All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.
The magic of poetry – nostalgia, homesickness, memories of childhood, smells, foods, places and a sense of belonging are some of the topics my English learners, from Kindergarten to fifth grade, write poems about. Poetry sets them free to play with language and to talk about those things that are essential to them.
The chance to live in Korea allowed me to connect with my students in a different way than in the past – it gave me a deeper feel for what they leave behind and of how homesick they are. This year, the poems resonate more than ever.
My students come from Korea, the Dominican Republic, China, India, Japan, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Turkey, Yemen, the Philippines and other countries. They range from Kindergartners to fifth graders, some know some English and some only spoke their home language until recently.
Our classrooms, mosaics of different nations, religions, family structures and backgrounds, represent a microcosm of the diverse world we live in.
In order for our students to become globally competent and to respect our similarities and differences, we must engage them in discussions that celebrate where they come from while at the same time welcoming them into our schools and our culture so they can build an appreciation of their new lives.
This is what we do best as teachers of immigrant children. We know the importance of making our students feel proud of themselves and we try to learn as much as we can about their countries and backgrounds.
Since I had spent the first half of the year in Korea, I did not get a chance to get to know them deeply until a month ago when we began writing poetry. I had arrived in February when students were engaged in procedural and informational writing, genres that promote research skills but that limit students in expressing themselves.
I could not wait to delve into poetry, a magical and exciting time in our classroom. Students become alive when they discover they can write about what is important to them, play with line breaks, punctuation and use humor. They are exposed to inspiring poems that speak to them in simple and thoughtful ways.
Poets like Jack Prelutzky, Georgia Heard, Douglas Florian, Ralf Fletcher and George Ella Lyon, are some of our mentors. We read poems that talk about things we like and dislike; that “speak to a favorite food”; haikus, acrostic poems, shape poems, poems about where we come from. Through this journey of words and forms, we discover ourselves and reflect on who we are.
One of my favorite poems that digs deep into their lives is “Where I am From” by George Ella Lyon. The 2015-17 Kentucky Poet Laureate talks about the simple things that define her and the place she belongs to. We read her poem many times to explore what are the things that make us who we are. I paraphrased some lines, gave them background knowledge on some of the things she talks about and then we wrote our own versions.
To put it in the words of my forth grade students, “We are addicted to poetry. Can we write some more?