For the first summer in about ten years, I'm at home. No summer school. No month-long poetry seminars. It's been very busy, but refreshing and relaxing, too. More time than I've had in awhile to read and write and think about how to approach the oncoming school year.
I am teaching fourth grade this year and I've been doing a lot of thinking about how to teach poetry. Last year, with my fifth graders (whom I began teaching in fourth grade), we had an all-out poetry immersion, reading over 100 poems together and writing at least 35 of our own. We read everything from Hughes to Whitman to Dickinson to Frost to Cummings as well as a ton of modern stuff. No kiddie-poems for us! The kids handled it splendidly and really appreciated the fact that they were reading poems that most people don't encounter until high school or college. As a result, I think they make huge leaps forward as both readers and writers of everything, not just poetry.
But I've taught fourth grade before and I know it's going to be a different story. More than likely, their exposure to poetry has been quite limited, especially on the writing side of things. So, where to start? I think I can get them to a point where they can handle the more complicated poems. But fourth graders experiences, in life and in reading, are fairly limited. This is not a knock against fourth graders, just a general fact of life.
I think I'm going to start slowly and focus on wordplay and rhyme and language. Building an appreciation for poems at first will allow us to delve deeper and really get into the nuances of poems, which is what I really like.
Take for example the Poem of the Day from earlier this week over at The Poetry Foundation, "The Folk Who Live in Backward Town," by Mary Ann Hoberman. (Enjoy this poem for yourself, here.) Reading this poem with them and them having them write their own poem about Backward Town would get them to explore rhythm and rhyme and just get them playing with words. More importantly, they'd get a poem that's fun. I want them to love poetry as much as me, so fun poems are definitely the place to start, I think.
The hard part is that the types of poems I really want to read are by T.S. Eliot. Not exactly fourth grade material. Oh well, I have plenty of time to think and search for poems. School here in Michigan doesn't start until after Labor Day!