language arts curriculum. My talks with teachers center primarily on immersing children in poetry that appeals to them.  I read a great many poems to the teachers and involve them in my presentations in much the same way I would their students.  I talk to teachers about the need to be sensitive to students as they explore what makes a poem appeal to them. Together we probe ways to help students become more sensitive to interesting uses of language and to the various forms and devices that poets use. I encourage teachers to search for ways to give students opportunities to experiment with creating poetry on their own in low-risk situations.

Stay tuned for more thoughts

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