The Missouri Reader Vol. 42, Issue 2 | Page 20



Poetry is not just something to be read. It is also heard, felt, and lived. It is music and painting as well as text, with the rhythm of the language dancing on the imagination for perhaps years to come. The poetry of Shel Silverstein, Langston Hughes, Dr. Seuss, Maya Angelou, and so many other fantastic writers opens doors to new ways of imagining the world and imagining the self.

The varied use of literary devices, rhythm and rhyme found in poetry, is different than the language used in other genres. Introducing a young child to a love of poetry is a gift offered in love, a gift that can be transforming in the child’s life. In this article, we tell the story of one teacher education program’s effort to introduce children and families to the love of poetry and the love of reading through a service-learning project. The project is aimed at improving the academic performance of children while enhancing the knowledge and advocacy skills of parents. Additionally, preservice teachers have an opportunity to gain an appreciation for the need to provide diverse children with opportunities for deep engagement in literacy activities, including reading and appreciating poetry. These activities include visual and interactive reading experiences with such written works as poetry, picture books, concept books, coloring books, short narratives, storytelling, and dialogue and prompts as part of shared reading.

The authors of this article are both teacher educators who have joined preservice teachers and parents in shared literacy experiences with children. The activities are held off campus at a non-profit agency that serves women and children in need of assistance based on socioeconomic hardship. Betty coordinates the Literacy is a Family Affair project. William has participated in the service learning effort since joining the College of Education faculty in August 2015.

We will discuss the importance of reading poetry aloud to children, then provide an overview of the project. A case study was conducted into the experiences of preservice teachers participating in the project. Implications included the importance of making connections between university classroom instruction and the experiences of reading aloud to children in the service learning activities.

Reading Poetry Aloud to Children

The texts chosen for this project are intended to help children to see themselves in the text. Most children who participate in this project are African-American, and we seek out texts in which the settings, characters, and situations in the texts that promote the ability of children to “read and see themselves” in the text. We also are fortunate that local African-American children’s book authors from the St. Louis region participate in the project. The project is grounded in an assumption that voice and representation make a difference. It is important to consider who a text privileges as legitimate to speak on a certain issue and who is silenced (Lukes, 1974), as well as why certain choices are made. Further, we hope children will develop the skills to “read the word and the world” (Friere & Macedo, 1987) by exploring poetry and other texts that promote critical encounters and critical questions.

The rhythmic nature of children’s poetry makes books containing poems an attractive choice to help children enjoy read-aloud activities while building literacy skills (Rasinski & Cheesman-Smith, 2018). Phonics, fluency, and vocabulary skills are developed when teachers incorporate poetry into well-structured lessons that feature catchy rhythm and rhyme, and a creative use of rimes, or word families. Adolescents, as well as young children, benefit from incorporating poetry into instruction. Indeed, high school students whose readings and discussions include poetry score improved results for such important


Literacy is a Family Affair: Introducing a Love for Poetry

William Kerns and Betty Porter Walls

William Kerns and Betty Porter Wall