We have been celebrating National Poetry Month in my Library, and last week I read aloud a selection of poems from various poetry books to my 3rd grade classes. They enjoyed the poems, a few checked out poetry books to take with them, and I considered it a successful activity. This week I’m doing a Poetry Pass with my 3rd and 4th grade classes, which means I put a stack of poetry books on their tables, set a timer for five minutes, and allow them to read silently until time is up. We switch books and repeat this two more times, so that each student samples three different poetry books altogether.
As an afterthought, I told the first group of students that if anyone came across a poem he or she would like to read to the rest of the class, we would have a sharing time after the Poetry Pass. I figured there might be three or four kids at the most who would be excited enough about a particular poem to want to read it aloud, so imagine my surprise when nearly every hand shot up for sharing time! These kids were thrilled to stand up in front of the class and read the poems they had discovered!
Were they all polished presenters of poetry? Not by a long shot. Did they all choose poems that the rest of the class was interested in? Hardly. Were they at least able to pronounce all the words in the poems they chose to read aloud? Unfortunately, no. But there was excitement there! There was a feeling that they were reading for an important purpose – to find something worthy of sharing. There were real decisions to be made – this poem or that poem? There was a sensation of power standing in front of the class commanding the attention of all the other students, a flush of success when the audience laughed in the right places, and a feeling of triumph at the sound of applause at the close of the reading.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a teacher reading her favorite poems to the class, but the experience felt so much more authentic when it was the students choosing the poems to share. And the scary thing is that the sharing component was only, as I mentioned earlier, an afterthought. Yikes! So my challenge from here on is to remember this “aha” moment when planning future Library activities, and to find other ways to let go of the power and give students more control over their own learning experience.