Did that make your stomach turn? Poetry can be a terrifying subject for many teachers – seasoned or new. But it is so necessary and can be such a beautiful tool in the classroom, if approached in the right way. I very strongly suggest giving poetry in the classroom a second chance by checking out Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard for teaching methods and the chapter on poetry in Children’s Literature, Briefly by Michael O. Tunnell and his associates for selecting relevant poems for the classroom. Poetry is so much more than dissecting a poem down to its lifeless pieces to find a “secret meaning”. And sometimes poetry can just be poetry. After reading both of those books, I’m a believer in year-round poetry in the classroom (if you couldn’t tell). For those of you less comfortable with it, I urge you to at least honor National Poetry Month.
Since a lot of adults’ distaste for poetry stems from the way they were taught about it, isn’t it time to try something new? Poetry can engage all four domains of language (reading, writing, listening, and speaking). It can also come in many forms (check out Hip Hop Speaks to Children by Nikki Giovanni. She is one of my favorite poets for young people. Check out my video author study of her here).
In addition to the typical reading and writing of poetry that we usually bring in to the classroom, I think giving students the opportunity to share their poetry through spoken performance is crucial. To see the power of poetry in action, check out Youth Speaks Seattle or Global Writes. While many of you are teaching younger students than those and slam poetry isn’t for everyone, I think the opportunity to share their writing via audio is a great experience and could be less intimidating for our shyer students who would be uncomfortable performing. Of course, you can always have students read their favorite poem by someone else as well.
What is a podcast? Wikipedia calls it a ” type of digital media consisting of an episodic series of audio radio, video, PDF, or ePub files subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device”. I subscribe to the This American Life podcast and every time there is a new episode, it gets automatically sent to my phone. Typically a podcast has episodes aired on a periodic basis, although I am using the term a little more loosely here. Last year, I created my first podcast (click here to listen!). It was a read aloud of Horton Hears a Who that I recorded for my Instructional Technologies course blog and it was one of my favorite assignments from any class I’ve taken. Today, I created a podcast of I Like It When It’s Mizzly by Aileen Fischer click here to listen (the whole project including selecting a poem and uploading everything took less than 25 minutes. If you limit students’ time agonizing over selecting sound effects, this is a very time efficient project!). Technically, this isn’t a “true podcast” because there was only one episode, and then a second, unrelated and unlinked, episode a year later but I’m going to let that slide.
Why did I love making a podcast? While by no means an expert, I remember using MIDI software back in the mid-90’s with my dad and our Casio keyboard to create my own MIDI music. I hadn’t really touched digital music-making since. Now, nearly twenty years later, oh how the technology has improved! I used Apple’s GarageBand to create my podcast and was able to add and manipulate different layers of sound very easily (sound effects, voice, soundtrack). I found GarageBand’s interface very user-friendly. Classmates of mine who’d had no prior experience with digital audio editing agreed that they were impressed with how easy it was to get a professional sounding podcast going. Although I haven’t used Audacity, I have heard it is a worthwhile PC alternative. Don’t be intimidated, there are plenty of online resources such as this one for you to explore.
Screenshot of GarageBand from here. Most of the process is as easy as dragging and dropping each layer of sound where you want it.
Students can add sound effects, background music, and more. You can have students work with less traditional forms of poetry, too — poems for two voices, bilingual poetry, the opportunities are only limited by our imagination. And our timeline (sigh). You could also have students create a Wordle or Tagxedo word cloud — of their own poetry or of a class anthology. Best of all, when they’re done, you can post all this work on your students’ blogs or your class blog so students and parents can listen to everyone’s hard work!
For more teaching ideas related to National Poetry Month, check out this page.