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Wednesdays from 12:15 to 1:15 were my favorite time this semester. Each week, I got to work with a group of 28 seven year olds; and though it was exhausting at times, I ultimately enjoyed every minute of it! I have always liked kids, so I knew I would enjoy working with second graders, but I severely underestimated the joy it would bring me. Every time we entered the classroom and were greeted with cheers and hugs, I knew I was doing a great thing. And every time a student who had been struggling with their work presented me with a poem they felt proud of, I couldn’t have been happier for them. Throughout the semester, we created lesson plans, only to have the students take them in fantastic new directions that we hadn’t even imagined. I was consistently impressed with the creativity and passion of our second graders. There were always a few students hesitant to embrace poetry, but by the end of the semester, even they were excited to write! My teaching experience made me a better writer because it helped me think about my craft in a simple way that I had almost forgotten. And my experience undoubtedly made me a better teacher, and helped me see that I want to consider teaching as a lifelong career. Watching our students read their completed works at the end of the semester was one of the proudest moments of my undergraduate career, and I can’t wait to get into the classroom again next semester!
See the wind pick you up
the wind makes music while it
picks you up wind, wind, wind, wind
the hand is cold but you don't mind
Sam Hughes Elementary
My favorite lesson was teaching the students about Haikus, and how freeform they can be. I probably enjoyed it because I got to walk around with a plush frog, named Joshua, on my head and show the students some basic moves of Tai Chi.
I like spring a lot
I have a butterfly too
I like all flowers
Mr. Rodarte’s 3rd Grade
When I walked into the classroom for my first day of working with the students, I was both excited and uncertain. I’ve worked with middle-school aged students doing art workshops, and had some experience helping with younger students at Poetry Joeys, but had never worked in depth with eight and nine year olds.
I’d decided to start off the lesson by asking the students an “ice breaker” question, so after their teacher introduced me and my co-teaching artist, I asked them to tell us their names and answer the question, “If you could have any superpower, what would you want to have?”
Immediately, faces lit up and hands waved in the air, as students introduced themselves and announced what powers they’d like to have. Shapeshifting, flying and invisibility were popular, but several students said they wished they could be “a Greek god” or “Greek goddess”. One girl announced she’d like to be able to do “transfiguration”. This exercise segued easily into discussion of “Wish poems” and the class embraced the collaborative “Wish poem” activity with the infectious enthusiasm and excitement that they brought to every subsequent lesson.
I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to working with a class. The students worked so hard, and were so willing to try the lessons each week. They showed an amazing willingness to experiment and try new things, and each week I looked forward to working with them. The effort and willingness they brought into the writing lessons showed, as every student’s writing showed growth over the course of the semester.
Some lessons were grasped quicker than others, and as I reflected on each week’s lessons and read each week’s work, I assessed my presentations and thought about what worked and what I would do differently next time. Without exception though, whether it was writing about time travel and inventing time machines, creating their own bestiaries of mythical creatures, exploring onomatopoeia with sound poems, writing both traditional and non-traditional haiku, recipe poems, or “Fibonacci poems,” the students made me smile, laugh, and wonder at their fearlessness and their creative ability.
It was also a privilege to watch the interaction of the students and their teacher, Mr. Rodarte, who was incredibly supportive and willing to work with us. Every week, it was a pleasure to come and connect with these young writers, to learn their personalities, see their intelligence and compassion, and watch them develop as writers and people.
T-Rex walking, finds prey: munch! Munch! Munch!
Brontosaurs eating leaves: crunch! Crunch! Crunch!
Velociraptor running: pitter-patterpitterpat!
Stegosaurus whacking velociraptor: whack! Wham!
Ankylosaurus whacking trees lightly: pitter-patter!
-Sound poem, Sean
Long legs make you fast
Running gives you exercise
Running is my job
-Haiku, by Jackson
Bing! Bing! Bing!
Twitter and tweet, peep, peep, peep
Lick, slurp, crunch, munch.
Peep, peep, peep!
-Sound poem, by Magdalena
Working with the students at Hollinger Elementary has helped me become more present and observant, not only in my writing, but also in my every day life. The students are always ready, always enthusiastic, always imaginative, always in the moment. Teaching them has been a huge inspiration to me. In addition to creating some of the most original and fresh metaphors and similes I've ever read, they are just so darn cute! Imagine walking in a courtyard, on your way to the class, and the students singing your name while they finish up recess. Or imagine a getting fifteen hugs a week from your students. That's what inevitably happens without you even trying; the students are that open and warm and generous.
This class has been one of my--if not my--favorite class here in the MFA program. It's an incredible, not-to-be-missed opportunity to get out of your house, out of your head, and into the community. Sharing my passion for writing has made me even more passionate and curious about writing, about research, about the people and world around me.
An eraser is a blanket
An eraser is like a fat slice of cheese,
An eraser has holes like a basket.
It is like a rectangle.
The eraser looks like a T.V., like a bookshelf,
like a box.
When the eraser is dry
It feels like soft clothes.
When it stands up it looks like the Statue of Liberty
or a flag.
1st-2nd grade class
One of my favorite lessons to teach was a spin off of Kenneth Koch’s “Swan of Bees” lesson plan, one that I had named “A firework of scarves.” Walking into the classroom, I had really high hopes for the lesson because I really enjoy the game-type atmosphere that the “Swan of Bees” lesson creates - all while inspiring brilliantly creative ideas. Just as I had hoped, the students loved the lesson! To begin, I presented the image of a “firework of scarves” and asked for the students to tell me exactly what they thought a “firework of scarves” would be. To help get their creative juices flowing, I asked them questions like; what would a “firework of scarves” look like? When would it occur? Would it be used to celebrate any holidays? Much to my delight, the students took the idea and ran with it. They came up with a great story of the origin of a “scarf firework” – they decided that a “scarf firework” was invented in New York City during an extremely cold winter and that the city needed an effective (and beautiful) way to distribute the scarves to the less fortunate, so the city of New York held a scarf distribution contest and the winner came up with the invention of a scarf firework. I couldn’t believe how well this activity inspired students to create such inventive ideas.
Witnessing this artful process of their imaginations running wild can simply be described as a thing of beauty.
An explosion of deliciousness
making my mouth water
they go up and come done soon
up so high
even up to the moon
My favorite poems ended up coming from lessons that left the form of the kid's poems up to them. I taught a class of second graders, and many of them thought writing was both boring and hard. When I'd tell them there were no rules as to how their poem about a place or a feeling or an object had to be, many would give me wide eyed looks of shock and fear. I'd try to soothe them. I'd tell them to close their eyes and imagine this thing they were about to write about, what it looked like, how it smelled and how it made them feel. Or I'd read a few examples of how other authors have written about the same subject. Still, a handful of the kids would be left nervous. And, actually, I even found that their totally free form poems tended to be shorter, they didn't seem to have as much endurance when they had to come up with everything on their own. Sometimes, for example, I had lessons in which they could more or less fill in a blank. For one class period, they wrote about how they used to be when they were toddlers, versus how they are now and I told them that as a guide they could start their poems with “I used to...” and finish them with, “but now I...” With this form in mind they could write and write and write. But on the other hand, with another lesson in which I told them, simply, to write about weather, the result was shorter poems, but ones that tended to very unique and even more graceful, their words forming a gestalt that they couldn't find when I, not them, was the one dictating beginning of their poems.
Antarctica Antarctica see the cold
flow by you, you don't know why and
how but you are there you wish it
was warm there but it's not