Review of Give Them Poetry! A Guide To Sharing Poetry With Children K-8
Give Them Poetry! A Guide To Sharing Poetry With Children K-8
by Glenna Sloan
Published by Teachers College Press, 2003, New York: 120 pp.
As someone who was expected to memorize poems from canonical writers like William Blake, William Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson (with a little Robert Frost, too, as I recall) during my grade school years at what is now Brooklyn’s Berkeley Carroll school, I was disappointed that poetry rarely figured in the curriculum for my children at their suburban public school. Sure, there were annual units when my children wrote poetry—and presumably had some examples taught to them—but I always had the sense that poetry was considered a frill.
And that’s something that Glenna Sloan, a teacher of children’s literature at Queen’s College/CUNY, wants to change. As she writes in her introduction, “One objective of the class is to dispel the mystique that surrounds poetry for many people…”
She acknowledges that, “Poetry is at the periphery of the curriculum, if it is in sight at all. It plays only a marginal role in most classroom life, occasionally used as reading material or as a read-aloud by the teacher, but not deployed on a regular basis or in a systematic way.”
Sloan argues that poetry needs to move to the center of the plate, as it were, to stimulate literacy development. Through an abundance of case studies, drawn from her students’ work in their own classrooms as well as her own as a former eighth grade English teacher, Sloan makes a compelling argument that students will respond to poetry.
What matters above all is that the teachers confront, and conquer, their own fears or anxieties about poetry, and share good works with their students.
As she notes, “according to the teachers in my classes, a sure way to turn children off from poetry is to suddenly give the order: ‘Write a poem’, or worse, ‘Write a poem, at home tonight or over the weekend. Any subject you want.’ Classroom stories of success with poetry writing seldom if ever begin with these words. Success stories do begin with reading poetry, lots of it, with no strings or questions attached. It’s safe to say that every successful writer of poetry was first a reader of quantities of it.”
Inspiration is endless—Homer’s Iliad, Lewis Carroll, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, A.A. Milne, J.R.R. Tolkien.
So don’t be afraid. Poetry won’t bite, and may even transform the classroom into a place of delight.#