Q: My son's fourth-grade teacher posted an assignment saying April is National Poetry Month and the class will study each family's favorite poems. We don't have a "favorite." Why is something this frivolous studied when our school is following the Common Core?
A: "Frivolous"? How about engaging? Fun? Thought-provoking? Meaningful?
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will fail if lessons don't motivate kids, and the fact is, students like poetry. (Name me a kid who doesn't enjoy lyrics set to music!)
When well-taught, poetry can help students develop an ear for the sounds and rhythms of words, promote wordplay, develop vocabulary and often get reluctant writers writing.
The crafters of CCSS were smart to include poetry in the literature strands through the grades.
"Poetry has been around long before TV, computers, cellphones, the Internet and the iPad. As a means of communication, it dates from the dawn of humankind and yet still captivates and motivates young learners," says Lee Bennett Hopkins, a poet and editor of many children's poetry anthologies.
Poetry is a perfect fit and should play an important role in the CCSS, says Ben Curran, member of the Center for Teaching Quality's Teacher Leaders Network and an instructional coach in Detroit.
"Poetry is one of the best tools we have for teaching critical thinking, depth of understanding and analysis," he says.
Here's an example of how poetry is studied in a fourth-grade CCSS Literature Standard: "Explain major differences between poems, drama and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text."
There are hundreds of wonderful poetry books and anthologies from which to find a family favorite. I'll bet your son will find a poem to take to school from the work of perennial favorites Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky or Lee Bennett Hopkins. Check the list of anthologies at leebennetthopkinsbooks.com. Find poems to tickle the funny bone at gigglepoetry.com.
To give your son a head start for class, read and discuss the poem you've chosen together. Curran says that a teacher might ask: What message does the poem convey? Does the author make any comparisons? How are the sentences and stanzas connected? How does it make you feel? Discuss any parts or words in the poems that are confusing or surprising. Identify which words are most important.
Make poetry a family affair. Include poetry in your family reading time. Post a weekly poem on the family Facebook page. Email or tweet poems to friends and family on special occasions. Start a family anthology of favorite poems. Put a poem in your son's lunchbox on a not-so-good day. Bruce Lansky's anthologies, such as "My Teacher's In Detention" or "If Kids Ruled the School," are packed with funny ones.
Australian early literacy expert Mem Fox has long advised parents to introduce kids to poetry early. She says, "Rhymers will be readers; it's that simple."
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)