"As teachers today, everything we teach has to be turbocharged with skills and the promise of advancing our students academically. I know that. And here's the cool thing: poetry can get you there. " This quote comes from the introduction of Paul Janeczko's new book, Reading Poetry in the Middle Grades, and he's right on the money with it. Teachers today have to be able to justify everything we teach. The content of our lessons must address the ELA core standards. There's just no room in our jam-packed curriculum for anything else. I'm all for having common core standards, but many teachers already shy away from teaching poetry because they don't feel comfortbable with it. Asking teachers to search for poems, match them to the core standards, create a lesson plan that includes a writing activity, companion poems, a graphic organizer, and online resources is enough to turn off even the most devoted poetry lover. Thanks to Reading Poetry in the Middle Grades, we don't have to. Paul has done that for us.
The first poem in the book is Ted Kooser's "Abandoned Farmhouse." Okay, Paul had me hooked right there. I mean it's Ted Kooser! I want my students to know and love Ted Kooser as much as I do. Paul makes it easy, guiding us every step of the way from the initial reading of the poem to a sampling of questions to get a discussion going. We' re not analyzing the poem or plucking it's feathers until it's bare. No! We're talking about how it made us feel and noticing the word choices the poet used to create a mood. Paul teaches us how to engage our students and make personal connections. He also offers a broad selection of writing activities from a journal entry to imitating the poet by rewrititng several lines of the poem to help readers internalize and make the poem their own.
When I used "Abandoned Farmhouse" with my students, I showed them an online video of Ted Kooser reading the poem. There is nothing more motivating then bringing the poet right into the classroom! Students debated reasons the man in the poem left and what might have happened to him. They wrote about their own possessions and what those possessions say about them. Students started making connections (without my prompting) to other stories, poems, and articles we've read this year. One student said that maybe the man lived in the Dust Bowl and that was the reason he couldn't make it as a farmer (We just finished reading Out of the Dust). All of this from reading one poem!
I've been using Paul's anthologies and teacher resource books for many years because students love the poems and the pre-planned activities save me time. I keep Reading Poetry in the Middle Grades on my desk beside Opening a Door: Reading Poetry in the Middle School Classroom (also by Paul Janeczko). These excellent resources are not just valuable for teachers; they are also fantastic for writers. You can read more about Paul Janeczko and his books here.