Common Core: Turn On to Poetry

By Peg Glisson

Turn on to Poetry! Is Common Core a Roadblock? What do we adults do to poetry?
Youngsters love it, but by high school many are turned off. A favorite library class of my elementary students was our poetry days—days when they would come in to tables stacked with poetry days, which they read with a partner, looking for a poem to share aloud with the class. Those classes could have gone on for twice their normal length. Hands were waving when it was time to share and there were groans when we’d have to stop. My poetry section would be decimated for days. Of course we’d have a poetry day in April, since it’s National Poetry Month, but we’d have them other times each school year.

What can we do to keep that love of poetry going, especially in these days of Common Core when teachers feel so pressed for time?
Many poems are short, so claim a couple minutes of homeroom or dismissal time to share once or twice a week. In a recent ShelfTalker blog, Elizabeth Bluemie encourages teachers, librarians, and parents to seek out collections filled with “the rolling, rollicking, lyrical sounds and playfulness of language.” She includes a good list of newly released poetry books that fit the bill. Play surely is a good way to help poetry-phobes rediscover the beauty of poetry. Once they are hooked, expand to quieter, more thoughtful poems, ones that go beyond fun to those that capture feelings, situations, or ideas. Encourage their enjoyment of the creative, descriptive language.

Integrate poetry into your curriculum. There has been a plethora of poetry collections dealing with science, inventions, nature, diversity, and history. STEM is big right now and poetry can help you and your patrons meet their needs. Send titles of relevant books to your teachers, stuff the books in their mailboxes, and display them in the library or faculty room.

What about Common Core? Is there room for poetry?
Of course! CCSS’s call for identifying words and phrases that suggest feelings (RL 1.4), determining meaning of words and phrases as used in a text, including figurative meanings (RL 4.4 & RL6.4), analyzing the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone (RL 6.4) can easily be explored through poetry. It is also excellent for examining writers’ craft.

Does poetry fit the demand for quantative text?
CCSS agrees there is no one absolutely fail-proof measure for quantative text. “ Teachers should consider how these factors mentioned next might create challenge for readers. You should examine the text for syntactic complexity, sentence structure and word length. You might also examine for level of vocabulary and Lexile level,” Andrew Miller states in Uncovering “Complex Text” in the Common Core on Edutopia. He goes on to say. “It is critical to note that the Common Core document states: “The Standards presume that all three elements of the complex text will come into play when text complexity and appropriateness are determined . . .
“However, I would push back on the idea that all texts need to have them equally at all times. Yes, we need to make sure we are arming students with the skills and stamina to read texts that are complex; where the task assigned to students is rigorous, the quality level of the text is high, and the Lexile levels and other quantitative indicators are high as well. But I know texts requiring rigorous reading that may be low on the quantitative score. Consider the poem Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins, a text I often gave my secondary students. The vocabulary is not too complex, nor is the length of the text too long. Yet it measures high in the qualitative area, because the thematic aspect and the figurative language in which it’s written require critical reading. In addition, it would be crucial to give my students a task for this poem, whether formative or summative, that is rigorous and requires critical thinking. Make sure you are intentional in your choice of texts, regardless of how they measure up in terms of the indicators of a complex text.”

Poetry for children and young adults has transformed much in recent years. In addition to now seeing poems useful for STEM, we have seen novels in verse, strong graphics in poetry books, blending of formats, and international poetry becoming available. Searching in CLCD will help you find such titles at appropriate interest and reading levels. But remember, first and foremost we must keep the love of poetry alive for our young people. There is a reason folks turn to poetry for weddings, funerals, and special occasions. .U. S. Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis recently queried notable authors and educators “What you think the CCSS are likely to mean, in your view, for the future of poetry and poetry teaching in American public schools, as well as children’s poetry publishing in general?” Jane Yolen responded, “No need to stop teaching poetry. Poets are the true code masters of the world. Let the poetry teach you—and your students—and help you get to the real Common Core.”

To view previous articles in this series, click on the following link:

Updated 04/01/13

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