Friday, November 14, 2014

Poetry Friday & NCTE

The time draws near and I'm getting excited...the NCTE Annual Convention begins next Thursday, November 20!  I'm looking forward, as I do every year, to spending some time surrounded by fellow teachers who are passionate about English language and literature teaching.  It's also the time of year when I get to hang out in person with the blogging poets and teachers whom I "see" each Friday right here in the virtual Poetry Friday community.  Click here to find out more about the six-year-old Poetry Friday tradition.
Out of these steadily inspiring virtual relationships has come a great gift to teachers--the Poetry Friday Anthologies, created and compiled by two champions of children's poetry, professor and cheerleader Sylvia Vardell and poet and community organizer Janet Wong.  Their mission to support teachers in bringing more poetry into  classrooms began with an e-book--Poetry Tag Time--a concept which I am proud to have been a little helpful in developing.

There are now three Poetry Friday Anthologies--one for K-5, one for middle school, and most recently one for science.  Over the last few weeks I've been highlighting science poetry by "classic" poets, but The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science is a catalog of the best poets currently writing for children, all in one place, supporting teachers as they attempt to do Too Much All at Once.

I'm a classroom teacher.  I know what our curricula look like.  Someone in our central office (or several someones) puts together a ginormous pile of standards, indicators, lessons and resources in an effort to help us classroom professionals offer our students a rich and "rigorous" curriculum.  (Personally I prefer a rich and vigorous curriculum; somehow "rigor" always make me think of dead bodies, stiff and cold.)  The effect is almost always an overwhelming feeling of dread as we look ahead each week to all that we are supposed to do and teach in our measly 6 hours per day with our students.  The triage is bloody and there is only one solution:  synergy.
syn·er·gy  ˈsinərjē/    noun

the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects

Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
We also call this "integrating the curriculum," but when your curriculum is delivered to you in several separate binders or individual webpages labeled Math, Reading, Writing, Science and Social Studies, it can be hard to remember that none of these "subjects" stands alone and separate--not in our adult minds, and certainly not  the minds of elementary students.  That's just not how people think and learn.

There is always a necessity to get down into the details of how to teach each little skill and concept, but if we let that approach run our days in the classroom, we rob our students of the chance to marvel at the beauty of the interdependent web of ideas, knowledge and indeed all existence.

So how do we successfully attempt Too Much All at Once?  One way is to use poetry to address other curriculum areas.   This will be the subject of the Children's Literature Assembly Master Class that I'll be helping to lead at this year's NCTE conference.  My roundtable discussion will focus on ways to use poetry to teach science and vice versa--to synergize the elements of language, metaphor, curiosity, investigation, research and data into a whole that becomes a powerful tool for student engagement and learning.  The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science takes us there with next to no effort (although we will need some courage, if we're not teachers who live entirely comfortably in the world of poetry).

Here's a shout-out to my colleagues at Rock View Elementary School in North Kensington, MD, some of whom will win copies of The PFA for Science in a raffle on Monday.  I'll close with one of my personal favorites from this anthology, placed in the 1st grade section but accessible to elementary kids of all ages.  It's by Mary Lee Hahn, my friend and fellow classroom teacher from Dublin, Ohio, who will also be presenting at the CLA Master Class next weekend.  See how few words--well-chosen words!--you need to bring rhyme, rhythm, scientific concepts and higher-order thinking to your students?

The Lion and the House Cat ||  Mary Lee Hahn

different strength
different size
same chin
same eyes

different mane
different stride
same stretch
same pride

And below are a few snippets and excerpts from this wonder of a book, all taken from the Pomelo Books website.  Go on and make your teaching life a little more efficient and a little more beautiful:  commit to Poetry Friday (once a month? every other week? every Friday?) and get yourself one of these anthologies to help out.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Keri at Keri Recommends.  Enjoy!


encouraging citizen science


  1. Great post, Heidi - and I almost figured out a way to make it to NCTE this year. I'll be there in spirit, cheering you all on, and planning to get to that conference sometime soon! Your session will be fantastic.
    And YAY Poetry Friday Anthologies!

  2. Outstanding post Heidi! I agree with all of it. I love your writing, I love your enormous brain, I believe in HEIDI POWER! By the way, saw an off-Broadway show 2 times in the past month about your mother. It's called THE BELLE OF AMHERST. Loved it!

  3. I would love to be able to come and listen. Thanks for sharing the poems. I agree...the Poetry Friday Anthologies are just amazing! What an awesome teaching tool! Best wishes for a successful roundtable.

  4. Thanks for the shout-out! Looking forward to seeing you! Wish I could sit at your table in the Master Class!!

  5. Very impressed by the simple sagacity of Mary Lee's poem!

  6. Wow, Heidi, so much goodness in this post! Enjoy NCTE - every minute of it! =)


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!