Saturday, April 14, 2012

Professional Books About Teaching Poetry

The fun of teaching poetry has begun.  I have placed collections of poetry books on the tables around our classroom and asked this question, "What is poetry?".  In the coming days we'll be working to create an understanding of poetry, and all it can be, together.  We will surround ourselves with poetry by reading it together, creating opportunities to read it independently, and perhaps a little poetry break every now and then (stopping everything to listen to a poem).  My hope is to help aspiring young poets get the rhythms of poetry in their ears, minds, and hearts so they will soon be able to create their own poetry.

When getting ready to teach poetry I like to get myself ready as well.  I am writing poetry, listening to poetry on my iPod, reading books written to help you capture your words in poetry (Heard, Wooldridge, Murray) and following National Poetry Month events.  I have always loved poetry so for me this is always a fun time.

Professional Resources
Here are a few professional resources for teaching poetry to children I always recommend.  If you have others, please leave them in the comments below:

Awakening the Heart:  Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia Heard.  If you don't buy anything else, buy this book.  First of all, Georgia Heard has a delightful way with words on a page.  I enjoy everything I read by her.  Secondly, she takes a closer look at poetry through the eyes of a writer.  She talks about finding poems where they hide and creating an environment for poetry.  When talking about a unit of poetry study Heard reminds us our goal is to "ensure that poems will sing to our students and that they'll seek out poems even after the study of poetry has ended in the classroom."

Outspoken!  How to Improve Writing and Speaking Skills Through Poetry Performance by Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger.  This book is interesting because it looks at poetry through a different lens - performance.  How do we read poems?  Of course, there is also discussion about how to write poems that move an audience.  I especially enjoyed the chapter on memoir where the authors share suggestions for helping young poets write about what they know.  Interestingly, there is a section that demonstrates turning a story into a poem by capturing key words and phrases.

Kids' Poems by Regie Routman.  If poetry isn't your thing, this is probably the book you should buy to support young poets.  If poetry is your thing, you'll want this book for the way it looks at poetry through the eyes of the young poet.  Regie not only shares suggestions for getting started with the teaching of poetry, but she also has collected poetry written by young poets in a format ready to be shared with your students.  Regie has written a Kids' Poem book for grades K-4 (that I am aware of).

A Note Slipped Under the Door:  Teaching From the Poems We Love by Nick Flynn and Shirley McPhillips.  This book is a much deeper read about poetry.  It taught me so much about poetry itself.  It's beautifully written.  Though it is a professional text, I felt like there were lines within it that were poetically written.  The authors remind us, "Poems are mysteries and come from deep places.  We can be amazed or moved without always being able to explain why."  This book shares powerful examples of poetry, makes suggestions for writing poetry, and takes a closer look at key characteristics of mentor poems.

Poetry Matters by Ralph Fletcher is the perfect book to share snippets about writing poetry with young writers.  When I went to grab my copy for this post, it was missing again.  I tend to lend it out often as it is  useful when talking with students about writing poetry.  This book was written to hand directly to young poets.  Ralph wanted poets to have practical ideas for getting their message just the way they want it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Poems: Mentor Texts for Young Writers

Getting Started with Poetry
Throughout the year we've been reading poetry in our classroom.  Honestly, not as much as I would like or should have accomplished, but at least a touch of poetry each week.  I'm so excited to be starting an inquiry unit about poetry with my class next week.  I'm nearly about to burst.

I've joined Mary Lee, Linda and many other Kidlit bloggers in writing a poem every day in April at Merely Day by Day.  Though I'm not a huge fan of  rhyming poetry - well I am but it is a difficult format for young writers - I find myself making silly rhymes as I work, "Cooking, cooking it's no fun / It's the cleaning when I'm done / It's the choosing what we'll eat / Is restaurant eating not a treat?"  Yes, that was really pathetic, but I do what I can.  As I said, I'm just giddy with excitement about sharing poetry with my students.

Mentor Poems
Since I like to spend time reading a lot of poems to students before I even begin to introduce poetry into our Writer's Workshop, I have been building a Listmania list at Amazon of many of my favorites.  I'm trying to remember to pin mentor poems and poetry resources I am finding on Pinterest.  I'm always looking for poems that will be good mentor poems for my young poets.  I want to share poetry with them that they can envision themselves writing.

Here are a few books I like to use as mentor poetry with the young writers in our classroom:

Wake Up House by Dee Lillegard and illustrated by Don Carter (2000).  The poems in this book, as well as her Hello School! poetry book, are perfect for young writers.  Lillegard has used short stanzas to describe common objects.  She has carefully chosen her words to describe a variety of things that can be found at home (and school).  Young writers can envision writing poems like these.  Just looking around the classroom can inspire some beginning poems to hang around the room.  One of my favorites in this book is Night Light / Gladly glows / because he knows / he makes things safe / for eyes to close.

If You Should Meet a Crocodile:  Poems About Wild Animals  by Joy Peskin and Anna Currey.  This book is a collection of animal poems written by a variety of poets.  What I like about this collection, besides the fact that it is by many poets, is that is about something young readers and writers are very interested in --- animals.  Oh, the possibilities.  I Speak, I Say, I Talk by Arnold L. Shapiro is a poem about the sounds that animals make.  It has a structure students could easily use for writing other kinds of poetry.

From the Doghouse:  Poems to Chew On by Amy E. Sklansky with illustrations by Karla Firehammer, Karen Dismukes, Sandy Koeser and Cathy McQuitty (2002).  This poetry book is written from a dogs point of view.  My favorite in this book is Doggy Nightmare in which doggy has a terrible dream that he is, of all things, a cat!  He finds himself meowing, wanting a bowl of cream, and wishing for fish.  He was happy to wake up to find he is still a dog.  This book demonstrates the possibilities for writing about one topic in many different ways.

In the Wild by David Elliott and illustrated by Holly Meade (2010).  In this poetry book, many animals of the wild are shared.  This poetry book is perfect for talking about visualization.  The poet has so carefully chosen his words to help you picture the animal and the setting.  The illustrations are bold with the animals the prominent feature on each page.  In The Wolf, wolf calls out into the night.  Will there be a reply?

I'm going to take a little leap here for another favorite resource for mentor poems.  If you haven't visited Amy LV's, The Poem Farm, you need to go right now.  I first discovered Amy's blog as she took on the challenge of writing a poem every day of the year ---- yes, 365 poems.  I couldn't believe it.  Since then I've continued to follow and find her blog to be full of information, mentor poems, and tips for young writers.  There are so many mentor poems on this site.  You have to stop by.  Amy has added a table of contents for the poems on her blog.  Mentor texts at your fingertips.

What poems do you like to read to inspire your young poets?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chapter Books: A Dilemma?

What About Chapter Books?
This post was inspired by Laura Komos.  You see, this morning I was catching up on blogs.  Wait, who am I kidding, I'll never get caught up with blogs. Anyway I came across a post at Laura's, Our Camp Read-a-Lot blog titled:  Rights of Passage:  Chapter Books.  First of all, I have to say that I really enjoyed this post.  It was so honestly written and generated such thoughtful responses.  I too began to comment, but soon realized I was practically leaving a post in Laura's comments.  So I decided instead to come here to participate in Laura's conversation.

The Challenge
Typically there comes a point in first grade where chapter books start rolling in from the library.  Everyone soon is carrying one around the classroom or leaving them near her/his mat so others can see the new books that they "are reading."  The concern most teachers have is that students often aren't ready for books that are so much longer, have much more difficult vocabulary, have more complicated structures and require a developed set of reading strategies to read for understanding.  Typically even my higher readers, though they can read all the words, may have difficulty comprehending the richness of these books.

While I share these concerns I don't stress too much when this happens as I expect it each year.  I am, however, saddened by this move to chapter books because if we are not careful young readers are all too soon leaving picture books behind.  Sometimes it seems we rush children through childhood, and that to me is a little discouraging.  There are so many beautiful pictures books that cause us to pause, to rethink our worlds, and fill us with joy.  There are picture books that keep intermediate readers thinking at the end of the day.  Of course, there is a point where young readers need to learn to develop strategies for reading books with chapters.  There is a point where young readers need to build stamina for reading for longer periods of time and following more developed plots in their reading.

The Developing Reader
Truthfully, if we watch carefully, students may be carrying these books around, but they don't really spend much time with them.  I rarely see a book that is too challenging last more than three days.  Even more importantly, when a book is too challenging, I rarely see students spend their entire reading time with it in reader's workshop.  The concern is always the emergent reader who is reading a book meant more for a transitional reader.  (Beyond Leveled Books by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak is perfect for thinking about this transition.  It's a must-read.)  For me, I just can't say to a child they cannot read a book.  Often these are the children struggling to find their place in the reading community.

Struggling readers (and I'm never a fan of that term as we're all in a different place in everything so for the rest of this post I will be calling them what I believe they are - developing readers) know reading is harder for them than their peers.  They see the difference in the books, and they just want to be a part of it all.  These developing readers are always our concern.  I always ask myself these questions for developing readers carrying Harry Potter around the room:

  • How long have they had this book?
  • Is it the only book they're reading during reader's workshop?
  • Are they still spending time with books at an appropriate level during their day?  (perhaps in small group instruction, in shared reading, in other parts of the day)
  • Is the reader taking home a books that will be of the appropriate challenge?

As a reader myself, I am constantly reading books that are a bit too challenging.  If I could only read books by level I'd be in trouble.  (If you are an NCTE member you might want to read Brenda Power's article,  Leveled: Fiction That Could One Day Be True.)  As readers we take what we can from the books we read.  I try to respect these young readers the way I would respect a friend who decides to take on War and Peace.  If I am more concerned I make intentional adjustments in my instruction by bringing a different book over to read/confer, include the child in small group instruction, or a few other book enticing tricks I've learned over the years.  In other words, I give it time, and almost always that is enough.

Balancing Reading
Of course, there are a few other things I do to keep children focused on picture books and books that are a good match for them as readers.  I keep parents informed.  I try to remind parents of the importance of picture books and all it can teach young readers.  I talk a lot about the joy of the story and the time they spend together.  I know parents are excited about chapter books like they were about their children learning to walk so I remind them how wonderful it is to read chapter books to their young children so they can talk together about the story.

In our classroom we talk a lot about a balanced reading diet.  As readers, it is good to read a variety of types of books and a variety of types of challenge.  We talk about books that help us to learn and grow as readers.  These conversations develop across the year in first grade because at the beginning of the year students can almost tell by looking at a book how hard it will be (font size, number of words, etc. are key characteristics early in the year).  However, as we move toward the end of the year we can be surprised by the ease and challenge of a book.

In our classroom library I try to keep mostly picture books though you'll find appropriate chapter books in some of our baskets and in the character section of our library right now.  They do not hold a special place in our library.  We don't talk about them any differently than we talk about the other books in our classroom.  A reader who is reading chapter books during reader's workshop is no more amazing than the reader with a stack of good stories sitting beside them.  I try to be very careful with my words about chapter books and to any reader I talk to about any book in our classroom.

Perhaps the best tip for chapter books came from my friend and colleague, Deb Frazier, a few years ago.  As we talked about this very concern, she suggested we choose books to read to the class that were books we thought would fit many of the readers in our community.  Since first graders (and other young readers) typically like to choose what we've read, it makes sense to be sure the chapter books we are reading aloud are the ones we want them to check out at the library.  I like to begin with books like Henry and Mudge, Poppleton, Nate the Great, and other books in which there are many books in the series for young readers to check out after we have read one or two together.

My Final Question
This actually brings me to my final question.  Recently I came across Penny's Song by Kevin Henkes.  I was delighted to see a new beginning chapter book with a series possibility written by an author we already love.  I know there have to be many more great beginning chapter books out there.  What new beginning chapter books have you discovered?  I feel like I've fallen behind on many of these new titles and would love suggestions.

Please comment to share your thoughts about beginning chapter books.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

National Poetry Month

April showers
bring May flowers...
and poetry.

How's that for a poem?  Couldn't resist.  April began National Poetry Month.  I have loved poetry since I was in elementary school.  My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Conway, taught us how to write poetry.  It's the first time I remember thinking about poetry, and I have loved it ever since.

I've been gathering poetry books, reading poetry sites, and writing poetry in preparation of a focused study with my students.  Poetry provides opportunities to focus on visualization, figurative language, word choice, rhythms of words, and fluency among other concepts.  Most of all, it is an enjoyable way to energize the classroom community of readers and writers.

In honor of National Poetry Month I have decided to write a poem a day each day in April at Merely Day by Day.  Mary Lee at A Year of Reading has been talking about writing poetry every day for the month of April.  I decided it would be fun to join her.  Since then I have learned that other blogs have poetry events.

National Poetry Month Blog Events:
If I have missed any poetry events, and I know I have, please leave a note in the comments.  I'd love to hear about them.

Other Links of Interest:
Choice Literacy