Back in 2001, the Favorite Poem Project in collaboration with Boston University's School of Education established The Summer Poetry Institute for Teachers. Here is an excerpt from the announcement:
(Boston, Mass.) — Robert Pinsky, one of the most celebrated and visible poets to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate, and Boston University’s School of Education will present a week-long poetry institute to revive poetry’s place in the classroom. The Summer Poetry Institute for Educators, from July 9 to 13, stems from the Favorite Poem Project, Pinsky’s special undertaking as poet laureate. The institute will train elementary, middle and high school teachers and administrators in Massachusetts to incorporate poetry into vibrant classroom activities...
The summer 2001 institute will serve 50 participants — teachers and teacher/administrator teams — at the elementary, middle and high school level. The five-day program will teach the founding principles of the Favorite Poem Project: that poetry is a vocal, physical art meant to be read aloud and that people forge personal connections to poetry. The curriculum will expose teachers to a broad range of poems and to various ways of reading and teaching poetry.
Peg Voss Howard, our language arts director and the author of Hidden Literacies: Children Learning at Home and at School, and I decided to apply as the team from our school district. Each of us had to write up rationale for wanting to participate in the poetry institute. Here is what I wrote on February 12, 2001:
The Importance of Poetry for Children
I have spent over three decades in an elementary classroom. In that time, I have come to understand that what I value as a teacher has an impact on what my students will come to value. I have a real passion for poetry. I read it, I write it, and I have collected more than two thousand poetry books. My love of poetry has influenced many of the students I have taught.
At the end of every school year, I receive letters from both students and parents. In their personal notes, many of the writers make some reference to poetry, In 1989, a mother wrote to tell me how I had instilled in her daughter a finer appreciation of poetry. "When Kate sits in our window and responds to the moon and stars by writing her own poetry, I glow with happiness." Another year, one mother wrote: "Thank you so much for helping Alex to discover his 'new eyes' in your class. Your love of poetry and music has enriched him and I am so delighted to see him read with a record on--enjoying his senses!" Sam, an athletic boy one might not think would enjoy poetry, wrote: "...And I love the poems you read to us." Little Tiffany wrote: "Thank you. I learned a lot. Let me sing a poem."
Poetry does sing to children. My students take joy in its rhythm, its rhyme, its clever wordplay and alliteration. I share with them the works of dozens of poets from Lewis Carroll, Eleanor Farjeon, Carl Sandburg, and Langston Hughes to David McCord, Myra Cohn Livingston, Valerie Worth, and Arnold Adoff. I find that immersing my students in fine poetry gives them a true sense of what poetry is. They begin to internalize poetic elements and to develop an appreciation for figurative language, imagery, and metaphorical thinking.
Our children live in a fast-paced world of ever-changing technology. They are often hurried and harried. There are also increasing demands on educators to prepare students for standardized tests. What we often find in short supply is time. Our young people today need time--time to reflect and to look inward, time to get in touch with their feelings and emotions. We must teach to the heart as well as to the mind so that our students come to a deeper, more personal understanding of what they are learning and of the world they inhabit.
Over the years, I have witnessed how the reading and writing of poetry with children helps them to reach inside themselves, to unlock original ideas and thoughts, to verbalize their inner feelings, and to find their own unique voices. It is always so rewarding for me when a student finds a poet or a special poem that speaks to him in a personal way or sings to his own individual rhythm.
We must establish a climate in our schools where poetry is welcome. We must understand and value it in order to inspire an appreciation for it in our students.
I'll be giving away a copy of GREAT MORNING: Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud by SylviaVardell and Janet Wong. Janet autographed the book for me. It's a poetry book every teacher and school librarian should have.To be entered into the drawing for the book, all you have to do is to comment on any of my Wild Rose Reader posts that I publish from April 8th through April 13th. I'll announce the winner on Sunday, April 14th.