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BRINGING WORDS TO LIFE / AND LIFE TO WORDS
An article for Teachers and Parents it's about expression. It's about control. It's about personal freedom. It's about language. Poetry. Poetry in the classroom. What can it do for your students? Is it just another day of abab rhyme scheme full of cliches? Is it just another writing exercise? How on earth do you get those students interested in poetry in the first place? Are the styles of Dr. Suess or Jack Prelutsky the only ones of interest to our younger students?
The first topic to tackle is why have poetry in the classroom? Why write a poem about the Fourth of July in history class, or describe in poetic form what a plant looks like in biology? How could this help with learning and or retention?
Well, first and foremost it is an art form that requires that a student think differently than usual. It requires that the student use a different part of the brain. Remember all the left brain vs. right brain materials that were published not long ago? Remember Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain? Great ideas such as this encourage the use of both sides of the brain for learning. This supports the idea that approaching school work in different ways and gaining a different perspective on the work can help with comprehension and understanding. It may very well help a student having difficulty with a topic with feel that they can relate to and subsequently comprehend that difficult topic. Students who may not excel in other language arts may find a renewed sense of ability when writing in poetic form. They may be able to express themselves better in poetic form than in any other.
I have witnessed that working with poetry helps give new expression to everyday ideas, allows a freedom of expression that is not found in other writing arts, creates a heightened sense of language, and helps develop personal style which can lead to healthy feelings of individuality.
All this from poetry? Yep.
I currently teach poetry and creative writing to a population of level 14 boys in Southern California. Level 14 boys are one step away from incarceration and represent a small but unfortunately growing population of our American youth. These boys do not have traditional homes and suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Suicidal Ideation, Psychosis, and other issues created through abuse, neglect, and abandonment. Some of these boys have difficulty sitting down in one spot for longer than 60 seconds and frequently cannot do even that. These boys are frequently oppositional and verbally abusive. These boys can be quite violent.
These boys are writing poetry.
In fact these boys have had their pieces published in a student anthology that sponsors a national poetry contest for students. The best successes have been with the most difficult to reach boys. With minimal coaching they are able to express a great depth of feeling and an incredible range of creative thought. They have found great pride in their work and lasting feelings of accomplishment. Many have written about feelings that had gone unexpressed in therapy and have led them to make great self-discoveries or disclosures that were extremely useful in their lives. These boys not always open to the idea of writing poetry but once introduced to it were very willing to try. They are brining life to words.
So now, secondly, how do you do it? How do you get those students interested in writing poetry? My suggestion is first to read poetry. Get the students exposed to more of what they have already seen. It is likely that they have some of Dr. Suess',Shel Silverstein's or Jack Prelutskly's work. Bring in all those books and let the students see how prolific these writers are. These works never seem to fail to get the attention of any audience. Have the students read these poems aloud and bring the words to life! Introduce poetry in the manner that is most easy for your students to digest. Then start to bring in different forms of poetry. Show them Haiku, show them Sonnets, show then Epic, show them modern. Let them know that poetry is a highly valued art form that is as old as any other art they know, possibly older. Show them poems written by students their age and older. Let them know about poetry contests for their age range and get them inspired!
Then, let them write. There are so many exercises that make writing poetry fun and accessible to the younger student. First poetry exercises can be as simple and lovely as writing a description in single word sentences of their favorite toy, or animal. They can create a Name Poem, where each letter of their name is the first letter of a descriptive word about them. They can write about a feeling and describe it with colors and shapes. They can write a poem for a particular holiday. They can write a traditional Haiku and count syllables and sounds. (a good exercise for any age)
Following a set of rules and coming up with a creative product is the challenge of poetry. Just as the creation of a watercolor, or any specific visual art technique requires adherence to a set of rules, so do certain forms of poetry. Using a structure often makes it much easier for a student. Rather than offering "Write about anything you wish", which can be daunting, offering the tight styles of traditional Haiku can give students an alluring challenge--a challenge that can be very fun to tackle.
Writing about a feeling is also a good introductory exercise. The form can be open or you can challenge them with a style. A theme for the day can be an inspiring idea. The students can provide the theme or you can be prepared with one. Examples of themes are: Seasons, Favorite Music, World Peace, Love, Friendship, A Life Experience, etc.
Some students will need coaching and assistance. I have actually been the scribe for some of my students and had them simply speak what they were feeling about a particular theme or emotion. I then show them what they have dictated and they entitle it. I also have them work on editing it into a form if they wish. They have complete control and are never edited. I will also ask them to take a descriptive sentence they have written and pare it down into images and emotions. In this way I can get them to understand the basic notion of this form of poetry in comparison prose.
The greatest element about poetry and its use in the classroom is that poetry is an art form that specifically uses written language. In an age where students are graduating from High School and are unable to write a coherent sentence, poetry can be of great use. If a student can look at a modern poem and understand the minimal use of language that it features, then he or she will likely be able to tackle other language forms with better alacrity.
I emphatically encourage all teachers to include poetry in their curriculum. It can only enhance the learning process and help to create new understandings. It truly does bring words to life and life to words. In addition to all that, it is incredibly fun.
(For information about a wonderful on-line poetry contest created by teachers for students, please take a look at Creative Communication. I have found it to be useful and powerful in the teaching of poetry. (I am not a part of this organization.) There is also on-line information about Teen Poetry Slams, which are amazing!)
Penelope's experience with poetry kids and teens.
Over the four years that I worked at Charter Psychiatric Hospital, in
crisis care, I have taught hundreds of children and adolescents.
If my days stopped,
If student after student are filling journals with poems,
Teaching poetry to youths requires trust. Your students need to know
that they can share their poetry and not feel criticized for their style
or their content.
I think that one of the biggest problems in teaching writing is that we use the same term for the act of forming letters, for the process of spelling and grammar, as we do the creation of the communication. They are not the same thing at all. We know that there are many people who can not write-- due to handicaps or other reasons-- and yet they are great writers, they are great communicators. When students are convinced of this, writing--communication-- greatly improves. I learned about the power of oral group writing, many years ago, when I was substitute teaching in a 2nd grade class. It was February. The students were to write a paragraph at the beginning of the day. I was amazed at the quality of writing, every student was writing complex sentences,filled with delightful adjectives and adverbs. When I went back to that school to substitute for another teacher, I immediately sought out that 2nd grade teacher and asked her why were her students writing so well as 2nd graders. I have seen 8th graders who could write paragraphs as well as her students. She told me that until January she did not ask her student to write sentences or paragraphs. Every day they would write a paragraph on the board, together,as a group. They would make it the most colorful paragraph they could, with as much description as they could pour into it. In January they would get to write their own paragraphs. The group then moved to writing group stories. together, on the black board, making these stories the most exciting and descriptive as they possibly could. I had seen the amazing results of this kind of teaching and began to incorporate it into my own teaching.
At Charter Hospital I taught K-8th in one classroom. Many of the young children were ADDH and were definitely of all different academic levels. I had to find ways of teaching that would cross all of the different grades and abilities. The group story turned out to be one of the most fun and effective techniques. I found out that every student took ownership of the story, that they were individually proud of what had been created, no matter how much or little they had contributed. In addition group story writing built a group identity and often the story included the names of the students in the group.
Here is an example of a great technique. It is particularly good in a class with kids that have different spelling lists. Since I had relatively small classes I would have each student pick a word from his or her spelling list. We would put all the words on the board and write a group story containing all of these words. Following is a real example.
precaution, resurfaced, pond, test, socks, bewildered, rock, eight, dived, night, bent, assistant, animals, sight, completely, real, mounted
It is a cool night. The trees are swaying gently in the breeze. The
moon is bright and yellow and completely full. There, in the moonlight,
shines a giant greenish pond. A huge, flat, weathered rock crouches like
a tremendous frog at the edge of the water. It casts its black shadow
across the pond. A unicorn, white as snow, with its golden horn sparkling
in the moonlight drinks from the pond. Nearby eight children are camping.
Sal said, "We need water to wash the dishes." The children
raced towards the pond. They stopped suddenly, bewildered by the sight
of the unicorn drinking. Everyone had told them that these animals were
imaginary. A young bull frog dived into the deepest end of the pond.
He resurfaced in time to catch a dragon fly.
Robert and Sal crept through the water, around the large weathered rock, hiding in its shadow. They approached the unicorn, holding out the long fresh alfalfa stock. The unicorn nibbled at the grass. Sal touched the golden horn. "It's real!" he said. All of the children gathered around the white unicorn. It neighed softly, almost like a laugh. Then seven unicorns, each white as snow, with their golden horns shining in the moonlight, stepped out of the dark woods. Each kid stood by a unicorn, then mounted and rode off into the moonlight.
Elementary Class, Charter
I used my puppets from the first day that I taught. If you aren't using your puppets in the classroom, you're missing a great opportunity. The kids will actually listen to your puppet and REMEMBER the info the puppet teaches. You don't have to prepare a dialogue beforehand either. My puppets have taught math, given sentences for spelling tests, etc. Just start talking to the puppet and the puppet will take over. You think I'm kidding? No way.... Kids nowadays are used to being entertained by TV, special effects in the movies, gorgeous illustrations in books, etc. How boring to them for a teacher to stand up there and just teach. The minute the puppets started teaching, interest went way up and so did their grades. Parents were very pleased. I dropped in on Frank Frazee who lives in the state of Washington a few years ago just as school let out for the day. (We were driving up to Seattle do visit my daughter.) He had all kinds of pictures, etc. about vent up in his classroom. He uses his puppets too.
In South East Asia, for centuries upon centuries puppet shows were the most honored and primary tool for transmitting history, religion, culture, ethics, politics and social behavior. Puppetry was recognized as a grand teaching tool. Puppets are inherently interesting, often humorous, and first-rate story tellers. They bring focus and interest to subject matter, they teach without the students recognizing they are being taught.
But puppetry in the classroom can be more than story telling and fun. Today, teachers are facing the challenge of instructing children with diverse needs and abilities. Students once placed in special classes for physical, mental, psychological and behavioral disabilities, are now being placed in the regular classroom, and this is in addition to students who speak different languages and come from different cultures. Teachers have to communicate and educate children of varying abilities and achievement levels.
How do you correct behavior in a group without bringing direct negative attention to a child? How do you repeat primary concepts without boring those who understand the concept, or making those who don't, feel stupid? How can you talk about delicate subjects in a comfortable, non-threatening manner? How can you introduce difficult concepts in a fun way? How can you bring warmth and humor and unity to a classroom of student who are so diverse? There are many ways to do these. But teaching with puppets is one of the easiest and most fun.
calendar and clayed
You don't have be a ventriloquist. I have always moved my lips when using puppets. Children, and adult for that matter, find themselves looking and talking to the puppet, not the puppeteer.
You don't have to have a lot of different voices. For years, my daughters use to say all my puppets had the exact same high-pitched puppet voice. But somehow when the puppet was speaking the kids didn't notice that the voice was the same as that of the last puppet.
You don't have to have a lot of puppets. In Mary Freericks and Joyce Segal's book, Creative Puppetry in the Classroom, they write:
"At first, don't be concerned about having large numbers of puppets. Begin with one puppet. One puppet can serve more than one subject. If you have made or acquired a walrus puppet, for example, how many ways can you think of making use of such a puppet? An obvious use might be literature, to illustrate the Walrus and the Carpenter from Alice in Wonderland. In a science unit he might be used to encourage the study of warm-blooded sea animals. How about mathematics? Would the walrus's weight be interesting to use in converting pounds into metric tons? In music, the walrus might serve as an excellent basso profundo voice, demonstrating deep notes. If you leave the walrus puppet on the shelf, the children will think up uses that you might not even have considered. In a political skit, they may turn the walrus into a pompous official. Once a sturdy, well-made puppet joins your class, his value may surprise you."
Freericks and Segal talk about the mascot puppet.. "The mascot puppet is one that stays in the classroom or library all year. He introduces new activities and people. He takes part in the daily routine of a class." The mascot puppet was how I started using puppets to reach and teach children. Finding a mascot puppet is worth its weight in gold. A mascot puppet can be bought, or it can be made. It can take many forms, animal, monster or human, but it has to be lovable and it helps if it is soft and furry and not too little.
THE POWER OF THE PUPPET
I was asked to teach a class of severely emotionally disturbed, five through eight year olds in a Los County Department of Education program. The students were categorized as " dangerous to themselves and others", kicking, biting, hitting, throwing things, self-mutilation, suicide attempts-bizarre behavior was the norm. Interest in reading, writing, and arithmetic was very low. Love of themselves and trust of adults was also very low. How could I deal with very violent behavior in a soft and caring manner? How could I get them to focus on learning? How could I get them to trust me and to begin to learn that they were lovable? How could I teach them to relate to their peers in a positive manner? These were only some of the questions I asked myself.
It was at this time that I bought my first puppet which the class named
Popcorn Bear. He had this name because he gave out popcorn after successful
reading lessons. This bear had arms you could put your arms into. He
could pat kids on the head, hug them, lead them along in their reading
lessons, his furry paws under a sentence.
LEARN TO TRUST THE PUPPET
The hardest thing about a mascot puppet is you don't have a script. What is your puppet going to say? Well the first thing I can tell you is that he can say--very little. One of the best tools of the puppet is silence. You say something and he looks at you incredulously like, "Today you are going to learn about division." The mascot just looks at you, looks at the class, looks at his feet, looks at the ceiling. The kids knows how he feels. They are laughing.
Then he might add, "No way Jose!" This give you the chance to explain why he needs to know the concept and that you are going to help him until he understands it.
The second thing I will tell you is that you have to learn to trust the puppet. This is the most difficult thing a teacher will have to learn. Edgar Bergen said that he never knew what Charlie McCarthy was going to say. He said that the puppet seemed to have a mind and a voice of its own. I have found this to be true. When you have on that mascot puppet--he will say things you never thought of before. You don't always have to know what to say, but to use the puppet effectively and to help you say the right things, you must identify the behavioral objectives you are after. When I used puppets to teach, I often jot down in my daily plan book what I want the puppet to accomplish. Now there will be times when the mascot puppet teaches off the cuff, so to speak. But you will gain confidence and will have evidence that your puppetry is more than mere entertainment, if most of the time you know what it is you are trying to teach.
Only on rare occasions do I let students use the mascot. He has a personality that I have given him and he has the purpose or purposes that I have given him. In a sense he is me. I break this rule whenever I want to, but when I do, it is for a good reason and it is very controlled. This policy has the added benefit of extending the life of the puppet. The students, of course, will want to use the puppet, and because of this, they are primed for learning-filled puppet projects.
There are many important lessons to be learned through classroom puppet projects. How much students learn will be in direct relationship to what the teacher knows. Children, in general, do not have an innate ability to bring puppets to life. This is evidenced by the lifeless puppets stuck in the corner of many elementary classrooms, puppets seldom touched by the students. Teachers who are not puppeteers first, who can not lead their students into their projects, greatly reduce the value the students get from such projects.
HOW DOES A TEACHER BECOME A PUPPETEER?
How do teachers develop as puppeteers? The major way is through trial and error, using puppets to teach. But teachers can be greatly helped by puppet organizations like:
Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry
Great Ideas from Educators
Penelope, You reminded me of something that happened when I taught SED boys. These middle schoolers already had criminal records and thought they were too tough. I made some simple moving mouth puppets (ethnically diverse, of course) and put them on a table on the side of the room. The boys started to notice them, and I heard comments like "I ain't playin' with NO dolls." I didn't say anything. I had to leave the room for a few minutes and had another teacher stay with them. When I returned, the boys had the puppets on their arms and were singing "We Are the World." I was so touched I cried. Other teachers came by and stood in silence and awe. It was one of the magical moments that keeps me teaching.
Thank you Judy for your inspiring story.
Using Ventriloquism to Reach and Teach Challenged Learners
1. It requires only 1 figure or puppet and 1 ventriloquist-no props,
2. It allows educators to re-teach phonics in a new and novel way--without
3. It teaches students with reading challenges to break words up into syllables.
4. It works on communication skills. Many Challenged learners have problems
with communication. Rick Levoie of ldonline.com says that
5. It is a great way to introduce social skills or academics.
6. Good ventriloquism is writing. If you teach students to be
7. There is a need for more ventriloquists in the world, so it is
8. This automatically brings fun, laughter and joy into the classroom.
"Hey," you say, "What about W?" Well, you're right.
W takes special practice to learn to say, too. But it's not considered
an "explosive," meaning it doesn't require lips or teeth coming
together to create the sound, like a B or F.
You can use either a soft hand puppet or a hard vent figure.
Improving Literacy in children and teens.
The primary focus of this area is to improve students' abilities to
think, to communicate and to write.
We have some great ideas by educators and artist in this area and we
encourage other writers and artists
Some thoughts from Penelope, author and creative writing teacher.
I don't have any idea why we use the word write in so many ways. We write our letters-print, cursive. We write our name and we write the alphabet. Writing seems to includes spelling and grammar, fiction, nonfiction, journalism, poetry, songwriting, script writing, novel writing, filling out forms and more. We definitely need to find more distinctive and descriptive words for the various meanings of the word write or writing. Maybe something like composition for the thinking that leads to writing-but this word seems a little sterile for such an exciting process. Do you have any ideas?
When we use the word write so broadly, it is hard to remember that you don't need to physically know how to write and you don't need to know how to spell or punctuate, after all the early literature was based on oral storytellers. Even today there are some writers t who are unable to hold a pencil and yet they write, like Stephen Hawking, the great theoretical physicist and noted author.
To me writing is about learning to see our world in a deep and imaginative
way and to communicating our thoughts, ideas, and imaginings to others
in a non-spontaneous manner.
I hear a lot of teachers and writers say that reading is the best road
to good writing.
Another belief is that if you write enough, you will become a good writer.
But many college graduates who have done tons of writing still do not
consider themselves good writers.
Art With Children by Shauna
Do you remember songs from when you were very young?
Do you remember TV advertisement songs from when you were very young?
Children listen to music and make that music a part of them, forever.
For children, music not only entertains, but teaches,
it is deliberate or not.
I have a number of people emailing questions regarding brain research, music and behavioral transformation. It is difficult to find this kind of research because 1) brain research is still expensive and little research is done outside of the medical field and 2) it is difficult to say for positive what is the cause and effect of improvement in learning. I think the best think the best way to find out whether music education, in terms of singing, improves learning and positively effect the social emotional atmosphere in the classroom is to try it, to set up your own experiment. Teachers say they don't have time. Many music and art experiences, especially singing a song together takes minutes, not hours and from my experiences reduces behavior intervention, so it takes no time away from study.
Still there are some efforts to establish the link between music education--and I'm focusing not on instrumental music, but listen to and singing songs in the classroom. Hope this is inspirational.
Songs for Teaching
This research is about an award winning software program based on singing. More research is in the offing.
Based on two years of research, the Tune In to Reading singing software program helps students improve in all five areas of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Electronic Learning Products (ELP) is a software platform company that uses its real time pitch tracking and speech recognition technology to create products for an increasing wide range of educational purposes.
There's a growing body of research exploring links between music, memory and language, and we're tremendously excited that neuroscientists from MIT and Harvard are embarking on a study with dyslexic students using our software. They will use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines to take "brain maps" showing exactly what happens inside young brains when students use our software.
Robert Beck, Irvine's assistant professor of education, who carried out the study with Dr Tom Cesario, dean of the university's college of medicine writes 'The more passionate you feel while singing, the greater the effect,' says Beck. 'Secretory immunoglobulin protein is associated with emotional arousal and mood, relaxation and sense of humor. If singing leads to higher levels of IgA, then it's beneficial to your health, as we know that heightened levels of this protein are effective in the immune system.'
Professor Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, who has studied developmental and medical aspects of singing for 30 years says, “The health benefits of singing are both physical and psychological. Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting. Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. Psychological benefits are also evident when people sing together as well as alone because of the increased sense of community, belonging and shared endeavor.”
The researchers, who included Hans Guenther Bastian from the Institute of Musical Education at Frankfurt University, concluded singing not only strengthened the immune system but also notably improved the performer's mood.
Benefits of singing
Many children today suffer from a wide variety of ailments and imbalances, from insomnia, to lack of sleep, to diabetes and depression. We now have the second most highly depressed population of teenagers in this country, second only to Japan. We must ask ourselves not only why is this happening, but what can we do to help. Singing is one of the greatest illness preventions!
A research carried out in 1998 by Dr. Lawrence Parsons of the University of Texas-San Antonio and his team showed that music involves both the right and left hemispheres of the brain and is widely distributed all throughout the brain rather than in one specific area. They also found that music is similar to language in many respects, including its structure and the way in which it is perceived by humans.
Excerpts from MuSICA Research Notes",
Music and Cognitive Achievement in Children
The music instruction was extensive, five days a week for 40 minutes per day, for seven months. Students were tested on reading ability at the start of the school year and then tested again at the end of the year. After training the music group exhibited significantly higher reading scores than did the control group, scoring in the 88th percentile vs. the 72nd percentile...after an additional year of Kodaly training, the experimental group was still superior to the control group. These findings clearly support the view that music education facilitates the ability to read.
Through music, memory skills can
be improved, and aural discrimination increased.(Chong & Gan 1997).
Language in music and language
in print have many similarities, such as the use of abstract symbols. Both
oral language and written language can be obtained in the same manner.
That is, by using them in a variety of holistic literacy experiences, and
building on what the students already
For example, emergent readers will attempt to "read" along in a shared reading of a familiar text, just as they will join in a sing along to a familiar song. (Sometimes making up the words as they go!) Just as emergent reading and writing are acquired to drawing and pretending to write, musical learning is connected to song and movement. Children instinctively listen to music and try to identify familiar melodies and rhythms, just as early readers will look for words that sound alike, have patterns, or rhyme (Jalongo & Ribblett).
The use of music for reading instruction
allows children to easily recall new vocabulary, facts, numbers, and conventions
of print. For example,try to remember how you learned your ABC's or other
memory skills -- many people learn them musically.
The therapeutic use of music has long been scientifically supported. Since the mid 1900’s when Dr. Alfred Tomatis began his work with the therapeutic application of sound to treat specific symptoms and disorders including auditory processing disorders, attention deficit disorders, developmental delays, and reading and spelling disorders. The focus of therapeutic listening has been on re-educating the ear and the auditory pathways.
When emergent readers see printed words in the text again and again, they come to identify those words and phrases by their similarities and configurations. (Jalongo & Ribblett, 1997).
It's easier, and a lot more
fun to rehearse song than text! Music and song stimulate creativity and
foster a positive attitude towards school(Feldman)
Clay, M. (1993).
An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement. NH: Heinemann.
Hamachek, Alice L. (1991). Enhancing comprehension
through the development of strategies for reading, learning and remembering.
ERIC Document Reproduction Service,
Setting up a good literacy
center, not only effective for helping to improve reading and writing,
but it helps to educators keep students occupied with they need to
Here are some links that may be helpful. If you would like to add links that would be great, just email 1 World Education.
has Power, Institute for Music and Neurological Functions--the brain
music research and services
Help People Pay Attention Science Daily and Stamford
Eight Reasons to Use Music in Education The
Learning Revolution Music help
people pay attention, Vinod Menon and Evarajan Sridharan led
the research team that used functional MRI images to analyze brain
activity patterns in response to music.
Nature.com, Music, the food of neuroscience?
Scientific America, Music and the Brain
This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin, musical neuroscientist
Science Direct, Music increases frontal EEG coherence during verbal learning
Singing in the brain Neuroscience takes mental note of our affinity for music
Old Song But With A Different Meaning
The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music
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