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Creative Writing: Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade

14-Week Internship Observation on how writers in residence teach poetry

During the course of my 14-week internship with the Inside Out Literary Arts Project I examined how their writers-in-residence taught Detroit public school students the skills of poetry writing. Beginning in December of 2015, there were meetings scheduled twice per month that covered topics such as: Group dynamics, revision strategies, publication check-in, general topics regarding residency, engagement strategies, online forms, as well as other topics of interests. The program was divided in a manner that allowed high school level students to work on poetry topics with themes of a more mature nature. There were no less than 25 writers, assistants and interns. I worked primarily within the kindergarten through 8th grade levels and we had approximately 13 schools. There was one Coordinator who was responsible for the high school students and one responsible for the entire elementary and middle school levels.

There were several factors that contributed to the successful publication of youth poetry. Each school/location was responsible for producing a preliminary manuscript. After a cycle of edits and updating, the full manuscript is submitted—complete with student artwork/illustrations. The manuscript would then be edited and sent to be printed.

Meetings

One of the most effective ways to teach kindergarten through 8th grade school children the art of poetry writing, is by remaining in contact with administrative support and updating teaching skills. One way to accomplish this is by attending meetings and planning sessions.

There were regular meetings held approximately twice out of each month throughout the course of my internship. Most often, the meetings also offered special workshops after the major topics have been addressed. These workshops included poetry development, best practices for engagement with school officials and a host of other topics. The writers in residence were given meeting calendars that would fit their busy meeting schedules

Classroom practices

Working with school aged children means budgeting your time. When it comes to teaching creative writing skills, it helps to have a plan for the daily lesson as well as a desired outcome. There are times when children are not motivated to be creative in an academic setting. Recognizing this and having strategies to overcome setbacks will keep the students and their creativity functioning at their best. While observing one of the writers and her assistant as they progressed through one session in their classroom, I noted the following: Students were encouraged to begin with Freewriting – a process that allows the young poet to write down their thoughts in an unrestricted manner. The next step encouraged more writing and the gathering of more information through the process of interviewing the freewrite. Once this was accomplished, the rewrite was started. During this phase of the session students took another look at their poem and reassembled it according to the previous steps. At this point, the students were taught how to present their creative piece on the page. This meant learning about line breaks and stanzas. The final three steps, reduce words, revise piece then look at grammar and punctuation, helped to finalize the piece so that it may be shared with others.

Continuing Education

Finding ways to keep poetry teaching skills sharp can be tough. The prudent poetry teacher would take advantage of training and workshops that are geared to the teachers who work with primary school age children. During the course of my work with the program, there were several opportunities for continuing to update teaching skills. The Detroit Youth Workshop along with program materials from David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality held a seminar in March of 2016.

“The youth work method series was organized in a pyramid to illustrate many things the youth worker does to build great experiences for young people” (Ramaswamy).

The k-8 Coordinator attended the seminar and I received materials from the Engagement and the Interaction segments. According to the pyramid, there is also the following: Supportive environment and Safe environment.

Final manuscript editing

From teaching in the classroom to publishing, there are several steps involved with young poets reaching the point where they have a final manuscript. Throughout the school semester, students are continuously preparing their creative writing pieces to be published in the school’s anthology. When the students complete their creative work, the process of editing begins. Each instructor is responsible for submitting the work of their students. Some schools have more than one instructor and in these cases, they work as a team to insure the continuity of the school’s final anthology.

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