Teaching and Learning Haiku in Community and Classroom: Stories, Challenges, Adventures
Do you teach haiku? In a classroom? An arts foundation? Community education? We want to hear about it. Want some new ideas? A place to vet an old idea before you try it “live”? Community support? How We Haiku — Teaching Stories is a monthly feature wherein we will share the many diverse and interesting ways your bring our favorite genre to your audience. Each month Brad Bennett and Jeannie Martin, co-chairs of The Haiku Foundation Education Committee, will host your stories of how you make haiku come alive for your students, and create an environment where educators can discuss the many challenges faced in bringing a fuller sense of haiku to a culture that knows little more than the stereotypes. Contact us to share your teaching stories, to ask your questions, and to find fellowship with your peers and the rest of the haiku community.
“We cannot teach a person directly, we can only facilitate his or her learning.”
— Carl Rogers
We welcome your comments (scroll down to the bottom of the page). And don’t forget about all the other fine education resources the Foundation has to offer.
This month Robyn Hood Black, children’s literature author and Southeast Regional Coordinator for the Haiku Society of America, offers one of her favorite teaching stories.
Hillside Haiku with Third Graders
As a poet and children’s author, I love meeting students through school visits. I try to work in haiku whenever possible, and this new Teaching Stories resource is terrific.
This spring I was invited to a school in my state (SC) to do some poetry presentations. The media specialist and I soon realized the school was the same school where my daughter, Morgan, was a third grade teacher!
Because I was already planning a multi-visit creative writing project with Morgan’s class for spring, she and I set aside the afternoon following my media center presentations for a classroom visit. I asked if we could do a haiku workshop, and she agreed. Her class was already “well versed” in poetry, as Morgan uses The Poetry Friday Anthology series, pomelobooks.com, with her students. But they hadn’t yet done much in the way of haiku.
On a sunny February afternoon, we left classroom walls behind and ventured out to the hillside overlooking the playground and track. We had already discussed haiku and read several examples. Each student was armed with a small notebook, a pencil, and a two-page handout with suggested steps for composing a haiku, with space allotted for writing.
First, students jotted down sensory impressions, ideas, thoughts, or sketches — nothing polished; no stress. They worked individually but quiet talk was fine, and we meandered through the group to see if anyone was stuck.
A few stared at a blank page. We encouraged them to write down whatever they saw or heard or felt in that moment. Others filled pages in their notebooks and jumped over to the handouts to start composing haiku.
I’m delighted if students can have a good bit of time for this special experience. Some are self-directed, while others ask questions and seek feedback.
One thing that could have been better on this day: The language on my handouts was a little above third-grade level I’ve since tweaked it with help from Morgan, and we discussed that a bit more verbal guidance through the steps would be welcome.
One thing that went right on this day: If a visiting poet or teacher has time to listen, younger students might surprise them with thoughts they verbalize but which aren’t apparent in their writing.
I sat down beside MacKenna. She shared her worksheets, and she’d made some good observations about trees, wind, and bees. She’d written one rhyming quatrain and some other draft poems, though she hadn’t yet wrangled any into a three-line haiku.
I asked about her notes.
She looked out over the track, the fields, the building, and the woods at the edges.
“I was thinking about what this was like before all this was built,” she said.
A pretty profound observation from an 8- or 9-year-old late in a busy school day. [It put me in mind of Basho’s poem about summer grasses and soldiers who, centuries before, had dreamed and died where he stood.]
Usually I wrap up a workshop with an invitation for students to share their poems, or I’ll read if a student is shy but wants to share.
On this day, however, our poetic reverie was interrupted by a full lock-down drill! The swift action and professionalism of all the teachers (including my daughter) was impressive. We had to return to the building and remain quiet and still in a designated area of the classroom until the All-Clear.
And then, would you believe it? Back outside not to finish writing poetry, but for a pre-scheduled fire drill! The students were troupers and everything went smoothly, but as it was a Friday afternoon and the end of the school day, we never did have time to hear the finished poems. (Flexibility is always the name of the game in schools.)
It was still a successful afternoon in my book, however. On a subsequent visit before a week-long break, Krish came up to me as students were packing bookbags and cleaning their desks. He smiled from ear to ear and said, “Spring Break is a great time to write nature haikus!”
“Yes,” I smiled back, not about to dampen his enthusiasm with a correction of the plural of haiku. “Yes, it is!”
Robyn Hood Black makes poems and art in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Her poetry appears in several children’s anthologies as well as in leading haiku journals. She’s a regular Poetry Friday blogger in the Kidlitosphere.