Growing up poetry was never my favorite thing to read. I liked Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, but in my mind I also never considered their writing poems. What they wrote was fun. It made me laugh and made me think. Poetry was what I read in school. It was boring and meant virtually nothing to me. I read it because I had to, not because I wanted to. And for a really long time that was the only relationship I had with poetry.
Things started to change my senior year of college. I found poems that sparked something inside me. Stray Dog Cabaret was a collection of poems by Russian authors, and reading those poems something clicked. Poetry, I realized, could be magical. Fitting words together like puzzle pieces could be something really really cool. I loved reading and I love writing and I loved this new way this all fit together.
Even though I had discovered how amazing poetry could be, I didn’t run out and buy a ton of poetry anthologies. I didn’t know where to start. Poetry had been foreign to me for so long that even though I had a new appreciation for it I let it stay a pretty big mystery. I didn’t know what else to do or how to do anything else.
That has started to change. In my job as a literacy tutor I have the opportunity to work with some amazing Language Arts teachers. One of the bigger pushes at the middle school level has been to incorporate more poetry. I’ve been able to see how poetry can be made fun and accessible and how my students can respond and connect to it. I’ve seen them love poetry and struggle with poetry, but it’s been made much more accessible to them than I feel it was made to me when I was going through school.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately collecting poems that I like. I’ve been combing through Goodreads and looking for other sources. I want to make poetry accessible to all of my students. I want to show them that it doesn’t have to be something that is stuffy and inaccessible. Poetry is alive and well; we as teachers just need to find ways to teach our students that.
I am fortunate that in the early stages of my teaching career I’ve had great mentors. I have had wonderful coworkers take me under their wing, give me advice, and guide me as I still have so much to learn. I am grateful to be able to call these wonderful people my friend, and I am grateful for everything that they have taught me and that I’m sure they will teach me.
One of the greatest things I’ve been offered through these mentors is a wealth of professional texts to read. That phrase, professional texts, sounds really stuffy. I’m not talking about anything stuffy. I’m talking about books that talk about grammar and writing and poetry. I’m talking about books that give me ideas about how to teach. I’m talking about books that can help make me my best me.
I wouldn’t have necessarily found these books on my own because I wouldn’t necessarily have known where to look. Maybe at some point I would have stumbled upon them, but that certainly is no guarantee. And I would be woefully lost without some of these books now that I know they exists. (Can you miss something you never had?)
I don’t own any of these books right now. I’ve been fortunate enough to borrow them, take notes on them, make photocopies of pages I don’t want to wait to own myself. I am forever grateful for the coworkers who have been willing to share, and I hope to one day be able to share with the next generation of teachers.
To me, grammar is one of the more complicated parts of English. There are a lot of rules, a lot of very specific tiny things that are easily forgotten, and it’s something that always caused me problems as a student.
Grammar also wasn’t something that had a lot of focus put on it while I was in school. My grammar education came and went, and I think eventually my teachers thought that I had already learned what I needed to learn. (But I hadn’t.)
I took a couple of grammar courses in college, and I’ve tried to learn everything I can in grad school and in my tutoring job. I want to be able to provide my students with a well-rounded and understandable grammar education. I don’t want them to think that grammar is something elusive and incomprehensible.
I’m not saying that grammar is the coolest thing ever, because that might be pushing it just a little. But I am willing to say that grammar is incredibly important. Without a good grammatical foundation it can get progressively harder to communicate ideas.
And grammar isn’t all bad. I’d even venture to say that sometimes grammar can be fun. There are ways to make grammar something special, and I’m looking forward to exploring all those opportunities in my classroom.
I’m calling February the lost month since today is the only day I managed to pull it together to blog, and it’s Leap Day. However, since I am blogging today I still haven’t missed a month since I started this blog over a year ago.
I’ve learned a lot since starting the blog. I need to have a direction and a purpose, which fortunately this blog does. I’ve learned that I need to plan in advance and know what I want to talk about. I’ve learned that I need to be consistent in posting because that’s the only way to gain an audience.
March will be better. I have a better system now, and I feel really recommitted to the blog. I think it’s important to have a lost month every now and then, but it’s really important to get back on track and not fall down the rabbit hole.
Come and continue on this journey with me. I can’t wait to see where staying committed to this blog leads me.
The simple truth of the matter is that at some point, everyone has to write. Maybe it’s writing a paper or a dissertation. Maybe it’s a blog post. A letter. A grant proposal. A journal entry. A note for a roommate. Everyone has to write something at some point. Therefore, everyone has to know how to write.
It sounds simple enough. Put words together. Use correct punctuation. Share thoughts. At its very most basic level, that’s what writing is.
The truth of the matter though, is that writing is a lot more complicated than that. Sometimes there are a lot more rules.
So how does one teach writing?
The decision can be made to use mentor texts. These are texts that are in the style that is being taught that can be shared with students. They’re model texts. They show how one can write a poem or a personal narrative or a short story. They help to familiarize students with what they’ll be doing. They show different ways to set up the structure or use point of view or use figurative language. They can be a huge tool in a writer’s toolbox.
Break writing down into manageable chunks. Have students use planning sheets or create outlines. Have them put their piece of writing together piece by piece rather than all at once.
Make sure that students have checkpoints and deadlines, otherwise a piece of writing can be wildly out of control, and it might be too late to fix it. Have days where students and teachers can touch base. Have deadlines so that writing is making forward progress and isn’t stalling out.
Make writing accessible and something students can connect with. Writing in any form is about sharing stories. It’s about connecting with other people. Don’t make writing something that seems so academic students aren’t interested and can’t connect with it. Let students tell their stories. Set parameters for the form students should be writing in, but let them soar and tell their stories.
I don’t think there’s one right way to teach writing. Everyone uses different processes to write and be successful at writing. I think one of the most important things is giving students the space they need to find their voice.