The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 1 - Page 36

They’re mine. Sometimes so much so that I have a hard time moving on to the next topic. Think those boys would read a poem about a bear? Would they try their hand at making up their own bear poems? I’d bet on both.

When I was developing Connecting Dots, 54 memory-based poems that covered the arc of my life from 3 through my age at the time (early 60s), I visited P.S. 86 in the Bronx. With the wonderful support of the principal, reading coach, and teachers from third through sixth grades, every poem was read aloud in classes and rated on a grid by every student in those grades.

At the time more than 1,700 students attended P.S. 86. Weeks later I received 12,000 ratings that ranged from yuck to amazing. I learned a lot about what those kids liked and didn’t like. I removed some poems, expanded others at their request, and added others that they suggested.

But stimulating kids to read poetry is only half the battle. They also need to write their own poems. On my blog, I post a new word each month and challenge poets of all ages to write poems inspired by that word. A teacher in Florida began submitting student poems. The poems were often weak, but the students soon became fully engaged in the effort. The teacher told me that her students came from a low socioeconomic area and were in a Level 1 ninth grade class. No one ever asked them to write poetry although Level 1 students were given Intensive Reading courses to help them with the FCAT (Florida's standardized test).

She said, “I truly believe that by shoving reading lessons down their throats without the benefit of creative writing lessons served only to bore them to tears and caused them to shut down.” Who wants to read boring, nonfiction passages about a spider or a country they never heard of before? Now, when I introduced poetry, they were interested. At first, they tried to act cool and aloof, but I knew them... When I showed them poetry, they were a little interested. When I taught them to read poetry, they were more interested. When I told them to write poetry, they thought I was crazy.

When they wrote poetry, they came alive. Were the poems good? No, not technically. But they poured their hearts into them and they loved seeing their names on your blog.

And that is when their reading scores went up.”

And that seems like a good place for me to end.

You know what? This is just a fun thing to do.

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All Authors Revise!

"I learned a lot about what those kids liked and didn’t like. I removed some poems, expanded others at their request, and added others that they suggested."