Today’s #TeachLivingPoets post comes from Kristin Runyon, who is in her 29th year teaching with 17 years at Charleston High School in Charleston, Illinois, and the other 12 years in Missouri, Kansas, and other Illinois schools. She has been a co-director and coach for Eastern Illinois Writing Project and a frequent participant with Eastern Illinois University Teaching with Primary Sources. She teaches English 3 (juniors) and Dual Credit Composition 1 and Dual Credit Introduction to Literature (seniors). She spent many years as Student Council adviser and as a soccer and baseball mom and now advises the CHS Press. Outside school, she enjoys reading, running, and traveling, especially to visit her sons.
The amazing Carol Jago was the opening and closing keynote speaker at the Poetry Foundation’s Summer Poetry Teachers Institute. Her goal was to provide us a handful of poetry activities that we could use in our first days back in the classroom, and on the last day, Carol asked us to set a personal goal for incorporating poetry into our classrooms; my goal was to “do” poetry on the 2-hour early out Fridays that we have about every other week (class periods are 30-minutes long).
“Do” poetry; sounded easy enough because it was such a vague idea. In mid-August, about five weeks after the institute, I started the school year with a couple community bonding activities, including one of Carol’s poetry activities. And then, I began my units as I always do. My senior classes are dual credit composition 1, so how would I “do” poetry with them? And my junior classes? I have taught that curriculum for at least 18 years; I defaulted to autopilot.
Over winter break, someone on Twitter, and I sincerely apologize to whomever it was because I don’t remember, said one of the best activities she did was to project a poem for the whole class to see and then puzzle through the meaning alongside her students. A powerful lesson for her students to see that poetry isn’t a mysterious language that English teachers have the magic key to. And I tweeted that I could “do” that on my 2-hour early out days. A day or so later, a tweet popped up reminding me about the American Academy of Poets’ weekly Teach this Poem, then a tweet from the same website reminding people to sign up for Poem-a-Day, and finally a reminder that US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s podcast The Slowdown (co-sponsored by Poetry
Foundation and the Library of Congress) would begin in January. I tell everyone that Twitter is the best professional development, but these few days in December were the most the Twitter and poetry stars had ever aligned. My lesson plans for Poetry Fridays were created—choose a poem, hand out copies, and puzzle through it.
However, I teach four sections of juniors and I didn’t want to find four poems. So, I puzzle less, they puzzle more. I make copies of the poem for each student and project it onto the SmartBoard. I read the poem aloud. Then I ask students to go back through (in ELA speak, “reread”) and mark any word, phrase, line that they noticed for whatever reason. Then they go back through (read for a third time) and mark any point of confusion. Now, turn to a partner or group of three; share what you noticed and try to solve any confusion. I eavesdrop, but I also make myself available to anyone without a group or anyone who really wants to discuss their confusion. But I puzzle through it with them; I don’t provide the sage-on-the-stage answer.
After a bit of small group discussion, everyone has something to share, whether it’s their
own thought or the thought of a group member. They share; when the discussion ends, I have them do a quick write. The first poem came to me through @POETSorg’s tweet sharing the New Year’s themed collection; my students read “Never Ever” by Brenda Shaughnessy about the New Year and wrote about their goals. (The English nerd in me loved the word play in this poem, but it was too much for my students as the first Poetry Friday; next school year, when I start this in August, I think the poem will be better received when we read it in January after four months of Poetry Fridays.)
The second poem was “When Giving is All We Have” by Alberto Rios, which is from the Teach This Poem collection. It was easier to understand with some subtle imagery and metaphors. And my students wrote about a time they gave or received something of significance.
The third poem was “Something You Should Know” by Clint Smith. I had not read Smith’s Counting Descent when my #aplitchat and #TeachLivingPoets Twitter friends did, but everyone swears by his poetry and this collection. Again, someone on Twitter posted about their success with this particular poem, so I chose it.
For more on teaching Clint Smith, check out:
Well, this poem will be the first Poetry Friday poem next August. My students LOVED it. They said that they liked the poem because they understood it, which I think is partly due to two previous weeks of exposure to poetry. The students who had raised hermit crabs were able to explain the reference that I briefly mentioned was an extended metaphor and then I made no other poetry references. After their discussion, I asked them to write a sentence or poem that began “Something You Should Know.” I have bright index cards and fun paper; most chose the index cards and a sentence or two. A few copied lines or advice from other sources. And the students turned them into two boxes: HALL or CLASSROOM so that I knew where I could hang them up.
But here’s what blew my mind: during their discussions and writing with this poem, students called me over to tell me the names of their favorite poets. My first reaction was: “You have a favorite poet?” I started jotting down the names, and then I had a teacher epiphany: “Why should I do all the work?” So I asked any student who had a favorite poet to choose a poem by that poet to share with me, and I would use it on a future Poetry Friday. Poetry choices for lesson plans done by students—BAM! Then in my final class period, a student said, “You should have us write something each time to put up on the bulletin board to change it every two weeks.” KA-POW! Mind blown. My students are now in charge of the bulletin board in the hallway.
Mind you, this was week three. A lot of the success goes to Smith’s poem. But a lot of the success also goes to the multiple exposures to poetry. I won’t expect this same reaction week one or two of next school year. And my students aren’t annotating and explicating poetry. Poetry Fridays, however, are giving my students a comfort level with poetry that they haven’t had before; if this every other week activity can stop them from making the stinky cheese face when poetry is mentioned, then Poetry Fridays are part of my autopilot lesson planning.
Thank you, Kristin for this post on how to successfully incorporate poetry into our classroom weekly routines! Your students have taken ownership of their learning and are inspired to read more poetry; what more can a teacher ask for? This story is a perfect example of the power of #TeachLivingPoets. Thank you for sharing!
Do you have a story to share? Or maybe an engaging activity or resource you’ve found particularly useful? Please share with the #TeachLivingPoets community by writing a guest post! DM me on Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Thank you for reading! And don’t forget to tweet all the awesome things you do in your classroom with the #TeachLivingPoets hashtag! You never know who you might inspire!
You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MelAlterSmith.