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Today it’s my pleasure to introduce Gay Fawcett as my blog guest. Thank you, Gay, for agreeing to share your thoughts with us.
Poetry, Your Students, and You
by Gay Fawcett
I love poetry,
I read poetry,
I teach poetry,
I write poetry,
haven’t always…always will.
There. That little poem sums up the extent of my qualifications to blog my thoughts on poetry. I’ve only published one poem. (If this one counts, that would make two.) My poems are conversations with me, and that’s the way I like it. But in my 36 years of working with teachers and children I have come to the conclusion that if we would just tend to three simple principles, teachers and students would love and write poetry—always.
Principle 1: Bring poetry into your life.
What poetry anthologies do you have on your bookshelf? No, not your classroom bookshelf— your personal bookshelf. Does Maya Angelou and Theordore Roethke reside next to your Dan Brown novels and Oprah magazines? How about some e.e. cummings? Nikki Giovanni? A little book of Shakespeare’s sonnets? You don’t need to analyze the complex language of Pablo Neruda or the metaphors of Robert Frost. It’s OK if you don’t always understand what the poet meant; you’re not in high school English anymore. Just read it and enjoy the cadence and sounds of language. Your adult poet’s soul cannot be nurtured by Shel Silverstein, with all due respect to the talented poet. The first step to bringing poetry into your students’ lives is to bring adult poetry into your own life.
Principle 2: Take a balanced look at poetry.
Do your students love the raucous poetry of Jack Prelutsky? That’s great! But do they know that in addition to making them laugh, poetry can help them cry, calm their fears, and make them think? Do they know the contemplative poetry of Jeff Moss and Charlotte Zolotow, and the quiet poetry of Elizabeth Coatsworth and Christina Rossetti? Do they love the rhymes of Mother Goose as well as the free verse of Byrd Baylor? Children need to hear the many sounds of poetry, consider the many experiences poems can reflect, and see the many shapes poems can take. Make sure they get a balanced view.
Principle 3: Keep a 5 to 1 ratio.
Do you use poetry to teach rhyming words, sight words, phonics, fluency? That’s fine. Are your students starting to think poetry is a way to learn reading skills? Not fine. For every one poem you use for teaching a reading skill, use 5 poems just for the love of poetry. Read them, sing them, act them out, recite them. Don’t skill-drill them. Students need to know that poetry is not something you “do at school.” Poetry is something you enjoy for life.
Bring poetry into your own life, take a balanced view of poetry, and keep a 5 to 1 ratio. Then sit back and see what happens. Most likely, you and your students will get hooked on poetry—for always.
Gay, many thanks for sharing your remarks. I know you will inspire many readers with your insights and three principles for making poetry an important part of our lives.