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The Intent, The Reality, The Result: Using Poetry to Help Students Tell Their Stories

Written by Keia Pannell
September 18, 2011

The Intent. The Reality. The Result.
Writing has always been my crutch. I have been keeping journals since I was 12 years old. I poured my heart into those lined pages and told my story of middle school agony before I went to bed every night. This tradition continued well into high and even into adulthood. But in high school something changed. I discovered boys and heartache and thus I discovered poetry. Poetry became my saving grace. Where I once would write in my journals I now composed angst filled poems about my feelings. I still have those books and poems. When return to them I often laugh but it reminds me of me back then and it reminds me how every word on those pages adds a piece to my story.

Thinking about this idea of a resource was more stressful than I imagined. Thinking and sharing during the “share out” Cindy mentioned to me that it could be more reflective.

The truth is everyone has a story. Whether it is good or bad it is a story and it is their story to tell. If you ask me my story I might tell you “I don’t know,” but my story is long and it has many sides. Let’s take the teacher side for example. I am not what they make me out to be on the TV. I am better than that. Will it make a difference if my voice is heard? If it is heard, who will listen? Does anyone even care? My students, your students, our students, they all have a story to tell. We need to help them tell it. Help them see that their voice is important and needs to be heard. This is how I will help my students tell their story.
Poetry weaves its way in and out of an English classroom on a regular basis. Often times it is used in a way that turns students off from poetry rather than turn them on to poetry. We digest and dissect poems until there is nothing left but made up assumptions and thought. But what if we took powerful poetry and poetic forms and let students imitate those poems as a way to tell their story? The results I believe would be amazing.
For a number of years I have used formula poems in my classroom as way to allow students to open up about who they are. Some students are open while others are not. I have also had my students imitate poetry that will allow their voices be heard but using the author’s technique and style. That too has had both its hits and misses. But adding digital media to the equation might make the process more cathartic and less painful for me and the student.

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