Thursday, November 20, 2014

on the science of poetry

CLA Master Class: Poetry Across the Curriculum
NCTE 2014


Within both poetry and science beat the twin hearts of observation and imagination. In my kindergarten classroom, we talk about Noticing and Wondering--about how using your five senses to attend to the world all around, and about how asking questions and testing out guesses, make you smarter.



Both poets and scientists begin their work with close observation.  The most striking poems stand on the poet’s ability to help us notice something familiar in a new way.  Ground-breaking, life-changing science is built on the scientist’s ability to wonder how something familiar works or might be put to work. Both pursuits are deeply creative.



I emphasize this broader view of the scientific process because it can be difficult to achieve the right conditions for laboratory experimentation in the elementary classroom--but it is always possible to facilitate observation and imagination.



Poetry is a powerful tool for inspiring a scientific turn of mind: on the front end as introduction, and later as a means for recording and summary.  Let’s look at how a series of well-selected poems can lead into, enrich and then expand a study of leaves—an easily accessible, versatile and essential natural resource.



For the youngest students, begin with something simple and active like Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s “Raking.” (2011)  For older students, start with the intoxicating “Plenty” of autumn leaves (Mordhorst 2009).  Next, draw children’s attention to a single leaf with Merriam’s “Reply to the Question: How Can You Become a Poet?” (Hoberman 2009).



Already in the first lines of this poem students are coached in how to really look at a thing, and in becoming both scientist and poet.  By the end, they have used all their faculties to consider the lowly, perfect leaf.  Now is the time to fetch bags of leaves into the classroom and to compare, sort, identify and label quantities of (free!) leaves.



“A hole is to dig,” (Krauss 1952) but what is a leaf?  Laura Salas provides plenty of answers in A Leaf Can Be (2012)— “Shade spiller/Mouth filler/Tree topper/Rain stopper”.  What else can your students think of?  Challenge them to engineer new uses for different kinds of actual leaves. 



Does your curriculum include life cycle and ecology studies?  Share “In Hardwood Groves” (Frost 1926), emphasizing the cyclical nature of “the same leaves over and over again” going “down into the dark decayed.”



Finally, offer students the opportunity to write their own leaf poems. Some will describe, some will invent, some will teach in their poems. If you have children who need a scaffold, open their twin hearts of observation and imagination with the line, “I thought I knew leaves, but now…”  Answering this question of how we know what we know is the poetry of science.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post! So informative. Also, it's a clear, concrete way for students to engage in poetry. MORDHORST POWER!

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