Honors poetry class helps kids, future teachers find freedom in writing
“Teaching Poetry to Children” is a course offered through the University Honors program at Texas State University. The fifteen students enrolled in the course this semester spent Tuesday mornings teaching poetry to students at Crockett Elementary School in San Marcos, Texas. The elementary students created poems and illustrations based on the work of William Blake, William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams and other poets.
By Katelynn Butler ‘11
I took the Teaching Poetry to Children honors class for a few reasons. I have a firm belief in the power of art in learning; art lacks limitation, and poetry is one of many ways to utilize it. And given that Diann McCabe was teaching the class with her devotion to true learning, I knew that was going to be the theme. Learning by experience with subtle guidance is the most effective curriculum. When you share that through a medium that has few if any imitations, I feel that the most pure form of learning occurs.
I worked with fifth graders at Crockett. The poem that generated the most interesting responses from my students was “Between Walls” by William Carlos Williams.
the back wings
will grow lie
in which shine
pieces of a green
Williams appealed to them, with short and simple lines examining an image. This poem in particular drew their attention. The idea I presented with it was to write about something that wouldn’t normally seem beautiful to others but was beautiful to you. One child wrote about himself as “dirty water” and another wrote about the jagged lines and colors of rust. Their poems were all very simple, but so insightful because they took time to notice these things.
The one concept I emphasized to the children was the freedom in writing. We didn’t spell right; we didn’t make complete sentences; we didn’t have lines; we meshed everything together into 1longwordsometimes. It is communicating how the writer sees the world that is important to poetry. They got that. It doesn’t matter how boring it is. If you can see the world through the poet’s eyes by reading his or her poetry, then that is a good poem.
My appreciation for poetry has changed. I used to judge poetry; I think we all were taught to do so. But poetry is often simply for the self. I’ve always had this belief in individual quality in a poem, that there is no such thing as absolute “good” status for a poem. This class has transformed that notion into a personal philosophy that I will carry with me throughout my teaching career. I have Diann McCabe and 24 little poets to thank for it.
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Valerie Vera worked with a first-grade class at Crockett Elementary.
I wanted to take the Teaching Poetry to Children course because I have a passion for poetry and love interacting with children. I also wanted to represent a positive, creative source that is often left out of schools these days. This class has helped me understand the creative process more fully and made me appreciate taking a poem for what it is and not necessarily looking for “what it really means.”
Using D.H. Lawrence’s poem “The White Horse” generated some very interesting responses. The children were easily able to relate to quiet things, places and colors. This is the collaborative poem they wrote.
Quiet Colors & Places
Backpacks are quiet.
White & Gray.
Una Tortuga. Green.
A glass of milk.
A teddy bear.
Spiders spinning a web.
Another great poem was William Carlos Williams’ “The Locust Tree in Flower.” The children loved the idea of keeping one word in every line, and making it follow to create a bigger picture.
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Alexa McLatcher worked with a second-grad class at Crockett Elementary.
I wanted to take Teaching Poetry to Children because I love working with kids and poetry is something I want to learn more about. I’ve always liked creative writing, so it just seemed like the best of both worlds.
I really enjoyed the dream-themed lesson that used the book Wishes, Lies, and Dreams by Kenneth Koch. One boy wrote the following poem in response:
People made of pizza.
In response to Robert Herrick’s “The Argument of His Book,” the children were asked to write about anything they wanted to. One girl wrote about love:
Roses like kisses and like red and love!
And like I love you and face to face
like loving people for your hearts.
Writing poetry isn’t this complex, mysterious thing that only old, dead guys named William are capable of doing. Children can be some of the best poets. Their work is honest, innocent and creative. It’s refreshing.