“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.
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.