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Teaching Poetry Today

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This week we hear from Heinemann author and poet Georgia Heard about why you should and how you can make time for poetry in your classroom. An expanded and updated version of her book, Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, will be available in the spring.

 


Below is a transcript of this episode.

Georgia Heard:

It's an emotional genre. Rita Dove said that it's really the genre of the inner life and that we know, especially after the pandemic, that if we don't honor feelings and emotions in children, that we're doing them a great disservice because otherwise it's just kind of basics and instruction. And I think kids, we need to honor the kind of space that poetry provides kids to feel and to think and to reflect.

Edie:

Hi, this is Edie. Welcome back to the Heinemann Podcast. This week we hear from Heinemann author and poet Georgia Heard about why you should and how you can make time for poetry in your classroom. An expanded and updated version of her book, Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, will be available in the spring. Hi, Georgia, thanks so much for joining me today.

Georgia Heard:

Thank you. It's really nice to be here.

Edie:

Nice to see you in person. Let's start with the history of this project. The first edition of Awakening the Heart was published in 1999. So what's the history here? Tell us about how the second edition came to be.

Georgia:

Well, I've been teaching poetry for a long time. I went to Columbia University, I graduated, studied with lots of poets there, and then I decided I wanted to teach, and that was when the first edition of Awakening the Heart came out was everything I learned from New York City schoolchildren. And it was amazing time. I would go from Far Rockaway to Harlem to Lower Manhattan, all over New York City. And I was always just so touched and amazed by what children can do in terms of poetry. And these were sometimes kids who didn't consider themselves writers, but they were poets. And I believe that every child is a poet.

So I've been teaching, then I kept teaching for decades and I learned more and more. And so I thought I would take the old edition or I guess the original edition, not the old edition, but the original edition of Awakening the Heart because I still believe in the fundamentals of how to teach children poetry, which is really that they're natural poets and that we need to create an environment of poetry for them, and that they will just speak their truths, speak from their hearts. So I took that, the fundamentals of the original book and expanded it.

Edie:

So still staying in that same vein of then and now, what do you think is the same and what is different about teaching poetry?

Georgia:

Well, back then in the nineties when I first started teaching, there wasn't a lot of diversity in terms of sharing diverse voices and perspectives, and it really didn't mirror the student population. So that's changed a lot. So there's amazing amount of children's poetry now that's out there that really reflects the student body. So that's one huge difference. And weren't a lot of children's poets then either writing. What stayed the same is that children are children and they speak from their hearts, they're open. The language they use is usually very unique and surprising. So what's changed is that there's a lot more pressure on teachers for testing and a lot more restrictions. So some of the creativity and some of the poetry that they used to do, I think they used to bring it into the classroom more, has kind of been put in the corner a little bit.

So finding the time to teach poetry, I think that's a challenge for a lot of teachers. And this new edition, I talk about ways to tuck poetry inside the daily life of the classroom from the very first day of the school year to the very end. And I just want to invite teachers in this book to know that you don't have to set aside a month to teach poetry. You can read a poem in the beginning of the day, or you can read a poem at the end of the day, and you can really bring poetry in to create community in your classroom. So I talk about a lot of ways to infuse poetry throughout every single day.

Edie:

So thinking a little bit more about what you mentioned, the time constraints, what does teaching poetry offer kids that no other writing can? Why make time for it?

Georgia:

That's a good question, and a lot of teachers ask me that. I think one of the reasons is that it's a gateway to literacy for a lot of kids, and maybe because it's short and manageable for kids, but I think it feels like a doorway to so many children who maybe are challenged when they write prose. So I think that's one of the reason is that it offers all children an opportunity to become writers. Another reason why is that it's an emotional genre.

Rita Dove said that it's really the genre of the inner life and that we know, especially after the pandemic, that if we don't honor feelings and emotions in children, that we're doing them a great disservice because otherwise it's just kind of basics and instruction. And I think we need to honor the kind of space that poetry provides kids to feel and to think and to reflect. Then I also think that poetry is a way to make community, because you read a poem about somebody else who's experienced something that you haven't and that you can feel compassion. And I talk a lot about community projects, poetry community projects in this new edition, and I think that's such an important part of poetry.

Edie:

And I'd love to talk more about the specific components of the book that you're thinking about, and if you want to talk more about the community piece or other aspects of the book that you'd like to highlight. I mean, it's so full, it's so rich.

Georgia:

Thank you. I guess I have a reading chapter and I talk about the layers of reading poetry. And one of the new additions to that is this idea that poetry does help us create a caring and connected community. And so one of the projects that I do is kind of like, I don't know if you did, but I went to camp one summer and we sat around the campfire and we told stories. And that was one of the ways to make community. So this is kind of storytelling around a poem. So kids choose one or two poems that they can relate to, and then they story tell around it. What does this remind them of? How do they associate with this? Do they relate to it? What are the stories behind it? And so it's a way to kind of connect kids that might not necessarily connect in some ways, but around a particular poem. The other thing is I have a lot of prompts, poetry prompts, which I didn't have in the first book. So part two is actually all poetry prompts.

Edie:

Oh, nice.

Georgia:

And there are 13 of them. And that word prompt seemed a little bit kind of too easy and simple. And you give a child a prompt and then you move on to another thing. But prompt actually means to call something forth. And I thought, these are generative prompts that you can introduce once a week. You can tuck it into a writing workshop if you have a writing workshop in your classroom. And they teach kids to explore different poetic forms, different voices. There's a mask poem, a persona poem. There's an ekphrastic poem, which is writing about art. There's lots of different ways to enter the world of poetry. So that's one of my favorite parts of the book. It's new.

Edie:

So why is poetry important in schools now more than ever?

Georgia:

Well, I think that especially after the pandemic, that there's a lot of anxiety in children. There's just a lot of stresses in the world and we all have it. But I think with children, I think they feel it. And even though we're out of the pandemic now, I mean the world sometimes seems like a difficult place, it can at times. A lot of challenges, a lot of things that kids see in their own neighborhoods or hear on the news. And I do deeply believe that poetry can be a way to just have conversations about some of these, not just emotional issues, but also the world issues. Because there are poems now being written about climate change, and there are poems written about mindfulness and touching on how you feel and trying to find words for that. And so I think it really helps kids find words for what they're feeling, what they're thinking, asking questions more than any other form in some ways, because it is the genre of the inner life.

And it's not so much focused on fact and story and information, but more on how do you feel. And I think now with socioemotional learning in so many schools, I think that poetry can be a huge part of that program. And I suggest that if you have a morning meeting, let's say that you start with a poem and let kids just mull over some of the thoughts behind the poem and responses, and maybe even live with the poem, one poem, especially if it's kind of a deeper poem for five days and bring it back and just talk about it and maybe respond in writing and have conversations about the poem and just layer by layer begin to kind of understand it and your own responses to it. So I think it's really important now in this time especially.

Edie:

And I'm curious in the classrooms that you're in now, and with the work you do, like the example you just gave, what does that look like in the classroom? What are you seeing in the students as you implement this?

Georgia:

Well, one example is I was teaching in a school in Bangkok last march, and it was an international school, and Bangkok is very urban, and they had a vacant lot next to their school. And the school was involved in a rewilding project where you're planting seeds and making this empty lot, something that's vibrant and growing. And so what they had me come in to talk about the poetry of this, the poetry of botany, the poetry of rewilding, these were younger kids. So what we did was I got these heart shaped seeded paper and we talked about what it would feel like to be a seed in the world. And you put it in the ground and you're trying to make the world more beautiful, and you're trying to make this empty lot, have this vibrant green space.

And the kids were very, very empathetic about what's happening in the world, but also how poetry and planting can help make the world a beautiful space. So they wrote their poems to the seeds on the paper, and then they planted the seeds in the paper and the plants started to grow, and the word started to grow as well. So that's just one example where I think you can infuse some of the concerns kids have about climate change with projects that also include the poetic, the soul part of the solution to some of these issues that we're all facing.

Edie:

Thank you for that beautiful example. I think that's a good place to end. I'm so excited to see the book.

Georgia:

Thank you.

Edie:

Thanks for tuning in today. You can read a full transcript of this episode at blog.heinemann.com.

 


Heard_HeadshotCropped

As a writer, a poet, and a founding member of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Georgia Heard continues to bring a poet’s ear and a teacher’s know-how to every aspect of writing instruction. Her newest book, Heart Maps, provides 20 unique, multi-genre heart maps to help students write with purpose and authenticity. A heart mapping pioneer, Georgia has spent decades guiding students into more meaningful writing experiences by using heart maps to explore what we all hold inside: feelings, passions, vulnerabilities, and wonderings.

Listen to Georgia talk about heart mapping on The Heinemann Podcast and explore the Heart Maps Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/heartmaps.

Georgia is the author of The Revision Toolbox, Second Edition, Finding the Heart of Nonfiction, and Writing Toward Home, along with Awakening the Heartwhich Instructor Magazine called one of its "12 Books Every Teacher Should Read." She is also the coauthor of Climb Inside a Poem, a curricular resource focused on how reading and writing poetry help teachers develop young students' language and literacy throughout the year.

At the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Georgia worked for seven years as Senior Staff Developer in New York City schools. Today she travels the U.S. and the world as a consultant, visiting author, and keynote speaker in school districts and conferences.

In addition to her Heinemann professional books, Georgia is the coauthor of the professional titles Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core Standards and A Place for Wonder, as well as children’s literature such as Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems.

Follow her on Twitter: @GeorgiaHeard1

Visit her website: GeorgiaHeard.com

Listen to Georgia's TEDx talk on heart mapping: Mapping Your Heart

 

Topics: Podcast, Georgia Heard, Heinemann Podcast, Poetry, Awakening the Heart

Date Published: 01/25/24

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