Thursday, May 1st, 2014...9:12 pm

Trust Them To Learn

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We are having a poetry tournament in my freshman class. Each student chose a poem to enter into the tournament – not a poem they wrote themselves, but one that they found in a book or on the internet or in a magazine, one that struck something in them and that they thought worthy of sharing with others.

We don’t always do enough of that in school – or at least I don’t – sharing good writing just for the sake of it. Just because that phrase or that word choice or that image or that idea or that pattern strikes us and we are somehow in awe of the power of words. When we share writing we usually take the time to pick it apart, to examine it under the microscope of school. Rarely do I remember to just stand back and admire.

But this is just about sharing and talking about words.

The first task was to set my students – ninth graders in a regular level course – off into books of poetry. I gave them a few guidelines for what to choose: 1. They had to like it – maybe even love it. 2. They had to be willing to read it aloud. 3. No one else in the class could have chosen that same one.

They scoured the books on their own and then it happened.

Conversation. Fifteen year olds having conversations about poetry without anyone prodding them. They critiqued and shared and found words that  reminded them of themselves and each other.

Some might expect that teenagers, when left to their own devices, would pick poetry that no teacher would ever include in a unit on the genre, or that if only left to their own devices, they’d never read what we want them to read, what we think they should read.

But guess what? That isn’t at all the truth.

One by one they chose “the one.” The one that resonated and that they deemed awesome enough to share with their classmates, a poem worthy of their time, their voice and perhaps a prize (the class will be voting for the best poem). They chose Nikki Giovanni, Sara Teasdale (my favorite and I hadn’t even told them), Emerson, Robert Frost. They chose Poe and Plath and even Wordsworth. They chose Shel Silverstein and poets I’ve never heard of but that now I’m so happy I have.

And now we begin class with a gathering of awesome words, with teenagers speaking to their power in the simplest of terms.

I trusted them to choose the words. And now they’re trusting me to hear why they matter. I have to remember to do more of this.

I have to remember to trust them to learn.


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