cultures was that poems can be so personal. When kids read informational materials, they are reading to learn. When they read fiction stories, they are experiencing someone else’s adventure. But poetry is more like a personal conversation with the poet. And when they write their own poems, they express what they truly think and feel.
This is what sets poetry aside from other genres and makes it a potential game changer in the classroom. Poets write about everyday life; things we’ve all experienced, seen, heard, tasted, loved, hated, or worried about. Poems are up close and personal. They feel familiar. They want to be read aloud. Readers connect with them, each in his or her own way. This connection -- bringing words on a page to life filled with sounds and rhythms, and meaning -- is how poetry can become a dynamic, positive force for supporting reading and writing.
WHY WRITE POETRY?
When Susan Hutchens created a Boys Book Club at her elementary school, it attracted about 25 boys (grades 3-5). They pushed aside tables and chairs and threw large pillows on the floor. Susan provided time for snacks, read-aloud by her, exercise outside, and time for the boys to form groups and read through interesting “boy” books. One young participant was stimulated to write a poem of his own and asked excitedly if he could share it with the group. Susan wondered if the other boys might laugh or make fun of his poem, but in spite of her concerns she gave permission. During snack time, the young poet stood and proudly recited his poem. The other boys listened quietly and politely. As he finished, the group applauded loudly.
“Can I share next week?” another boy asked.
“And that,” Susan says, “is how Poetry/Stories Sharing Time was established…by responding to the desire of boys to share poetry.”
Using poetry, Hutchens put to good use the findings of Ivey and Broaddus (2001) when they asked 2,000 6th graders what they liked. She combined read-aloud (in this case including poetry) with providing time for the kids to read on their own. Their wish to write their own poems sprang spontaneously, initiated by the students but as a result of how Susan set the stage.
Routman (2002) writes, “Poetry writing in kindergarten is fun, energizing, and joyful. Using topics that come from their lives and interests, all kindergartners easily experience success and pleasure.” Routman includes this note from kindergarten teacher Christine Banks, “Children can read back their poetry, no matter how many days have passed. On the other hand, struggling writers don’t always remember their journals.” Fresch & Harrison (2013) write, “Instruction that considers the needs of young language learners should be active, fun, and playful. That is where poetry comes in. No other form of English expression provides as many opportunities to read, hear, and practice phonemes” (sounds of words).
Griffith (1991) provides one explanation of what happens when young children begin to write: “While writing, (they) directly confront the problem of representing spoken language with written language and must out of necessity develop the ability to segment phonemes.” Poems, with their short lines and words that sound alike, provides a sturdy framework that supports and encourages young writers.
Gioia (1992) writes, “Meter is an ancient, indeed primitive, technique that marks the beginning of literature in virtually every culture…poetry demands to be recited, heard, even memorized for its true appreciation. Shaping the words in one’s mouth is as much a part of the pleasure as hearing the sound in the air.” Babies in the womb first hear rhythm from their mother’s beating heart. From cradle to grave, music, dance, and rhythm enrich our lives, sooth us, inspire us, energize us. Making poetry part of the classroom fabric is a natural act that can have positive consequences in early childhood literacy and beyond. It can be a game changer.
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