17 April 2007

Teaching Poetry Spring 2007: The First Lesson

I started teaching Max Schmeling's 3rd/4th grade class at Bellview Elementary today. Despite my apprehensions about teaching the 3rd graders, I found this year's batch of future poets far more lively than my straight 4th grade class of last year. This batch is full of vim and vigor, raising their hands with an eagerness that almost makes me think I'm asking them, "Who wants to go have recess the rest of the day?"

I asked the class my usual opening questions:

"Who likes poetry?"
The majority raised their hands.
"Who doesn't like poetry?"
A few rose their hands.
"Out of those who say they don't like poetry, how many are afraid of poetry?"
Only a couple hands dropped.
After asking more questions about their fears and distastes for poetry, I probed for reasons why. Most simply feared writing poetry, thinking they just couldn't write a good poem. This is when I promised them that I would help them get over their fear by the end of my time with them.

After discussing the classes feelings toward poetry, we launched into defining poetry. Thanks to Mr. Schmeling's course work this year (his students memorize a poem a week), they already knew about many of the poetic conventions: rhyme, rhythm, repetition... They couldn't quite define it though. One student did come up with an interesting definition:
"It's a song without music."
I went ahead and read them a few poems, finishing with my favorite class husher, e.e. cumming's "l(a." They loved it, but approached it more as a puzzle and less as a poem. More notably, when I instructed the class to write any kind of poem they wanted, not one wrote a cummings poem (contrasted with last year's class, in which I couldn't get some students past cummings' style).

I look forward to teaching poetry to Schmeling's blended-grade class, as they are hungry to learn and highly attentive.

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