Sunday, May 17, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Digital Connections with Poet, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Poetry Across Spring
So It Began
It began in a poetry unit planning session.  It was one of those team conversations where one person says something, then another person adds to that, then another person links the ideas, and before you know it all of the talking and adding and linking creates an unbelievable plan.  This was the way poetry planning went with first grade teachers Carolyn Carr, Deb Frazier and Marie Nixon.  Though I have moved to a primary intervention role, these three still let me crash literacy planning parties.  (The benefits of this, both personal and professional, are a topic for another post.)

As we were planning the learning for the poetry unit, we began to talk about how we would create excitement around poetry.  What would hook readers from the start?  Many ideas were discussed, but in the process we began to talk about a Skype session with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, author of Forest Has a Song and contributor to many other poetry books.  Amy's poetry is often used in first grade with students as Amy shares poems daily on her blog in addition to writing about her process in her poetry and sharing tips for poets.  Amy's Poem Farm is often a part of our mini-lessons and shared reading in our workshops.

Planning a Skype Session 
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater her decisions
as a poet.  Will she write about, to, as
or with?
Having a surprise Skype session would be fun, but we wondered if there was a way to help students get more from talking with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.  We knew she had much she could teach us.  So we talked and crossed our fingers and hoped we could make this work.  In conversations between the four of us and Amy it was decided that instead of one session, we'd arrange three sessions.  The sessions would stretch across the spring to give us time to work from what we had learned in between our learning conversations.   We wanted the sessions to accomplish these things:

  1. Session One:  get students excited about poetry and put the sounds of poetry into their ears  
  2. Session Two:  help students to understand the craft of writing poetry
  3. Session Three:  to celebrate student work  
There are no words to describe how grateful we are to Amy for taking on this role in our poetry study.  There are no words to describe how excited we have been to learn from a poet with such experience.  There are no words to describe the way it unfolded even better than we had hoped.  Every time we talked with Amy, her words carried into our lessons and inspired our young poets.  

As I reflect I think these things helped to make our Skype sessions a success (this is not an exhaustive list -- and I am sure Amy would have different points to add -- these are just parts I noticed from my point of view):

Learning with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Learning from Experts
Digital literacy is changing the way we learn, communicate, and live in our world daily as adults, but it is also making huge shifts in the way we work in our classrooms.  Digital learning gives students a voice today.  Digital learning provides new opportunities to connect with experts, collaborate with others, and learn in new ways.  When I was in school, communicating with an author was rare.  If you did get to touch base with an author, it was often by sending a letter and maybe - just maybe - getting one back.  

the entire first grade in a session
with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
In our work with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, we were able to move beyond the excitement of talking with an author to using our time on Skype to learn from her.  Amy helped us to see the fun in reading poetry and playing with words (lesson 1), in ways to think about our poetry (lesson 2 writing about, to, as and with --- point of view of a poem), and in celebrating our work (lesson 3 listening for the parts of poetry that catch us and make us pause).  

There was also the additional advantage of being able to follow her blog and tweets to continue to learn from her.  We were able to continue our conversations between Skype sessions on Twitter and in student blogs.  Students enjoyed, and learned a lot from, her Sing That Poem! project in April.  They learned about topics, rhythm, rhyme, and craft (and a little about music too).  Students were able to share their poems digitally and comment on the poetry of their peers.  Digital literacy opens new doors and creates new opportunities for young learners.  


As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learningMargaret Simon hosts a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  Stop by Reflections


  1. Amy is famous in my classroom, too. My students adore her. She is my best friend. At least that is how she makes me feel. She is so generous with her time and her spirit. And can you believe how brave to sing 30 poems a capella?
    This is why digital literacy is so important, "Digital literacy is changing the way we learn, communicate, and live in our world daily as adults, but it is also making huge shifts in the way we work in our classrooms." Finding authors who are kid-friendly and willing to share bring value and voice to our students.

  2. Cathy, You wrote up this project so beautifully...and so, I continue to learn from you just as I did throughout the month. Thank you for your kind words and especially for welcoming me into your classrooms during your poetry study. I feel very grateful to have been a part of this celebration all month long, and the first graders at Darby Creek are just plain lucky to have you all as their teachers. This collaboration was nothing short of a gift to me. Big hugs all around to your poets...and to you. xo, a.

  3. Cathy,
    Thank you for wrapping this experience up so beautifully with your words . The time the kids spent with Amy will forever be with them!