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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Poetry is the Song of Our Souls

She balanced her journal on her knees, focused in earnest contemplation of a totally blank page. "Can I answer with a poem?" she asked. "Of course," I answered, as others looked on, wondering what she was getting away with. A shorter answer, for sure, but one that could speak volumes about what the true answer from her heart might be. As I set out to begin this post, the first thought in my brain was that poetry is the song of our souls. Just as you can listen in to what a person holds in their heart as they sing, poetry provides the same window into the soul of the poet.

April is the month when you can really start to see the fruits of your yearlong labors as a teacher, the month the children all seem to bloom. As those beautiful blossoms begin to open, poetry written by our students gives us a clear view into the soul of each blossoming learner. There is no meandering with poetry. It is generally short and to the point. No over-description, no extraneous words. Poetry focuses its meaning and touches the reader or listener deep inside. A journal page, free-write, interactive notebook response, or draft written in poetic form, can never be a bad thing. If a fuller essay is required, the poem becomes a distillation of the essence of that essay. If any written response is required, a poem of course fills the bill. And, as a writing form that lends itself to combination with art, music, dance, or dramatic performance, poetry rules!

Some thoughts on weaving more poetry into your practice:

Poetry Performance
Lots of teachers use the "Poem in Your Pocket" model to share poetry, based on the classic children's poem by Beatrice Schenk deReniers. Here it is, in case you haven't heard it. Click on the pocket below to download a free resource to use on Poem in Your Pocket Day in April!

This is a fun way to introduce poetry performance to your class. Pull a poem that you love out of your own pocket and perform it. My favorite poem to perform is "Honey I Love" by Eloise Greenfield. It's  so worth memorizing. I can promise your kids will be spellbound when you recite it to them with all the feeling that is right there in the poem. It will inspire many of your students to memorize a favorite poem of their own.

Poetry Sharing
When kids are ready to perform, make the performances a part of Morning Meeting, or a part of any regular time in your day or week. I have always used a campfire setting to share our poems, whether ones we wrote ourselves, or ones we just love and want to perform. It's cozy in the fall and winter, and makes us think of camping in the spring and summer. Here's a blog post I wrote about
The Poetry Campfire .

Poetry Publishing
There are so many ways to combine art with the publishing of your poetry - a class quilt, banners, Poetry Slam book, on your website, and in portfolios. Here is a blog post I wrote with directions for turning some short poems into beautiful watercolor flowers:
Watercolor Flower Poetry

Portfolio Friendly
If your portfolios are a little short of writing pieces this year for any of the reasons that our challenging profession has presented, April is the perfect month to get that collection growing. April is poetry month! Poetry is short and doesn't have a lot hard and fast rules to follow. It flows from the heart. So take out those portfolios and see where an empty spot can be filled here and there with a beautiful song of the soul. 

Here's a post you might like: A Portfolio to Remember

Find my favorite POETRY RESOURCES by clicking here!

Happy April, teachers! I hope your souls and those of your students sing throughout the Spring!

I had soooo much fun talking about poetry with my teaching friends on our podcast, We Teach So Hard, Episode 32. Hope you'll tune in soon!



The Thief of Joy

We have a pretty good local theater company here in Detroit. It's called "Broadway in Detroit" and they bring touring shows around after they leave Broadway. It's not Broadway, but is anything other than Broadway really Broadway? You'll get lots of different answers for that. If you do ever visit in my part of the world, you also really should try the tiny Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea. We've seen some amazing productions there in Jeff Daniels' hometown in the gem of a theater company that he started. But I digress.  Who's surprised? (Nah!)

We have been season subscribers to Broadway in Detroit for probably more years than you personally have walked on the earth. We love most of the productions, and really, some theater is always better than no theater IMO. This year, every seat for the season was sold out a year in advance because HAMILTON!!!!! is coming next week. Season subscribers get to keep their regular seats at the season price with no extra padding of prices. Sweet! And it's HAMILTON!!!!!

Right now, I am visualizing all the plays we've seen recently with not much advance hype that were thoroughly enjoyable, bordering on fabulous, and maybe full throttle magnificent. But were they HAMILTON!!!! ? Uh, no. We will finally see Hamilton next week, and I can't wait to see what all the hype is about.

Last week, after a lovely dinner with precious friends of ours, we settled into our seats to experience "The Lightning Thief" in musical form. I will admit to be being a little more giddy than most about the production because I love love love the Percy Jackson Series. The Lightning Thief was a favorite spring read-aloud with my fourth graders while I was still in the classroom. It was edge of your seat exciting, and what better way to introduce kids to Greek Mythology than with half-breed middle schoolers at a camp where they learn how use their special powers obtained from the god side of the family? The play was promising all that plus singing and dancing. I had a feeling that there would be a lightning bolt or two, some optional glitter, and other special effects like mylar confetti, and the theater gods did not disappoint.  So, settling in, I was pretty psyched to begin with. As one more aside, lots of kids get taken to the shows that seem appropriate, and I was looking forward to really seeing every inch of the stage, as most elementary and middle schoolers are shorter than I am! Yay! My usually craning neck was all like, "aaaaaahhhhhh...".

As the first act progressed, the storyline was familiar, I thought the singing and dancing was topnotch, and so many visualizations that my students and I had conjured in our heads were happening right before my eyes. It was more delicious than the skillet salty caramel cookie with Ray's ice cream that we had polished off for dessert just an hour earlier. It was a feast for all of our senses, and I watched it, I'm sure, the way many have watched HAMILTON!!! At the end of the first act, I was floating on the euphoria of a great theater experience. I looked across at our two couple grouping and saw two rather unimpressed peopled and one who said, "It was ok. I liked it." IF I had any self-control at all, it might have been a good time to dial down on my enthusiasm for awhile, but if we've ever met, you know....

I loved it!!!!! Followed by much description of every delicious morsel in the play. As I did that, my husband was pointing out all the grownups who had their coats with them for intermission. They were leaving? Sheesh! I guess one special feature that contributed to my joy was the amazing time I had sharing the book with my own students. I could still see their faces during most of the scenes, and remembered laughing at our discussion of whether Percy's friend Grover was half Sayter or Sauter or Saater. We had a fun debate over that. I was wrong, kids were right! Just an example. And, spoiler alert: Poseidon, as a surfer dude, was possibly the funniest thing I've ever seen.

And now, the excitement over HAMILTON!!!! is really ramping up. Everyone is talking about whether they have already seen it, will see it next week, or will travel to Chicago to see it because they couldn't get tickets here. I am, of course, expecting to love it, but my mind is kind of buzzing today with what makes one play a HAMILTON!!!, sought after, anticipated, and thoroughly enjoyed, and what makes another an intermission exit, meh experience?

As a teacher, I can't help wondering why we see some of our students as HAMILTON!!! while some are Percy before camp. Why are some of the read-alouds we choose HAMILTON!!! in quality and why do some kinda fall flat? And of course, don't we all want to be that teacher that kids see as a HAMILTON!!!! among teachers?  

I think the difference is the attitude we bring to it. My mind travels back to the first show of the season this year, "Something Rotten". In this play (also with mixed reviews , but I (are you ready?) LOVED IT!), Shakespeare is experiencing writer's block, and feels basically worthless as a writer. And yet .... wherever he goes, he is looked upon as a rock star! When a crowd gathers, he rises above the citizenry, dressed as a rock star, and you hear, "Shakespeare!" as if being sung by the greatest backup singers ever. It's all about attitude.

So teachers... It's March. Reading month, right? How do we walk into that classroom each day? It should be like the rockstar teachers that you know we are inside. Fly that cape! Hold your head high! And when it is time to introduce your next read-aloud? Are you introducing just any ol' book? Heck no! You are introducing HAMILTON!!!

Seriously, friends, that's exactly how I always did it. "You guys! You will not believe this book that I found for our next read-aloud! It's so amazing that I almost called you this weekend because I couldn't wait for you to find out about it! I can not wait to start talking with you about this!" (Attitude! HAMILTON!!!) Even if you are thinking that this is a little beyond your comfort level, try it! I think you will amaze even yourself!

If you would like to explore some reading likes and interests with your students, this set of cards will definitely get the conversation started.

For some other thoughts on March topics, be sure to visit the links below. This linkup is for members of our Teacher Talk blogging group. Like to join us? Ask me how!

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