January 30, 2018 Hope Scibal

To Pick A Poem

With Declamation season around the corner, poetry takes center stage at Grymes

Tomorrow is the start of Declamation season at Grymes. Each week a new grade of students will stand on stage at assembly and recite a poem by heart to a packed house of peers, teachers, parents and friends. With each assembly, as the children grow in age and size, the poems grow in length and complexity. Declamations infuse our community with a weekly dose of poetry. It’s a signature program unique to Grymes that emphasizes not just skill and confidence in public speaking, but a love and appreciation for poetry.

Somehow, the unique personality of each child rings true with each and every poem.

Well before the presentations begin, exploring and understanding poetry is an important part of preparing for them. As early as Kindergarten, students listen to and learn about poetry as they begin the process of selecting their Declamation poem. Every Grymes teacher agrees that in order to be successful at their Declamation, a student needs to feel a strong connection to his or her poem. The poem needs to speak to the child in some way, whether because it’s about a subject the student loves or because it jives with him or her in verse or meter. Somehow, the unique personality of each child rings true with each and every poem, and that’s because great care has been taken to discover each individual’s perfect poem. In some way, the poem and the child are always a perfect fit.

Val Nigmond ’25 performing his first Declamation as a Kindergartner last year.

Every Grymes teacher approaches this challenge in their own unique way. When asked how they do it, a few Lower and Upper School teachers shared their approach to picking the perfect poem:

Mrs. Kuhnert (third grade):

For me, it’s a matter of finding a poem about each student’s special interest. Sports… animals… travel….. Knowing every one of my students so well, I help them identify their special interests and then as a class, we explore books in our classroom to see what we might find about each topic. During Library class, Mrs. Huelskoetter introduces them to the poetry section of the school library, and students use library time to explore the stacks and see what they can find. This exposes the students to a wide range of options that might pique special interest or excitement. It’s a process that can take some time, but it’s so important that everyone finds a poem they like. They spend a lot of time and energy on the one they select, and when a child finds the one they’re excited about, they just know it’s the one.

Mrs. Dixon (first grade)

We take the time well in advance of our Declamation Day to read a poem or two aloud each week as a class. The children light up when they hear one that appeals to them or tickles their fancy. They often choose a poem based on a particular interest, such as trains, lions, butterflies; or one that has a fun rhyme or rhythm. Once they have selected the perfect poem, they enjoy reading it over and over again. I encourage them to help the audience create a painting of the poem in their head as they recite it, and we practice regularly until reciting it is a routine – while we’re eating lunch together, at carpet time at the start of the day, or in practice sessions on stage before our big day. Reciting poetry is often a part of our day!

Mrs. Stowers (sixth grade)

Mrs. Stowers gets her sixth graders talking about poetry.

To help my students pick the perfect poem for their Declamation, I introduce dozens and dozens of poems to them. By immersing themselves in poems, my students start to take notice about what they love about poetry. They take notes on the poems and talk to each other about what they like. We make a class chart so that everyone sees all of the different reasons we love poems. Whether it’s a personal connection, the rhythm, the content, or the structure of the poem, everybody finds something to appreciate – even the  most vocal poetry naysayers! When it’s time for each student to select his or her own poem, they know exactly what they’re looking for, and if they select a poem they love, their Declamation will show that enthusiasm and connection to the words they are reciting. That connection to the poem is the most important piece of the puzzle.

Mrs. Wagner (fifth grade)

Fifth grader Nora Butterfield ’21 finds the diamond in the rough.

Weeks in advance of our Declamation Day, we take a deep dive into poetry. Literally! I flood the room with poems. Over the years, I have collected thousands of poems that are meaningful to children. Some of my favorites, and theirs, are written by Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost. I spread the pages on the carpet in my classroom, and I encourage my students to jump in. They are literally immersed in poems of all kinds as they wade through the pages, and when they find one they like (or that they think a classmate might like) you can hear, “I found one!” It’s just like finding a beautiful shiny stone in a stream. Once the children have collected several poems, we read through them, listening to the sounds of the words and talking about what those words might mean. What is it about? Why do you like or dislike it? We discuss the poems we have discovered, and we all help each other to pick the perfect poem. By the time Declamation Day comes around, the children are masters of their own poem, and many of their friends’ poems too!

And so begins Declamation season, a special time of year at Grymes Memorial School when every student has the opportunity to shine on stage through the words of a special poem and to enjoy a weekly dose of poetry from their peers!

 

 

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