Why Reciting Poems Matter

When reading academic literature, I am continually struck by the comparisons between skilled and unskilled readers. The literature suggests we need unskilled readers to take on the same characteristics as the skilled readers. That is my aim, too.

Maya Angelou, raped at the age of seven, did not speak for five years. Within twenty-four hours, her rapist died. In her seven-year-old mind, her words killed him. During this time she read her way through the library for the black children. She read her way through the library for the white children. She read and memorized the works of Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Langston Hughes.

“When I decided to talk,” Ms. Angelou said at an after dinner speech, “I had a lot to say.”

As I teach children who have enormous struggles with reading and language, I employ many of Ms. Angelou’s strategies. I want my student’s heads to be filled with language—both simple and great. Fun and exciting. Language they can access again, and again and again. Memorizing gives students access to language. My students do more thinking to memorize poems.

Before reading was considered a universal necessity, oral language was the most important form of communication. Oral language through stories, memorization, and re-telling’s of stories was the major input. Teaching my children who struggle, I revert to this oral tradition. Picking students up to take them from their room to class, we recite poems.

We recite poems in the class. If a line is more challenging to recall, we find pictures, act out the story, and do what needs to be done to make that line, those words more accessible. I feel I am “lining the brain with language.”

The learning is exciting, my students are no longer struggling with individual letters and sounds, rather they are putting words together to create a picture which they can access, again and again and again. As the memorization becomes easier, we turn to reading. My students no longer struggle with the reading. My students continually access the oral language they need to read the poems independently.

They connect the words—again and again.

10 Reasons Why Poetry Works for Beginning and Reluctant Readers

According to developmental milestones, children ages 3-4 can accurately repeat sentences with high predictability. A child at age 4-5 can identify words that do or do not rhyme in a small set of words. I begin teaching poetry to students from age six and up.

1. Poetry engages students in oral language and helps connect the oral and written language.
2. Children at the very beginning of this long process are “Learning to read by reading.” This is a foundational requirement of any reading program.
3. Poetry allows children to repeat rhymes accurately.
4. Meaning of the rhyme or poem is important, which opens discussion about what's happening in the text?
5. Students begin to identify rhyming words. Phonemic Awareness is set in a context. Children hear rhymes before they are asked to create new words.
6. I write poems which focus on student needs: either a particular sounds (short vowel sounds) or words (as in Two of most things; That word “of.”)
7. Students can illustrate poems in many ways. Thus, oral language is paramount. Through creating illustrations, meaning and discussion of the poem is central to learning.
8. Writing poems for children allows for a collaborative process. We write together, creating a shared experience. Poetry becomes empowering.
9. Poetry can be personalized! Including your child’s name helps them be a part of the learning.
10. Using poetry or rhymes follows the developmental learning sequence for children.

I create poetry which is short and repetitive. Illustrations, either by using pictures from the Internet or a creative flare enhances student comprehension. The illustrations help make meaningful connections between the words on the paper and pictures. Find out more about the poetry I write with my students here.

Who am I? Why should we listen to you?

Learning to read is the most fundamental skill children must achieve to have a chance of success in the world. Most children learn to read with ease. However, for those that don’t, and are thrust into the “learning disabled” or “dyslexic” box, the world changes for everyone: the child, the parents/guardians, and the teachers.

I have fallen in love with teaching children who struggle with reading. I didn’t choose to be a reading specialist—this job chose me. My story begins with a little boy who sat in school during his first year of school and failed: at learning to read, learning to write, and learning to engage. Once labeled a “failure,” he now holds a Ph.D.

For the past twenty years, I have worked with children, from 7-17, who were disengaged, disregarded, and discounted. I found multiple ways around any challenges they encountered and subsequently taught them to read so they could take their rightful place in the world.

To me, teaching struggling readers is the most exciting and fulfilling job in the world.

What’s my secret? Changing the initial learning-to-read process. And, sharing my knowledge on different approaches to learning. The greater knowledge teachers have of the challenges which struggling readers face in reading, the greater the chance of reading success.