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This is what I would wish for all students to know, from Carl Sandburg, Poetry Considered: "Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.
I wrote about the poetry group I've been facilitating here a couple of weeks ago, and we are still together, meeting once or twice a week only, and the students have been turning in drafts for response a couple of times a week. We've continued to read poems by other poets, and my focus here has been pushing those writers to see that the poem (the poet) must have a purpose, a theme, a main point. We can only guess at what the poet means, and I don't mean to break apart and analyze, but to hope that students will take a "story" with them from poems shared. Why? Because I want them to know that their own poems need to have that "story" in it too. They are all facile writers, are well able to write a few lines that flow, choose some interesting words, sometimes repeat, but to get "at" the story is more challenging.
And so we work and talk and I hope they're having a good time messing about with words. Today they wrote again, this time I conferred with each one and while that was happening, they also worked with each other. I hear them (finally) reading their words aloud, listening to themselves and their poems. I hear them laughing, and I hear, "this sounds really good!"
It's not easy to get young adolescents to read their own work aloud unless it's a practiced presentation. Have I mentioned that this is group of nearly all boys? This is the time I wish I had my students back so I could really know these kids, but I am getting to know a few better; they are doing the best they can to let me in. I've taught them in other groups, given lessons and book talks in their classes, so they know me, how passionate I am about reading and writing. It helps them to trust.
This is meandering, as our group meanders. My points are this: Writing takes time, and student writers need the time just like other writers. They need to be shown models, but also need to talk about the models with each other, from their experiences. By models I mean both mentor texts, and a teacher who might show how to ask questions for response. Questions that are helpful come to me from the easy five w's and h: What did you have in mind here? Where do you believe repetition might be helpful? When do you think the line should pause/break? Why does this topic touch you? Who do you believe will enjoy this poem? How can you...? It's not an easy path, but can be rewarding when each finally knows he or she has found the story, and told it!
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