The Missouri Reader Vol. 42, Issue 2 | Page 7


will replace with current cover when current cover is done


Sunil Iyengar, NEA director of research and analysis, reported in June, 2018 that “Twenty-eight million American adults read poetry this year — the highest percentage of poetry readership in more than 15 years…Young adults and certain racial ethnic groups account for a. large portion of the increase. U.S. poetry readers aged 18 to 24 more than doubled...Among people of color, African Americans and Asian Americans are reading poetry at the highest rates — which more than doubled in the last five years.”

Where does a love for poetry begin? For many, it starts in kindergarten. Teachers who “marinate” their kids in poetry, as Bernice Cullinan urges, never wait until their poetry unit rolls around to read a poem to their kids. They do it every day. They know the advantages of involving poetry in every aspect of their teaching. This is not new news. Kathy A. Perfect (1999) wrote, “I could not imagine teaching a day without poetry in my classroom. It starts our day, shapes our day, and sometimes helps us get through the day.” Fast forward to Susan Hutchens (2018, personal correspondence), a Colorado teacher, who urges, “Always make room for poetry with students during times other than the obligatory poetry unit. In fact, be willing to add in poetry whenever an interest arises.”

Ivey and Broaddus (2001) surveyed nearly 2,000- sixth-grade students about their interests in reading and writing instruction. The number one reading activity students mentioned was free time when they could read what they chose, but in close second place was their love of being read to by their teacher. They said it made them want to read more on their own. Knowing that students of any age love to be read to, the teacher has a perfect partner in poetry. Rasinski (2003) writes, “By reading aloud with expression, teachers model for students meaningful, fluent reading…it is the expressive reading by the teacher that makes read aloud so special. Students learn that, to have the same impact when they read aloud, they need to read with expression.”

How important is it for students to learn the pleasure of reading with expression? One summer I did a poetry workshop for teens. On the last day each member of the group was invited to stand and read a poem he or she had composed. A thirteen-year-old girl mumbled her way through a tortured reading of her work and wilted onto her chair. With her permission I reread her poem aloud. It was a beautiful, moving poem. I saw tears in one boy’s eyes, as well as in those of the poet. Reading with expression made the difference between misery and pleasure, between lost communication and clear understanding.

Teachers who know the power of poetry create a culture in which poetry is an exciting constant, a culture in which poems are so routinely read, passed around, performed, talked about, and collected that a day without poetry feels like something is missing. Rasinski & Harrison (2016) state, “Poems are meant to be performed orally and therefore need to be rehearsed. Rehearsal, or the repeated reading of a text, is a powerful way to build word recognition, improve reading fluency, and enhance reading comprehension – three of the most important components in the reading process.”

Opitz (2000) addresses the discrepancy between children who start school with a rich background in early reading/listening experiences and those who begin with a deficit. He states that they need what all children need: “a print-rich environment that affords them with many opportunities to participate in authentic reading and writing.” Poems, with their typical short lines and brief lengths, lend themselves beautifully to reading, either orally or silently. Galda and Cullinan (2006) found that students respond more positively to a range of poetic forms in a supportive environment. Some teachers start each day by sharing a poem with their kids and take advantage of opportunities throughout the day for short poetry breaks. Many children’s poems can be read in one minute or less. Former Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt (2016) even named his anthology, One Minute Till Bedtime.




Missouri Reader

Beth Hurst