Wednesday, September 28, 2016

6 Reasons to Teach Poetry in the Fall

6 Reasons to Teach Poetry in the Fall! Why wait for National Poetry Month in April when you can start teaching your kids to love poetry now!
Join Me for a Free Poetry Webinar!
Sunday, Oct. 2nd @ 4:30 pm EDT
Register here!

April is National Poetry Month, so it comes as no surprise that many teachers wait until then to teach poetry. But if you ask me, September or October is a much better time to introduce kids to poetry. I love teaching poetry, and starting poetry now makes so much more sense than waiting until the end of the year.

I'll share my reasons at the end of this post, but first I want to acknowledge that not everyone feels the way I do about poetry. If you don't share my enthusiasm, April might seem like the perfect time to teach poetry because you won't have to think about it all until spring! But hang in here with me because I have some ideas that might make poetry easier and way more fun for you to teach.

If you’re not comfortable teaching poetry, your feelings could stem from your early experiences with it in school. Having to memorize poetry terms and analyzing confusing poems can suck the joy out of any poetry unit!

But when poetry is introduced in a more authentic manner as way of expressing feelings and painting pictures with words, the experience is quite different. I taught poetry year after year to my 4th and 5th graders, and those kids never failed to get excited about poetry. Furthermore, I was frequently blown away by the simple yet powerful poems they composed with very little guidance from me. After just a little instruction, it was as if my students were discovering their inner poets and the words began to flow almost effortlessly!

Take a look at Keyera’s poem about friendship. Keyera struggled in almost every subject area, but she found her voice in poetry. This was an area where all kids could shine!

How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don't)
If poetry makes you uncomfortable, you might feel lost about how to foster a love of poetry within your students. Fortunately, help is on the way! Last April I created a webinar called How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don’t) to share how I teach a complete poetry unit, step by step. After the webinar was over, I loved hearing from teachers who had never felt comfortable with poetry but who said they couldn't wait to get started!

Fall is a great time to introduce kids to poetry, so I decided to schedule a free live presentation of How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don’t) on Sunday, October 2nd at 4:30 pm EDT. Register here for that webinar, and if you don't see this post until after Sunday, you should be able to use the same link to sign up for a free replay.

6 Reasons to Teach Poetry in the Fall

Why do I think fall is the perfect time to start teaching poetry? I brainstormed the 6 reasons below in just a few minutes, and I’m sure there are many more.

1. Teaching poetry in the fall fosters an appreciation for precise and powerful language early in the school year.
Teaching kids about poetry begins with reading and sharing poems that are meaningful to them and noticing how poets use simple yet powerful language. When I introduce poetry in 4th and 5th grade, I start with free verse rather than rhyming poems because I want my students to notice how the poet paints a word picture using a variety of techniques. Sometimes it’s by using just the right word to create that image, and other times it’s through the use of poetic devices like similes, metaphors, and personification. These techniques are used by authors in short stories and novels, too, and after your students are able to find them in poetry, they'll start noticing them in prose as well. So why not teach your students about the beauty and power of the written and spoken word early in the year?  
2. Teaching kids to write poetry engages them in authentic writing experiences and begins to build their confidence as writers.
In order for kids to learn how to read and understand poetry written by others, they first need to write their own poetry. The sooner you teach kids how to write poetry, the more impact those experiences will have on their reading and writing skills later in the year. Kids love learning about “poetic license” and knowing that it’s okay to break the rules of grammar in order to craft a poem. I also love the fact that students like Keyera and Keenon (below) who typically struggle with writing assignments like creative stories and reports often shine when it comes to writing poetry. Free from worries about making grammatical errors, they can focus on capturing their feelings and painting word pictures on paper. Later, when they share their poems in class, their confidence soars as their classmates express genuine appreciation for what they’ve written.

3. Poetry is a great way to connect with your students and get to know them better.
When kids learn to write meaningful poetry “from the heart,” you’ll learn so much about them as young people and not just as your students. You’ll learn about their fears, anxieties, and passions, and you’ll learn to appreciate their uniqueness. You might have heard the saying that “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Reading and writing poetry together is a great way to show that you do care. Why wait until April to develop stronger relationships with your students?
4. Avoid test prep pressure by introducing poetry early in the school year.
You know what I mean. Test prep mania starts somewhere between January and April, depending on your state testing calendar. But no matter when it starts, sooner or later you’ll feel the pressure to cram as much instruction into every day as possible. And that kind of pressure doesn’t leave much time to savor the enjoyment of poetry. If you wait until the week before testing to teach poetry, you’ll be tempted to skip the poetry writing (no time for that!), and you’ll find yourself doing the very things that turn kids off about poetry. Don’t get me wrong. I do think kids should learn about poetic devices like similes, metaphors, and personification, and I do think they should learn to analyze poetry and look for deeper meanings. However, I think those skills should be developed through meaningful experiences with reading, writing, and discussing poetry and not in response to a standardized test that's looming on the horizon.
5. Introduce poetry now, and you'll be able to integrate it into other subjects later.
Teaching poetry early in the year gives your students a new voice with which to express themselves all year long. They might want to write a poem about the courage of early pioneers who traveled west in covered wagons, or as a journal response to a literature circle book. When your students discover something amazing in science, they might be inspired to write a poem about what they learned. If you've already introduced poetry early in the year, your students will be able to write easily on topics that interest them. 
6. Fall is a beautiful season, and the beauty of nature will inspire your students!
If you live in a place where temperatures drop and trees blaze with color in the fall, you'll know what I mean about the sights, smells, and sounds of autumn providing inspiration for young writers. Take advantage of these seasonal changes by incorporating them into your poetry unit. Sometimes kids have trouble thinking of topics to write about, and taking your students outside to write may be just what they need. Poetry often includes sensory language, and sensory experiences abound during autumn!  

Have I convinced you that fall is the perfect time to introduce your students to poetry? Why wait until April when you can start sharing the joys of reading and writing poetry now?

I hope you'll join me on Sunday, October 2nd for How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don't). Who knows? You might just discover your own inner poet!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

DonorsChoose: A Jackpot of Classroom Funding!

Do you spend too much of your own money on classroom supplies and resources? Learn how to tap into the DonorsChoose jackpot of funding so you can get the materials you need without breaking the bank!
Free Webinar for Teachers!

Click here for the replay!

Do you know about It's an amazing organization that helps public school teachers in the U.S. get funding for their classroom projects. I received thousands of dollars from donors when I was teaching, and now I love telling others about this fantastic organization.

My friend, Francie Kugelman, has experienced amazing success on DonorsChoose, so I invited her to be my guest for a free live webinar. She quickly agreed because she loves to spread the word about DonorsChoose, too!

We're presenting DonorsChoose: A Jackpot of Classroom Funding on Sunday, September 25th, at 7:30 pm EST, and we hope you can join us. If you read this post after that date, use the link above to sign up for the replay.

If you're like most teachers, you spend far too much money on classroom supplies and resources, so you owe it to yourself to learn about DonorsChoose.

Francie is a true DonorsChoose expert because she reads and edits project proposals which means she knows exactly how to write them so they have the best chance of getting funded. She's been using DonorsChoose to obtain funding for her classroom, and when you look at her results, it's obvious that her strategies work. Over the last 10 years Francie has had 185 projects funded with a total value of over $112,000! Francie knows every trick in the book when it comes to DonorsChoose, and she's going to reveal all her secrets in the webinar!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Five Ways to Fit Science In

Guest post by Tammy
from The Owl Teacher Blog

Every year when I sit down to plan out my class schedule around all my specials, it seems I just don't have a lot of time left to fit in science, and don't even get me started on social studies. My district requires so much time to be spent on language arts and math. It's understandable that these are important subject areas, but I always feel I'm short changing my students. By time I get done, I'm often left with 30 minutes (give or take) for science. That often leaves me wondering, just how am I going to give my students good quality instruction in science while meeting the required curriculum?

Most districts (though not all) have a required amount of minutes they would like to see teachers spend in certain subject areas. Since this is typically something we have no control over, I wanted to share with you some strategies that I have used over the years to help fit more science in when I'm limited with class time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Math Problem Solving: Knowing Where to Begin

Teaching kids to how to solve math problems is a huge challenge, but often the biggest challenge is knowing where to begin instruction. Learn where to download this free set of problem solving assessments to use in your upper elementary classroom!
Teaching kids to how to solve math problems is a huge challenge, but often the biggest challenge is knowing where to begin instruction. Without administering some type of pretest, you risk boring your students with problems that are too easy or frustrating them with problems that may seem impossible.

Before you begin, you need to have some idea of their current problem solving skills. For example:
  • How do they attack different types of problems? 
  • What strategies do they use? 
  • Are they functioning below grade level, at grade level, or above?
  • If they struggle, is it due to poor computation skills, poor reading skills, or misconceptions about basic math concepts?  
The Problem with Problem Solving Pretests
Unfortunately, most math word problem pretests don't provide enough information to help us answer those questions, let alone know where to begin instruction. Many tests are so challenging that kids who've been out of school all summer are likely to give up after making a token effort to solve the first few problems. Also, most tests use a multiple choice format which makes them easy to grade, but not so easy to interpret. Students don't have a place next to each problem to show their work, so you're left guessing as to the reason they missed each incorrect answer.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Secrets of Launching a Stellar School Year

What if you could walk into the class of your dreams this year? Of course you'd jump at the chance! But what does that mean? What would your "dream class" be like? Would the students be self-motivated and excited about learning? Would they treat each other with kindness and respect? Might you look forward to Monday mornings instead of dreading them????

Believe it or not, this year's class could be your dream class. In fact, the secret to having an amazing class might be directly tied to what you do during the first week of school, and it might not have much to do with who's assigned to your classroom roster!

Consider this: When you know how to unlock the amazing potential in every student, magic happens in the classroom!

I know from personal experience that what teachers say and do during the first week of school sets the tone for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, it took me YEARS to figure out how to launch a great school year, and it wasn't always easy. I knew it was essential to get the school year off to a great start from day one, but I had so many unanswered questions about the right way to accomplish this. How can we find the right balance between being friendly and setting clear expectations? Should we seat our students in rows or in cooperative learning teams on the first day of school? Is it true that we shouldn’t crack a smile until Christmas?

After years of trying different strategies during the first week of school, I finally nailed down a system that really works. In the process, I discovered that it's actually a lot easier than you might imagine to create a caring classroom of students who are motivated and excited about school!