Monday, April 9, 2018

"Poetry Midwifery" in Kindergarten by Christie Wyman



“How did you get them to write that?” I am often asked by colleagues and even parents. “I just asked the right questions, I guess,” is my response.

My wise poetry fairy godmother, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, once used the term “poetry midwifery” in a conversation we had, and it has stuck with me ever since. The more I thought about the concept, I realized it is all about asking students the right questions to draw out the poem waiting to come into the world. So, I guess I am a poetry midwife, assisting young writers and poets in bringing their creativity into the world. 
I love conferring with students about writing of all kinds, but I especially love conferring about poetry. There is something magical about engaging in a conversation with a Kindergartener when they are writing a poem, whether they are writing about wearing mittens in winter, a vernal pool animal, or an image given to them for an ekphrastic poetry challenge. Hearing them speak about the way something or someone makes them feel, what they see, or what it reminds them of is a timeless gift.

The time spent listening to my students, and looking for windows of opportunity in their words, is the best part of my teaching day. When a student was recently writing about making crepes with his grandmother in France last summer, I simply asked him what he called her. Without hesitation, and with a beaming smile, he replied, “Grand-Mère.” That one change in his written language added something special to his writing.

And just last week another student wrote a poem about the birds we study through our magical class window. She had written “fly” and so I probed and asked, “How would you describe the way that particular bird flies?” She replied, “Soar, of course.” Again, just that one little word change made her writing all the more powerful, and it was her word, not mine. I just asked the question. 

My goal is to keep the integrity of the writer’s intent, not wanting them to walk away from our conversation feeling like I, the teacher, did all the work. Just gently nudging, coaxing, guiding their powerful words that lie just beneath the surface in to the world.


Christie Wyman is a Kindergarten teacher and Grade Leader in Massachusetts, as well as a Lead Ambassador for Wonderopolis.org. When not nurturing her young writer/naturalists, she enjoys exploring vernal pools, marveling at the birds at her feeders, and hiking with her husband wherever mountains meet the sea. You can connect with Christie on Twitter @WymansWonders or on her blog, Wondering and Wandering, where she posts twice-weekly for both the Slice of Life and Poetry Friday communities. 

3 comments:

  1. Love the phrase "poetry midwifery." That is so perfect! Becoming skillful at questioning is so important when conferring with student-writers. Because you are a teacher who writes, you have learned the importance balance that both teaches, yet honors the voice of the student. Thanks for writing for us this month, Christie. I hope you'll do it again SOON!

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  2. I get asked the same question about how I get my kids to write poems, but reading your post I have a clearer understanding. I open the door and I ask questions. I don't think I could do this with kinders as easily as with older gifted kids, though. You obviously have a gift with those little ones.

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  3. I so admire Christie and Margaret and all of the poetry midwife teachers, female and male, who help children find their voices. We need all of them. xxxx

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