Breathing Life Into the Syllabus: How Teaching Preservice Educators Hones My Practice

By Nawal Qarooni, 2023 Conference Speaker

I have the honor of serving 21 pre-service educators in a children’s literature course this semester at Brooklyn College that covers the art of teaching reading and writing for elementary kids. And it is the best part of my week. 

My students are hungry for information, diligently taking notes and discussing in table groups, co-creating artifacts for their thinking together, and readily asking questions. But what I have found in our few months together so far are a handful of critically important reminders that keep my own teaching pedagogy sharp, relevant and equitable. 

In every session together, I have strived to model validating teaching practices that my students will remember and take back to their own classroom experiences. That they feel part of a warmly-cultivated community with belonging remains at the center of my mind and moves, regardless of what’s written on the syllabus. 

Photos courtesy of the author.

Staying Flexible; Staying Multimodal 

I have been carefully observing the way my undergraduate students learn. About half of them come prepared with analog notebooks and writing utensils. A handful of students solely take notes on electronic devices. One student takes notes on her little iPhone. Another uses a notebook so tiny it would fit in my pocket. Another handful just listen. All of these versions are okay.

After group discussions, I ask that students share their learning with the larger community however they wish. Sometimes we don’t share with the whole group; sometimes they can email me. That could be:

  • a screenshot or a photo of their notebooks. 
  • paragraphs of writing. 
  • a low-pressure recording or video clip of what really stuck with them that day. 
  • a few slides the group co-created during talk time.
  • a drawing, potentially with captions that depicts the content. 

The wide variety of learning artifacts have astounded and impressed me. I’ve been saying aloud, “You are learners with agency. You get to decide how you want to digest and share back what you’ve learned and are still thinking about.” While there is sometimes the tendency to demand that turned in materials for grading or otherwise must be required to look one specific way, I philosophically believe that there are no prescribed musts. I value creativity and individualism. The options I give are meant to serve a wide variety of learners. I want to breed the opposite of fill-in-the-blank thinkers – and future teachers. This openness and leeway is working. 

Revealing My Own, Nuanced Reading Identity 

Each class begins when I shout out a text I recently read and am excited about. I talk about them with equal passion, criticism and wonder. I tell them why I found the text ridiculous, and what questions I had for the author, the characters or our world as a result. I’m honest when my concentration fails. And I am careful to diversify the texts, with an ever-expansive definition of what counts. 

I do this because I know teachers of reading must be readers themselves. But also because the text our students consume are all valid, from new Never Have I Ever episodes to belting aloud and questioning Tems’ Try Me (which I love and sometimes play during writing time) to books they choose on their own, like When We Make It: A Nuyorican novel in verse by Elisabet Velasquez (which my daughter is currently devouring). When I’m modeling in K-8 classrooms, I do this with my own adultish text, too, so the young ones see authentic reading identities too. For every text I ask at least this same, repeated question: what does this text teach us about being human?

Here’s a partial list of what I’ve text-talked recently: 

  • An interesting piece in The Atlantic October 2022 magazine about the rise of myopia in young people worldwide. Because my daughter is experiencing a rapid rate of increased near-sightedness, this article felt especially pertinent.  I told my students about my personal connection and they readily made similar parallel ones, quickly tabbing the piece online for their own reading. 
  • The statement art of an Iranian and Black queer artist I admire greatly, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. I shared the pieces she has currently housed all over my alma mater’s campus at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and asked them to analyze a few pieces with their discussion groups using the questioning stems ‘I see,’ ‘I notice,’ and ‘I wonder.’ Thinking critically about art is no different than thinking critically about alphabetic text, I told them. They were convinced.  
  • Angie Cruz’s recent novel, How to Not Drown in a Glass of Water, which I loved and tore through in a day. One of my students is Dominican and as soon as I read the title, she announced that the author, too must be Dominican, because it’s an idiom she knew well. 
  • A new novel in verse I just read aloud with my young ones, Aida Salazar’s A Seed in the Sun. I told them how reluctant one of my daughter’s was about reading “a whole book of connected poems,” but how, in the end, she thought it was “so fun and easy to understand actually.” 

Naming Aloud My Teaching Moves 

By paying careful attention to my students and what they love, thrive on, and still have questions about, I have been able to tailor each week’s learning to their needs. I go back to the syllabus and jot notes about what else I layered in, and ask them to do the same. I explain that the syllabus- or classroom curriculum they might be handed at their future schools – is solely a guide. We must breathe life into those guides with all of our passions, knowledge about the world, and personal experiences: each valid, valuable, and important. Naturally, the students in my cohort are getting a Professor Q version of this course- a version I have infinite pride in. And it is my specific teaching identity that I bring to the classroom that will positively shape these future educators. I have taken to creating a secondary slide deck – not the actual content, but the teaching behaviors –  that explicitly names the validating pedagogical approaches I have been careful to model each week. That too, is a teaching artifact I am proud of. 

Last week I ended the class with these words. “Remember, your curriculum isn’t meant to be read verbatim. You need to be nimble. You need to know your students. They’ll all be different and perfect. Adjust accordingly.” 

Nawal Qarooni is an educator and writer who works in learning spaces to support a holistic model of literacy instruction. She and her team of coaches at NQC Literacy work with teachers and school leaders to grow a love of reading and composition in ways that exalt the whole child, their cultural capital and their intrinsic curiosities. She is the proud daughter of immigrants, and mothering her four young kids shapes her understanding of teaching and learning. She is a former international newspaper reporter and currently a contributing writer for We Need Diverse Books. Nawal holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan; a master’s degree in newspaper, magazine, and online journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School; and a master’s degree from Brooklyn College via the NYC Teaching Fellows program. In her daily literacy coaching and school-based support, Nawal draws on her years as a middle grades classroom teacher and professional writer, as well as her love of photography and connection to nature. You can find her reading aloud to her kids, running in Liberty State Park, or on Twitter @NQCLiteracy. Learn more about her work at NQCLiteracy.com. 

Growth and Loss: Black Children’s Literature Post-George Floyd 

by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, 2023 CCIRA Author/Presenter

Educators… you should know… there have been whispers. In my private messages, in subtweets, in texts, and in quiet conversations amongst children book authors, I am hearing a sad admission: “The ‘George Floyd Effect’ on publishing is fading.” 

The George Floyd Effect. 

What do we do with that phrase? A phrase that comes from the wrongful loss of a life? An internet search would show you two meanings for it: one that speaks to the way that institutions like schools and publishing and even corporate coffee chains scrambled in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder to reflect upon and address their racism and a second meaning focused on blaming the deceased for criminality and lawlessness (we’ll ignore that one). That first usage of the phrasing impacted what books became available for our classrooms and library shelves. It meant that publishers made extra efforts to employ Black talent and publish Black creatives. It meant more Black children’s books were coming and more schools were prioritizing getting them. 

Because these books were “needed.”

In July 2020, my second book Your Name is a Song had unexpectedly sold out its first printing on the first day of release. I was told books like mine were needed in the aftermath of brutality. And I watched many books about race become bestsellers. Meanwhile, at the request of my editor, I had been working for days on end to add back matter for Hold Them Close, a book that seeks to help Black kids make sense of racism. I sat in a hotel room in Center City Philadelphia when protests broke out in the streets, working to mold historical facts of racial violence into short and accessible sentences for youth. I pushed through  when I wanted to run into the streets too. To scream, to cry, to mourn. To stop and reflect even on my feelings about  senseless death being necessary for people to see the worthiness of our books. But I pushed through because of the repeated refrain that these books were so needed in that moment.

They’ve always been needed though. They continue to be.

There is article upon article about the importance of Black representation for Black children in developing their self worth. Many of us are aware of Rudine Sims Bishop’s work of describing books as “mirrors” or  stories where we see ourselves and are affirmed therein; and as “windows” when we see others and truly empathize with them and possibly even enter the “sliding glass doors” of their worlds. Additionally, in our context where racism persists, we know sources that teach about racism and its history honestly are necessary for change. In the aftermath of George Floyd, Black authors ploughed on as we always do to create texts of joy and of pain, of fun and of importance, of our authentic stories. However, I believe many of us hoped that this moment for change would be something more. We understood it required more than a moment. Our kids needed it to be longer than a moment.

But the George Floyd effect is fading.

Recent research by WordsRated has suggested that the boom in bestselling children’s books with Black characters was fleeting. By 2021, the number of bestselling children’s books with Black characters had decreased by 23%. Gone is that brief moment in time when Black character books and their authors were in demand. Gone are big publishing’s promises as they now dismantle Black imprints and rid themselves of staff unceremoniously. Gone are the promises of big bookstore retailers to support diverse books. As such, educators are now  left to contend not only with the old status quo of options for their students but also a new pressure…

Backlash.

 The backlash to antiracism, the backlash to more stories giving our kids new perspectives and opportunities for empathy, and the backlash to people simply caring about Black life has been book banning. The response has been to stamp out the literary existence of Black people and their history from schools. I watched books like mine–ones that were “so needed” the year before– get banned in a few districts while Black bestsellers of 2020  became banned in countless U.S.  school districts and library systems. Additionally, because anti-Blackness seems to be the gateway to all kinds of bigotry in our societal context it meant that the bans then extended to literature about indigenous peoples, POC,  and in particular, LGBTQ communities. At the root, yet and still, is this nation’s historical commitment to denying the humanity of Black people. 

So what do we do?

How do we  ensure that our kids have access to diverse stories at all times, not just in tragic moments and also in spite of those who see that access is threatening. I suggest:

  • Audit your bookshelves for diverse and equitable representation every year. Do a deeper dive after the audit.
  • Discuss  representation in books with students and what books get banned. Spark conversations and new ways of thinking.
  • Proactively develop the language to argue against  bans. Here are talking points.
  • Develop an awareness of lesser known Black book creators (and those from other marginalized communities). Request their books in your schools and libraries to continue communicating the demand to the industry that we need many voices.
  • Organize at the local level. Get to know who makes these decisions and organize around their elections.
  • If you experience a ban, organize on social media and reach out to authors who are banned. They and others may amplify your efforts as in the case of this campaign.

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is  is a Philadelphia-based, award-winning children’s book author. A former English teacher, she educated children and teens in traditional and alternative learning settings for more than 15 years. Her picture books and middle grade fiction, which feature young Black and Muslim protagonists, have been recognized as the best in children’s literature by Time Magazine, Read Across America, NCTE, and NPR, and she is a 2021 Irma Black Award Honor author. In addition to producing children’s literature, she invests her time in the mentorship of aspiring children’s book authors through multiple programs including We Need Diverse Books and the Muslim Storytellers Fellowship of the Highlights Foundation where she is also a program committee member.

Mentoring and Coaching to Support Colleagues

By Vicki Collet, CCIRA Past President

As lifelong learners, teachers are always working to improve instruction.  In addition to focusing on your own classroom, are you also supporting other teachers in improving their practice?

Whether you are a student-teaching supervisor, a mentor for an early-career teacher, a team leader or department head, or an administrator or instructional coach working with veteran teachers, you offer support to improve instruction, and you are taking a coaching role. Even if you don’t have an officially-assigned role as a coach, you probably offer up your own teaching ideas from time to time in an effort to help someone else. The Gradually Increase of Responsibility (GIR) Model can make you more intentional about this work. 

The GIR Model for Mentoring & Coaching is a research-developed approach to differentiate the support we offer our colleagues. Just like our students, teachers are at different places in their learning, and they grow in different ways. They’ll benefit most from coaching that meets them where they are, addressing their unique needs. 

Five Moves

The five coaching moves in the GIR model are: modeling, recommending, asking questions, affirming, and praising. Being purposeful about how you choose and change these moves while working with a colleague will make your support more effective. I’ve listed the moves in order from most-supportive to least supportive, as illustrated in the model below:

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Changing Support

The GIR Model flips the popular Gradual Release of Responsibility Model* on its head, looking at support from the learner’s point of view. But, just like our students don’t all need a model for every new concept, the teacher we are supporting may not need the most supportive move. We choose and use the move that matches the need, and we change our support over time, because teachers grow as they go. 

Think of a teacher you are working with. Think of a challenge they are facing. Now think of which of the 5 coaching moves might be most helpful. Here’s a quick list of those 5 moves and when they might be called for:

MoveWhen to Use
ModelTeacher lacks experience with a particular content or practice
RecommendTeacher has requests or questions, or a limited teaching repertoire
QuestionTo prompt planning, problem-solving, and reflection
AffirmGood things are happening, but teacher is looking for confirmation
PraiseTeacher no longer looks to coach for confirmation

Tools for the Work

The 5 coaching moves are tools you can use; you choose based on the current context – the teacher and the situation. 

When I was meeting with a group of coaches, one of them, who was new to the position, felt a bit shaky about her skills. We’d talked about the GIR Model, and she said, “I want to make sure I’m doing this right! Can you tell me what I should be doing right now?”

Coaches from the group who were experienced with the Model chimed in. “The thing about it,” one said, “is that every teacher is different.” Another said, “What you do for one may not be what another teacher needs. It’s different every time!” I nodded my head and emphasized, “When we meet as coaches, I make suggestions about what coaching move you might consider based on where you are in the coaching cycle, but it’s always about what your teachers need.” I went on to describe how they might consider each of the 5 coaching moves and think about which could be most effective at that time. That would be the move they’d emphasize…but not to the complete exclusion of the others. 

Although your coaching will generally move from more supportive to less supportive, the path is not a linear one. Your insight, observation, and careful listening will help you choose your move. 

A Continuum of Support

The 5 coaching moves are useful for supporting teachers at any point along the continuum of experience and expertise. The need for these moves differs among teachers and across time. For example, modeling (the most supportive move) occurs when a preservice teacher has her first practicum experience, visiting a school to observe a teacher in action. Even a very experienced teacher, however, may benefit from modeling; for example, a new technology application could be demonstrated, or an approach to whole-class discussion might be modeled if that is a focus area. If you are mentoring a first-year teacher into the profession, recommendations about available resources might be warranted. For some, asking questions to support reflection about potential changes will provide enough support. An elementary school teacher might request recommendations for improving her math instruction but benefit from simply hearing affirmations about her already-solid instruction during guided reading.

When I talked to a mentor who was working with a student-teaching intern, she described how the GIR model guided her. “She really needed the modeling,” she said, “and at first even that wasn’t working. She didn’t know what to pay attention to. Modeling started working better once I gave her very specific things to watch for.” Then they moved into recommending – a phase that lasted a long, long time! Questioning became the dominant move (even though recommending lingered) much later. And the mentor felt they never made it to praising when she commended the intern’s work; it still felt more like affirming, because the intern seemed to be looking for validation.

A coach who was working with an experienced teacher to implement close reading said, “She really didn’t need the modeling, or the recommending, either. I jumped right in with questioning. That helped support her thinking and reflection.”  But later, when the same teacher was working on differentiation – a complex teaching skill – modeling and recommending were included before moving to less-supportive coaching approaches. 

Successful coaches and mentors adjust based on the complexity and difficulty of the task, as well as teachers’ experience. The 5 coaching moves in the GIR model can be selected, as appropriate, as tools for the work. 

The Right Tool for the Task

The GIR coaching model can serve as a guide no matter who you are working with.  But where you begin and the way you move through it will change every time. Even though coaching conversations will include a healthy mix of recommending, questioning, and affirming, you can be intentional about which one you lean on most as you work with a teacher, focusing on the “bang-for-your-buck” coaching move.

My husband has a garage full of tools, so it amazes me when he “needs” to buy a new one. He explains, however, that having the right tool for the job means it gets done more efficiently and effectively. Similarly, using the right tool at the right time makes coaching more productive. As you think about how to support your colleagues in their efforts to improve instruction, having these 5 moves in your toolbelt will strengthen your work.

* Pearson, P. D., & Gallagher, M. C. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8(3), 317-344.

———————————–

Vicki Collet is a past-president of CCIRA who has been attending and presenting at the conference for over 20 years. She is currently an associate professor in Teacher Education at the University of Arkansas. Read more about mentoring and coaching in her book, Differentiated Mentoring & Coaching in Education: From Preservice Teacher to Expert Practitioner, or on her blog: mycoachcescouch.blogspot.com. Follow Vicki on Facebook at facebook.com/mycoachescouch and Twitter and Instagram @vscollet. You can also find her at VickiCollet.com.

Combatting Aliteracy: Mentoring Today’s Students to Become Tomorrow’s Avid Readers

By Gravity Goldberg

According to a 2021 Pew Research study 23% of adults surveyed say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form. When we look at the surveys of school age children we see reading volume begins to drop by age 9. Only 35%  of nine year olds report reading five to seven days a week compared to 57%  percent of eight year olds (Scholastic, 2019).  These two studies and many others point to a larger issue of aliteracy in this country. 

Aliteracy refers to people who can read but choose not to. While the national narrative has focused on those who are struggling to learn to decode the words (which of course also needs to be addressed), we cannot forget this other group who have not identified as readers and do not see the value of time spent reading. 

We have likely all sat around the dinner table and teacher’s room lamenting social media and smartphones as the cause of so much aliteracy, and of course books are competing for attention with our devices. But, since smartphones are likely not going anywhere, we must look at what we can control – how we frame reading instruction, how we mentor readers, and what we can do to make sure all students graduate understanding not just how to read the words but how to use reading to make lives better. 

Photo courtesy of Pan Xiaozhen via Unsplash

We know there is always a lag between culture and curriculum. Just because something changes in our current culture does not mean we immediately see a shift in what or how we teach. The summer is a great time to reflect and make an action plan for how we can bring our curricular approach up to date. How can we make our literacy approach relevant for our students today so they also become the avid adult readers of tomorrow?

Literacy Habits of Mind

What it means to be literate is always changing given the context we are living within. In Performative Literacy: The Habits of Mind of Highly Literate Readers, by Sheridan Blau (2003), he explains that reading is more than a set of skills. Blau lists the habits that readers must have to be highly literate which include

  • Willingness to suspend closure—to entertain problems rather than avoid them
  • Tolerance for failure—a willingness to re-read and re-read again
  • Tolerance for ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty
  • Metacognitive awareness–capacity to monitor and direct one’s own reading process

If your current approach solely focuses on reading as a set of skills, consider how and where you can integrate the dispositions needed to be highly literate too.

Critical Digital Literacy 

With access to technology and a push for more interconnectedness, being literate also includes critical digital literacy practices. Reading and writing no longer simply include a book or article you can hold in your hands. Reading has broadened to include reading a video, podcast, infographic, and photos etc.

According Hinrichsen and Coombs (2014) successful literacy learners need to engage in four roles to be critically digital literate. They need to be:

  • Code Breakers– How do I crack this text? How does it work?
  • Meaning Makers– How do the ideas represented in the text string together? What are the cultural meanings and possible readings that can be constructed from this text?
  • Text Users–How do the users of this text shape its composition? What do I do with this text, here and now?
  • Text Analysts– What is this text trying to do to me? In whose interests?

If your current approach focuses mostly on finding the  messages “in the book” consider how you can include more multimodal texts and teach students to be more critical thinkers within and beyond the texts. 

Community and Advocacy 

Youth and adults today use the power of social media to form connections and become advocates for the causes they believe in. Being literate includes an interconnectedness to a community who uses language in nuanced and purposeful ways. Readers need to understand the implicit meanings and tone as well as the perspectives that the community holds. They also need to use information to create narratives that inspire change using a variety of mediums. When students understand that reading and writing are powerful tools that allow them to impact others they begin to see their larger value.

Being a member of a literacy community means:Becoming an advocate means:
I bring my full identity with me.I curate the texts I consume.I choose the conversations I want to join.I set goals for myself.I ask for feedback.I see my role in the communities I am a part of.I know and name challenges my communities face.I use texts to understand, empathize, and problem solve.I contribute through listening, speaking, writing, and doing.

If your current approach does not explicitly set all students up to be contributors within a community, think about who and what is being centered so you can make a different set of choices.

Am I Teaching Students to Be Literate Today? 

If we are serious about combating aliteracy we need to teach students that reading is relevant right now. It can bring joy, create connection, and answer questions. Reading cannot simply be about reading levels, test scores, and standards. Students must see the value and purpose of reading within and beyond school if they grow up to be adults who choose to read.

Take some time this summer and fall to reflect in a community around the following questions and then make an action plan for how you will contextualize reading differently this school year. What follows are a few ideas to get you started. 

Reflection QuestionsAction Plan
What are the literacy habits of mind that readers will develop this year?Add literacy habits of mind into curriculum maps Model these literacy habits such as navigating ambiguity, rereading, and leaning into problems by making your own reading process more visible Confer with students regularly and ask them to share their process and habits with you
How will you support students in becoming critical consumers and producers of a variety of texts?Create digital text sets for and with studentsStudy mentor texts that include audio, video and print and discuss the norms of eachModel and coach students inVerifying the accuracy of informationUnderstanding the author’s worldview and perspectiveComparing information across sourcesSynthesizing information from multiple textsMoving between different text types and modalities 
How will the curriculum create space and mentorship for students to be contributors in their communities? Make sure students have access to texts that include positive representative of all identities and communitiesAsk for and center students’ questions that they want to studyIntegrate community-based learning into unitsModel how you use reading and writing to make your communities a better place Include more student work in data meetings that contextualize and humanize students beyond numbers

I can’t help but think of the current humanitarian, political, environmental, and health related crises we are facing. Most days I wake up overwhelmed and some days even hopeless. But then I remember I am a literacy educator and there is much I can do.  None of today’s global or local challenges can be solved without having these literacy dispositions because being literate is not only about the books in our hands, but the ways we think and act. No matter what this next school year brings, please remember, our goal is not simply to create better readers. Our goal is to help students use reading to make their worlds better. 

Dr. Gravity Goldberg is an educational consultant, author and founder of Gravity Goldberg, LLC. While based in the New York / New Jersey metro area, Gravity supports school districts across the country. She specializes in literacy, special education, curriculum, assessment, and learning with technology. Her work ranges from demonstrating lessons and leading workshops on balanced literacy to working with administrators developing curriculum and customizing professional development programs. She works in classrooms from pre-kindergarten through college and in a variety of settings, both urban and suburban. Contact her at Gravity@Drgravitygoldberg.com.

THE PORTALS OF POETRY

by Nikki Grimes, 2023 CCIRA Conference Speaker

The subject most on my mind these days is banned books.  A banned book is not the stuff of romance, nor is it a badge of courage, as some imagine.  When a book is banned, it means that your readers no longer have access to the story you have poured your heart and soul into, the story you have lived, and breathed, and likely bled over for years.  That book is no longer available to the audience you intended it for.  In other words, a banned book is not a dream, but a nightmare.

The first of my books to land on a list for removal was Ordinary Hazards, my memoir in verse. One of the primary themes of this book is the power of words on paper, most especially the power of poetry.  This is a theme that I come back to again, and again, with good reason.

I was fortunate to learn, as a child, that releasing my thoughts and feelings through poetry created space for me to breathe, and allowed me the perspective I needed to journey through childhood trauma and come out on the other side whole.  Poetry is healing, both for the writer and the reader, and it is a powerful tool to put in the hands of a young person.  I have often spoken of reading and writing as my survival tools, and poetry was central to that survival.

Over the last few years, COVID-19 and the virus of social injustice have added a new level of stress to the lives of children and young adults, and they need a healthy way to let those feelings out.  Poetry can be that avenue.  Writing an angry poem is certainly preferable to putting one’s fist through a wall, isn’t it?  And the poem won’t land the student in the principal’s office!  The only real question is, how do you introduce poetry to young readers and encourage them to write poetry of their own?

We are fortunate that today’s market is rich with poetry and novels in verse.  You only need to start where your students are.  If, for instance, they’re interested in sports, you can find collections featuring soccer, basketball, baseball, or track and field poems, for starters.  If biographies are more their speed, try a variety of biographies in verse.  If science is their jam, you’ll find collections on that topic.  If you’ve been trying to entice readers to get through a novel, try a novel in verse.  Once they see all that white space, they’ll be intrigued to give it a try.  They’ll assume fewer words on the page means the story is less complex.  They’ll be wrong, but by the time they figure that out, they’ll already be hooked.  And once they’re hooked, it’s easy to challenge them to write a poem, possibly using the author’s poems as templates for their own.

I’ve heard from teachers who have taught Bronx Masquerade, who went on to have their students use the book as a template for a collection of poetry about their own school.  Others use the seed of the book’s Open Mic Friday’s to hold open mic readings in their classrooms or assemblies.  Once students are given the tools to express themselves, it’s hard to get them to stop!  That’s a good problem to have.

Poetry Form

I’ve found that students respond especially well to poetry forms that give them somewhere to begin, forms like haiku, tanka, and golden shovel.  One Last Word and Legacy:Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance are two collections I created using the golden shovel format.  The idea is to take a short poem in its entirety, or a line from the poem, called a striking line, and to create a new poem using the words from the original.  Say you decide to use a single line: you would arrange that line, word by word, in the right margin.  

in 

the

right

margin.

Then, you would write a new poem, with each line ending in one of these words.  In the example above, that would mean the first line of the new poem would end in the word “in”, the second line would end in the word “the”, and so on.  

I wake and shake off the morning as Mom tiptoes in.

“Rise and shine”, she whispers, always the

same old song.  “Get up.  Right

now!”  I groan on cue, but she gives me no margin.

Here are a few more examples:

This line is taken from the poem, “A Light and Diplomatic Bird” by Gwendolyn Brooks.  This is the first Golden Shovel poem I ever attempted.

Lashed With Riot Red and Black

Yesterday, God skipped thunder like stones, lashed

the land with pellets of H2O, each illumined with

scissored bits of lightning—a riot

of sight and sound, sharp as red,

sudden as death.  Watch for grayed skies and

grief remembered.  Both, for a moment, paint the world black.

Peace Be Still

Trayvon’s mom watched injustice kick peace

down the road, like a tin can.  But she’ll be

retrieving it once her son is able to rest quiet, still.

One of the things I love about this format is that you can apply it to a favorite lyric, or a stunning line from a newspaper article, or even a favorite line from a book of prose.  No matter where writers begin, there’s lots of room for them to pour out their own thoughts and feelings, and thereby learn for themselves the awesome power of poetry.  Give this a try! 

Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2022 CSK Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2020 ALAN Award for significant contributions to young adult literature, the 2017 Children’s Literature Legacy Medal for contributions to literature for children, the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, and the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. The author of Coretta Scott King Author Award-winner Bronx Masquerade, and
recipient of five Coretta Scott King Author Honors, her most recent titles
include the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults title Between the Lines,
companion to Bronx Masquerade, NCTE Notable Book Words With
Wings, the 2018 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book
Garvey’s Choice, Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor One Last Word, Printz
Honor and Sibert Honor Ordinary Hazards, a memoir in verse, ALA
Notable Legacy:Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance, ALA Notable
Southwest Sunrise, Kirkus Best Book Bedtime for Sweet Creatures, and
IMAGE Award Nominee Kamala Harris:Rooted in Justice. Ms. Grimes
lives in Corona, California.