When I tell my students that we’re starting a poetry unit, I give them thirty seconds to groan and complain and make disgusted faces. I actually tell them to get ready to complain, and boy do they!

I understand why most people have a hard time with poetry. The language that writers used a hundred years ago, or more can be difficult to understand. It makes sense that we could be feeling the same things about love, or sadness, or death. We just don’t use the same words and metaphors to communicate those feelings and ideas.

The funny thing is, that when we understand the words, we understand the poetry and we like it. If we take the time to get into Shakespeare, we understand the insults, even if we don’t understand some of the words. We become accustomed to the language.

That’s why I don’t spend a lot of time on older poetry. Kids don’t have the attention span to spend days filtering meaning out of those dusty pages.

Don’t get me wrong, we still read Shakespeare. But only as much as we watch. His plays were meant to be watched.

Back to poetry. Introducing, Slam Poetry!

Kids seem to get Slam Poetry. It’s real, it’s raw, it’s emotional, it’s performed. It can be sad, thought provoking, or funny, and it doesn’t have to rhyme. Some still feel like they have to make it rhyme. That’s okay with me, it’s their creation.

I give my students themes. I try to guide their thinking so they can naturally start writing about the thing they love, or the thing that they’re good at. They struggle for a while, but eventually they dig deep enough that they start to write about how they really feel.

The thing I’ve discovered about poetry is that not everyone has had the same experiences. When a 16 year old guy reads a poem that describes being in love as being bathed in the warmth of sunlight, he shrugs and has solidified his belief that poetry is stupid.

However, when that same 16 year old watches a slam poem about love and OCD, the performance, emotion, word choice, and delivery show him how it feels to be in love, and how it feels to have that feeling shattered. He gets it. And that makes reading more intriguing. Reading to understand, not just reading because someone told them to.

Expressing emotion, being vulnerable, and daring to just write can produce amazing poetry. It takes encouragement. Anyone can do it. It also demands trust and respect. The students have to know that you’re on their side, and that what they write, and who they are is important.

So if your kiddo is struggling with reading, maybe take a break and try to write some poetry. Don’t make it rhyme. Don’t force it. Just write. Express feelings, use metaphors, similes, describe the details as if in slow motion. I think you’ll be surprised and amazed at what they write.

I know I am. Sometimes it gives me chills.

Until next week,

Write on, Read on.

-Dave

I’ve listed some slam poems that I love. Some I show in class. Some I can’t because of language. Some have cleaner versions that I do show in class.

Let me know what you think of poetry.

Neil Hilborn – “OCD” One *F* word. Makes me cry every time.

Neil Hilborn – Ted Talk – Agents of Changeand “OCD” Clean

Adam Gottlieb – “Poet Breathe Now” Inspiring

Miriam & Rhiannon – “Cat Poem” Hilarious 🙂

If you have heard your son or daughter talk about how their teacher hates them, or keeps them in from recess, you probably recognize that you don’t have the whole story. When someone outside of your family seems to pick on someone you love, you get upset. You get protective. And rightfully so. Adults should not be picking on kids. More often than not, there’s a frustration that the teacher is experiencing with more than one student. 

That frustration is typically a behavior that most students don’t do, and often the student that is acting out and causing problems is simply responding to stimuli that the student can’t manage. When a student is acting out and the teacher isn’t sure how to deal with it, the teacher will sometimes do irrational things. The student’s behavior could even be something really small and seem unnoticeable, so the teacher’s reaction seems huge and unfair in comparison.

Parents are often unsure of how to help their student when he or she is struggling in school. Even when parents are aware of something their child is dealing with, it can be difficult to communicate with the school about problems. If your child has a 504 or IEP, you have more experience and advice than other parents. Here’s a list of things that you could be doing to help your child in school.

  • Love your child. Make sure that he knows that you are on their side and want them to be successful. 
  • Communicate with the teacher. Email is typically the best way to reach out. Give the teacher a day or two to respond. Most teachers will respond same day, but we’ve all been so busy that we overlook basic daily tasks. 

  • If the teacher doesn’t respond, don’t go over his or her head. Let him know that you still want to talk to them about your student’s performance or behavior in class. 

  • Once you’ve set up a time to visit, be on time. Be patient. But most of all, be pleasant. Your child’s teacher is a teacher because they love the learning process, and genuinely want to see every student succeed. It is not likely that your child’s teacher really has something against your child. 

  • If your child has an IEP or 504, a school representative might be involved in your meeting to make sure that all of your child’s modifications and allowances are followed. The teacher should already be aware of your child’s needs, but the school administration should still be aware that there is need for a meeting.

  • When you are meeting with the teacher, be flexible. The teacher has goals and skills that they’re trying to make happen for every student, every day. On top of that, they’re meeting with team members and administrators to talk about student performance and improvements in skills. Take the teacher’s lead. You know your child, and what they’re capable of, but learning is supposed to be difficult. Students should be challenged, but not to where it feels impossible. 

  • Keep communicating with the teacher. Use a paper tracker for homework and notes. Help your child become more responsible by writing down and tracking his work. 

  • Incentive systems work. Set a fair prize for a specific amount of work or improved behavior. Small steps work best. Start daily. When your child can manage daily behavior, move on to weekly goals.

Be there for your child. Listen to her stories. Help with homework. Show her that success takes work, and that you’ll be there.

While this post doesn’t have much to do with reading, it does have to do with parenting, and helping your student feel successful. As your child experiences success, she’ll be more likely to keep trying.

Keep trying, keep reading, don’t give up.

-Dave

The most frustrating feeling for me is being confused. It is very difficult to want to keep doing something if it doesn’t make sense. If our little readers are confused, they’re not going to want to keep reading. What’s the fun in that?

When I’m reading with a really little kid, it’s easy to ask questions to check if he’s getting the story. Older kids are able to answer these questions too, but they might be more annoyed that the story is being interrupted.

If you’re reading fiction with your child, you can ask the following questions:

  • Who is the main character in the story?
  • What is happening?
  • Where is he or she?
  • What does he or she want?
  • Where are they?
  • Why did he or she do what they did?
  • What do you think will happen next?

If you’re reading nonfiction, the questions might be a little bit different. If you’re reading a biography, the questions are the same. If you’re reading a book about science, animals, or statistics, the questions change.

  • What fact did you find most interesting?
  • What did you learn about?
  • Which was your favorite (dinosaur, rock formation, cloud type)?
  • What caused these things to happen?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we ask questions and make inferences while we are reading. It has become easy for us to do and we don’t realize that we’re doing it.

Read on!

Dave

Nah, reading ain’t important! The only people that care about reading are those grammar police people who troll the internet waiting to pounce on quick-finger texters who just want to update their status or make a point and don’t think to edit those autocorrected messages.

I’m probably preaching to the choir, but reading is a necessary skill for success in our world. Finding information is critical to making decisions. We can collect information by watching videos, listening to podcasts, or by reading.

Some things are only available by reading. We can read by listening just like we can read by looking at words. Sure, reading instruction manuals, and legal fine print is one way we get information, but what about reading fiction?

Fiction is known as made up stories. However, fiction is amazing because we can learn so many truths through made-up scenarios. Some people call it, “telling the truth by lying”. We can learn to empathize with other people. We can learn what it is like to belong to a culture that we can never personally know. We can feel what other people feel as we read their stories of struggle, survival, and triumph. (Check out the list of great books at the end of the post)

One of the best examples of learning empathy from a character in a book is Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. 

If you haven’t, you need to read this book. It helps the reader to feel what the main character August feels as he’s getting ready to go to a new school. August has some insecurities. Don’t we all? I won’t say anything else for fear of spoiling the story.

There are many other stories that help us to understand other people. Understanding other people takes away judgement. Understanding other people increases patience. Understanding other people promotes love and kindness which makes me wonder, is anyone in our world reading fiction anymore?

I am. I love reading. I hope you do too!

-Dave

Other books that increase understanding and empathy:

The Watson’s Go To Birmingham: 1963
The War That Saved My Life
The One and Only Ivan
Okay for Now
Number the Stars
Freak the Mighty
Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie

I’m sure there are others. Let me know what you think!