Poetry Friday: “School”

“In music, in poetry, and in life, the rest, the pause, the slow movements are essential to comprehending the whole.”
~ Maryanne Wolf ~

This past week, I attended a training institute on Structured Literacy Instruction. Although I may have grumbled a bit about the ninety minute drive, now that I’ve had time to rest and pause, I’ve realized the time spent learning with and from colleagues from across the state was both rewarding and enriching. I’ll be sifting through my notes and the presentation slides for weeks to come.

One of the requirements of the institute was to prepare a presentation on a chapter from Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, 3rd Edition, edited by Judith R. Birsh. At over 700 pages, this book is no light read, literally and figuratively! But, it is an important resource for all teachers. My group chose to present the chapter on vocabulary. We all know the impact of a deep vocabulary on reading comprehension, but some of the statistics shared were astounding. In 2006, Stahl & Nagy stated that “knowing individual word meanings is thought to account for as much as 50% of the variance in reading comprehension.” 

Semantic relationships was discussed at length. Again, this is a topic that I know about and use with my students, but it was helpful to read again about the importance of developing our students’ “word consciousness,” or their “interest and awareness of words.” (Birsh, 339).

Poetry, of course, is ideal for developing all of these skills and more. As I was looking for a poem to share in our presentation to model these ideas, I stumbled across “School,” by David J. Langton. In the end, we chose Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco, but Langton’s poem is rich with possibility.

by David J. Langton

I was sent home the first day
with a note: Danny needs a ruler.
My father nodded, nothing seemed so apt.
School is for rules, countries need rulers,
graphs need graphing, the world is straight ahead.
It had metrics one side, inches the other.
You could see where it started
and why it stopped, a foot along,
how it ruled the flighty pen,
which petered out sideways when you dreamt.
Read the rest of the poem here.
Friends (and cookies) make learning fun!

Please be sure to visit Jone at Check it Out for the Poetry Friday Roundup. Wishing you all a wonderful start of school!

10 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “School”

  1. Love that poem, Catherine – thank you for sharing, and God bless meandering. I JUST picked up a new ruler this week from Walmart; we couldn’t find ours at home, and the others have all migrated to my studio. [Of course, I love Thunder Cake, too!]
    Wishing you a wonderful start to the school year – lucky students. Once when doing author presentations in a school, I was struck by the richness of the poems we created in one particular class. Those students were very invested in the “Word Wall” full of challenging, fun vocabulary that their teacher regularly displayed & changed up. What an impact!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope to hear more about this workshop and especially about vocabulary development. My husband and I were just talking about a teacher he had who taught him words you should know but never use. He still remembers her and these lessons. Vocabulary study can be powerful but it eludes me. I want to do better. I was talking to a group of students in the cafeteria about fidget spinners. None of them knew the real meaning of fidget, but they knew what a fidget spinner was. Sad. Of course, I took the opportunity to have an impromptu lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I spent time with students researching words, and they often were astounded by the history of the words. It felt like an important part of their learning just as you say. Love that rich poem, and how he describes his “dreaming” and the pen going off line. Such is life, right? And, 700 pages, wow, but it feels as if you did bring much from the days and working with your group. Thanks for sharing, will keep the poem for a former colleague!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ha! That last line is the best! Cheers to meandering. Wonderful poem. You have been working hard this summer. My library partner has a great etymology lesson. It’s always fun to see the kids and their teachers fall into the learning because it’s just so darn fun and interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. 50%. I’m thinking about ways to engage my students in word play and tempt them into word love. They need to close that 50% gap!! (love the poem!!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a fun poem! There was never enough time in the day to do all I wanted with vocabulary, but I will never forget a spelling lesson that turned into a vocabulary lesson. My middle schoolers chose their own spelling words. One week the word promiscuous popped up multiple times in one class, so I asked why. Answer: it was in the chorus of a popular song (“I’m so promiscuous”). When I asked the girl what it meant, she replied, “beautiful or pretty.” We immediately grabbed dictionaries and followed up with a discussion of why it’s important to understand the words you sing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That sounds like some heavy duty workshop… really interesting, though. Also interesting to me is reading through the comments and hearing about students who don’t know words like fidget and promiscuous. Clearly vocab leads to a vastly more colorful life!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love looking up exact definitions. And learning new words. I’m a word geek, though. So many are satisfied with word of two syllables or less. I played a new car game with my kids this endless CA trip, called Contact, and I was impressed at their ability to think of definitions and words.


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