It’s Saturday. Time to write and celebrate here with Ruth Ayres.
Today I celebrate a mentor. As I’ve said before on this blog, teaching and learning go hand in hand for me. The day I stop wanting to learn is the day I will need to stop teaching. Some of my best learning happens through interactions with colleagues- in the hallway, over lunch, in their classrooms, after school. I’m grateful for the work I do, because I get to be in many classrooms with many teachers, and I learn something every day.
My mentor happens to be a colleague. I’m not even sure she knows she is my mentor. But, ever since I began teaching at St. Anne’s-Belfield School, I’ve watched, listened and learned from her. She teaches English to sixth graders, and every time I walk into her classroom I wish I was one of her students.
This year I asked her if she would be willing to spend a little extra time with me, helping me grow. I shared with her several goals. One of those goals is to rethink how I teach poetry in my fourth grade reading group. The fourth graders I teach are voracious readers and thrive on challenge. I’ve always shared poems with my students, and they’ve always learned them. And if I am being honest, I’ve always been a little intimidated by poetry. How to teach it. What to teach. Which poems. Which poets. Did I even know enough to feel confident sharing and exploring poetry with my students? What could I do better? What might make those poetry explorations more meaningful for my students?
We’ve met twice, my mentor and I. She’s made several suggestions including: pick one poet and share/study/learn several of his poems, share poems that somehow connect with the book your class is reading together, go deeper-rather than wide. She shared with me how she teaches poems. She encouraged me to find recordings of the poet reading some of his/her poems and share the recordings with students. She suggested I include visuals when introducing the poem. She gave me a copy of Naiomi Shihab Nye’s This Same Sky. It’s a beautiful collection of poems.
My class just finished reading Cynthia Lord’s latest book A Handful of Stars. And while we read that, we explored a few Robert Frost’s poems. (Towards the end of the book, there is a reference to Robert Frost’s poem “Blueberries.”) We began with “A Time to Talk,” since we were talking a lot about friendship while reading Handful. It is short, and not overwhelming. One fourth grader admitted on the first day that he never gets what a poem says when he first reads it, and he is tempted to give up there. That was something we could all understand. “A Time to Talk” was just the right one to begin with. Our discussions about friendship became much richer as we looked at and talked about the poem. We also listened to Robert Frost read “The Road Not Taken.” My students were mesmerized by his gravelly voice.
Next, we read “October.”They loved it. But even more exciting, they had a little bit of confidence when tackling the poem- figuring out what the poet was trying to tell the reader. And then we moved on to “After Apple Picking.” We’re going to share that one with the whole school at our upcoming poetry festival. My students have dug into these poems, and loved the experience. They’ve learned about Robert Frost… they’re still marveling about the fact that he dropped out of two prestigious colleges. I am feeling much more satisfied, and confident with poetry. And I think my students are too.
So today I celebrate my mentor. She gave me some good ideas, sound advice and a couple of resources. My fourth graders and I are loving our poetry work this year.