Matt Pascucci is a fifth-grade teacher in our district. Over the summer, he taught at our Summer Writing Academy and is sharing some of the work his students did.
I spent the last week teaching as a part of a week-long writing camp. This year’s theme was “The Power of Poetry.” The best part of this year is that we were afforded flexibility in exploring poetry in whatever facet worked best. The worst part was having only a period of five days to convey everything there is to know about poetry… ever.
Obviously this was impossible, so my planning ended up being driven by two things… the first, I wanted the kids to have fun and enjoy poetry, the second was that I wanted the kids to push themselves into deeper thinking while being unbound by the typical formats of poetry taught in schools. We did not write haikus, we did not write about me poems, we did not write limericks, and acrostics were not invited.
In order to get my 5th going into 6th graders using their brains thinking in the lyrical quality of free verse, we spent the first day making poetry, rather than writing it. I wanted the kids to focus on crafting poetry using other people’s words, manipulating them into their own meaning. We created blackout poetry in order to discover a different meaning hidden among other words, found poetry in order to play with white space by inserting line breaks and stanza breaks, and we played a few other games using the words of other authors.
The next step was helping the students to get used to looking at the world through their “poet’s eyes.” We took a walk around the outside of the school, spending time observing objects and trying to create our own poems from varying perspectives. This second day led to an activity inspired by a type of “found poetry” we had previously done independently. In a fairly lackluster activity, the kids read the works of various poets, jotting down individual lines that really spoke to them. They then rearranged those lines in order to create a new poem. These poems were fine, but they lacked inspiration and emotion. However, I was inspired.
I decided to have the kids apply this idea to a collaborative production. In small groups, each student started by writing a four line poem on the topic of writing poetry. The poems were pretty good, they each had small bits of flair, emotion, and musicality. The real magic came afterwards.
The students then cut their poems into little strips, so that each line of the poem was on its own strip. Next, the group laid out all of their lines on a table. From these lines, the kids crafted a new poem, rearranging, adding, and removing lines.
Not only was I amazing by the quality of the product, but also by the true act of revision taking place.
As a fifth grade teacher, I often find that the hardest element of revision for my students is the rearrangement, and especially the deletion of writing and ideas within a piece. For some reason (I don’t know if it was the fact that this was a poem, or if it came down to the freedom of playing with their group members ideas) but the kids very democratically and thoughtfully deleted, rearranged, and added ideas to make their poem the best it could be.
Below is an example of one of the collaborative poems that resulted from their work:
To Express a Poem
Staring at the Blank Page
What to write? I
A fountain of words
Are racing in my head.
What to write?
Swarming until you find your hand moving
A stream of words
flows from the mind of the writer
and onto the blank white page
and you are writing poetry.
I'm looking forward to finding ways to weave in more poetry instruction throughout the year. Students not only enjoy it, but they also learn so much about both reading and writing by studying the craft of poetry.
Thanks for the opportunity to share--