Saturday, October 4th, 2014...2:05 pm

I Let Them Write Poetry

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A few weeks ago at a teacher professional development session for English I, the woman in charge said that there is no reason for our kids to ever write poetry. We were in the midst of a unit that culminated in our students writing poems about themselves, the places that define them, trying tricks of the poetry trade on for size.

“They will never be asked to write a poem on STAAR,” she said. “There’s no reason our kids should ever be writing poetry.”

I held back in the moment because it wasn’t the place or time to have an argument. I subtly rolled my eyes and made eye contact with the rest of my team. They know me well and they knew without my saying anything that I will always believe there’s a reason for “our kids”  – kids who are amazing individuals who happen to live through struggles of poverty and language acquisition – to write poetry. To write period. And the reason is never that it will help them pass a test.

This morning I read an interview with one of my favorite poets – Billy Collins. He said, “Poetry can do a lot of things to people. I mean it can improve your imagination. It can take you to new places. It can give you this incredible form of verbal pleasure.” My students deserve that as much as any others. They deserve the right to explore language and unique ways to tell their stories. They deserve the right to swim in the ambiguity of poetic language and to see what words they have to offer back to this world.

Collins, in the same interview, said of teaching, “Well, because teaching is a very mysterious process. You’re throwing information, in a sense, into the dark. I mean, you spend an hour talking to this group of increasingly younger people and you walk out of there and you think sometimes you’ve had a good class, and other times it’s not been that great. But no matter what it is to you, you’re not sure how it’s being taken or what effect you’ve had.”

When students write poetry or respond to poetry, many times you can see the effect. I’ve had colleagues whose students tell them that writing and sharing their poetry was the first time in their school lives that they’ve felt the power of their words. I have a colleague who teaches an entire class on poetry and she unleashes their words and experiences in a way much more profound than a test ever can.

They won’t need to write poetry to become better test takers. But writing poetry might make them better humans.

So I will let them write poetry.

Found poem by student

Found poem by student

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  • Read the same interview this morning and almost forwarded it to you. I loved Collins’s words on teaching and his pleasure at listening to a former student’s recitation of a memorized poem. Keep doing what you do – STAAR tests be d*****d!

  • Students do NOT remember test prompts or short answer essays. They DO remember poems they have read, written, or listened to. Wonderful teachers (like you) reach students’ hearts as well as their minds, and that is what really matters.

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