"I don't get it."
"I don't have anything to write about."
"Do I have to keep writing?"
I'm sure we have all heard these famous lines before. Getting children excited about reading and writing can be a challenge. Not all children come to school with a love of books. As teachers, it is our job to develop, instill and nurture their young minds. Today we are competing with video games, computers, smartphones and mp3 players for the students' attention. This makes teaching and sustaining students' attention all the more difficult. One way to keep the students on their toes is to use poetry. Poetry is a great way for students of all ages to become excited about reading and writing in a whole new way. Poetry is short, full of vocabulary words, expressive, full of emotions and provides entertainment. In this unit, students will play with poems to help them become better readers and writers.
Currently I am teaching 24 third graders at King/Robinson International Baccalaureate (IB) Magnet School in New Haven, Connecticut. Our school serves Pre K-8
graders. We are a Title 1 school. Students are selected out of a lottery to attend our school from the surrounding towns. As part of the IB World schools, we are accredited in the Primary Years Program and Middle Years Program (PYP and MYP). IB schools are a non-profit organization that was founded in 1968 in Geneva, Switzerland. It was originally developed for elite families and ambassadors who traveled from country to country. The intent of the program was for mobile students, preparing to attend a university, to receive a common curriculum, which encourages students to be life long learners and inquires. Our school uses the IB philosophy and the Connecticut State Standards (we are in the process of adapting the Common Core Standards) to develop inquiry-based units and lessons for our students.
There are 16 boys and 8 girls in my class. We use the Degrees of Reading Assessment (DRA) to assess the students reading levels. 20% of my students entered third grade reading at a proficient or higher level. Therefore 80% of my class is reading at a basic level. The DRA assesses the students' ability to read words accurately, predict, retell/summarize, recall literal comprehension, as well as reflect and interpret. Reading is an important focus in third grade because the students begin taking the Connecticut Mastery Tests, a state standardized test that assesses reading, writing and math. The students who are not reading on grade level have a difficult time taking and passing these assessments.
Oral language is another area that the students fall below proficiency in third grade. One of the programs in our curriculum is MONDO. We use an oral language assessment to assess the students' ability to retain language and recite it back. Students who do not pass these assessments are most likely practicing the art of communication on a daily basis. During oral language instruction, students look at a picture and discuss what they notice. Teachers encourage the students to build their vocabulary, sentence structure and communication skills amongst each other. The more practice the students have to develop their language skills the better they will become. Poetry can help the students gain confidence in speaking and developing their tone while playing with words and sentence structure.
Third graders are expected to complete narrative expositions, which includes an entertaining beginning, an elaborative setting, at least three main events and a conclusion. Throughout the story the students are to include thought shots (feelings or thoughts that the character exhibits) and snapshots (using descriptive words through the five senses to show the readers what the character is experiencing rather than telling). At the beginning of the year they are given writing prompts that assesses their baseline. Their stories are scored on 1 to 6 point scale. The higher the number the more developed, elaborated and fluent the story is. At the beginning of the year approximately 67% of the students scored at a basic level. By the end of the year there were 20% of the students scoring basic and 33% of the students scoring proficient. These are the students that are lacking in their ideas, voice and word choice. Their elaboration is weak with minimal details. They struggle to include thought shots and snapshots and typically run out of ideas and motivation to continue writing. Students give up quickly and refuse to revisit the work. Writing is an art form that needs to be inspired. It is hard to make a child write when they do not have a lot of background knowledge or experience to write about. This makes even brainstorming activities painful. When the students start to play with words and the sounds that words make they can then see writing as a fun, expressive form rather than just another assignment that has to be done. In this unit you will find ways to motivate students to write poems by playing with words. These activities can easily be carried into their narrative expositions.