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Imagine fifth grade students filled with excitement about writing two weeks after state testing? The Fifth Grade Poetry Slam at Alma Intermediate School builds enthusiasm for writing and adds a new instructional focus at a time of the year which might easily suffer from an emotional dip. “The experience was awesome! Reading in front of everyone got my spine a-tingling,” said one fifth grader. The poetry workshop is funded through the Arkansas Arts Council Mini Grant Program.
Nationally recognized guest poet, Clayton Scott, spent one week working with fifth graders in poetry sessions and taking students to the next level in their expressive writing. Mr. Scott met with all 260 fifth grade students each day. More than 1,200 poems were written by students during the week. Scott taught a variety of poetry styles and techniques along with creative tools that help even the most reluctant writers engage in the process.
A major focus of the week was encouraging students to “confront their inner chicken.” Students were challenged to stand up and speak out as they wrote and shared their poems. “I liked writing my poems and learned that fear shouldn’t keep you from doing something. I learned to confront my inner chicken and how to write better poetry,” said one typically reserved fifth grader.
Mr. Scott used an eagle graphic to represent a balanced approach to writing. For students’ writing to “soar” it takes a balanced effort by both wings. One wing contains the mechanics of good writing. Mr. Scott doesn’t dwell on these elements because they should be in place and are accomplished in editing. He places great emphasis on the creative wing which contains sensory imagery, power words, simile, metaphor, and many more. According to one student, “The experience was awesome. I learned how to use expressive language in all of my writing.”
Students had writing assignments each night based on poetry techniques taught that day. As students shared their poems the following day, Mr. Scott coached students on speech, delivery, and expressive reading.
The week culminated in a Poetry Slam open to the public. Finalists from every class were in competition on the final afternoon. Students were selected to act as judges for the Poetry Slam. Students were designated as masters of ceremony and filled other duties for the event which gave a strong sense of student ownership.
A total of twenty-six finalists performed in the Poetry Slam along with Clayton Scott. Five students were selected as overall trophy winners. It was noted that some students who had not exhibited outstanding writing in the past came to the forefront in the poetry competition. It was a great chance for students to celebrate the successes of their peers. One finalist said, “At the poetry workshop I learned that you can have courage and express the stories of your life through poetry.”
Courage and creativity are exactly what our children need! Alma Intermediate School has found that poetry is a tool for helping students acquire both of these qualities.
My mother has a saying that she repeated often when I was growing up. “When in doubt, take a step.” I’m reminded of this when I hesitate to try something new or challenging. On many occasions she might have stopped, frozen in fear, but she stepped forward through many challenges and built a family and teaching career that had a great impact on her community.
A few months ago I wanted to share the new Lake Alma Trail with our community but didn’t know where to begin. I’ve enjoyed reading the Urban Magazine based in Fort Smith because it carried some stories about local outdoor attractions. I hesitated to contact them, thinking they would not be interested in running a story by someone who was pretty much unpublished.
My mother’s words came to mind, so I took a step and sent an email to the managing editor. A couple of days later I received an email requesting examples of my writing. I laughed and wondered what to send. Finally, I sent a copy of a school newsletter and short book review I did for a principals’ journal. The next day I got an email asking if I would write a 500-word article.
Now, four months later, I’ve published my third article with the Urban Magazine. This has been challenging, fun, and a great learning experience. I have a new appreciation for publications as I read, knowing something of the work involved in their production. I also have a better understanding of the work our young writers are doing and am envious of the good instruction they’re receiving from our teachers. All of this would have been missed if I had not stepped through my doubt and acted.
My hope is that we build confidence into our students so that as they encounter barriers, they will “take a step” and move forward. One positive step leads to another along this exciting and sometimes challenging path of learning!
Read my articles on the web at the Urban Magazine aturbanmagazine.com or my blog ozarkmountainhiker.wordpress.com