Madeleine Ray, my mentor from Bank Street College, has been teaching teachers how to create rich, student-centered experiences in classrooms for many years. Many of my best curriculum pieces and teaching practices come from her teachings. She is indeed, one of the giants, on whose shoulders I stand when I work with students.

This is an activity she designed around teaching poetry to kids is derived from the important idea that poetry is an oral art and that it is meant to be heard more than read. She advocates for spending plenty of time reading poetry aloud and listening to it before involving students in analyzing or writing poetry. They have to experience it and live in it first, and if they do that fully, she says, they will spontaneously, at their own point of readiness, begin to write their own poems. I have found this to be 100% true in my own practice.

Nancy Toes Tangel, a wonderful teacher of 8th grade English in Newark, NJ, was filmed here doing the tubes activity with her class. Notice that she, like me and many other of Madeleine’s students, teach with a meeting area in middle school, and use it often for reflecting on the events of the class each day (ash shown at the end of the video). Also notice that they begin with a packet of poems, from which students select poems to read aloud with each other to hear and begin to experience, but not, at this point, to discuss.

Nancy, Madeleine, and a few other collaborating teachers and I will be giving a workshop at Bank Street on Saturday, March 5th about using dramatic play in the classroom to teach elements of story and writer’s process. If you’re in the NY area and interested in innovative ways to teach English Language Arts, please join us! Stay tuned for more information.

[image and video credit: Kelsey Toes Tangel]

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