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
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This month Amy Losak, educator and Sydell Rosenberg’s daughter, relates how the donation of time can be the most important lesson.
Arts for All
Usually, when I walk to work, I tend to focus on arriving at my destination. I’m somewhat oblivious to my surroundings. But one day, several years ago, as I rushed through the large lobby of my office building to the elevators, I stopped dead in my tracks.
My building lobby is also a gallery space. Some of the exhibitions have been wonderful, but I’ve usually been too busy or preoccupied to pay much notice. This time, however, I was captivated.
The lobby was decorated with the colorful artwork of NYC elementary school students. They were courtesy of a nonprofit arts education organization that provides programming to underserved schools.
As I looked at the variety of pictures brightening this space, an idea began to percolate. My late mother, Sydell Rosenberg, was an English and ESL teacher; and a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968. While she was anthologized over a roughly 30 year “city haiku” career in many journals and in influential texts such as The Haiku Handbook, The Haiku Anthology and The Teachers and Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms, she never produced a book of her own. She had wanted to publish a picture book (an ABC reader) — and if my memory is correct, she wanted children to illustrate her poems.
I wondered: what tools do teaching artists use today? No doubt their tool kits include screen grabs and digital graphics, magazine tear sheets, photographs, actual groupings of objects. A light bulb went on in my head: Why not words? Why not poetry? Why not haiku and senryu?
Thanks to this display and the “Eureka Moment” it elicited, I landed on one way to help realize my mother’s wish to serve kids today with some of her work and, frankly, keep it alive. After a number of false (and frustrating) starts, in 2013 I connected with the wonderful organization, Arts For All. Our collaboration kicked off with a one-day-a-week series of haiku/art workshops for second-graders at a Bronx school. I provided the funding for the teaching residency and a cache of Syd’s haiku. (The teachers formulate their lesson plans in accordance with the Common Core.)
Essentially, the teacher uses the imagery — including the animals and other “characters” in mom’s haiku (which include cats, sparrows, pigeons, turtles, flamingoes, horses, lakes, trees, suns, etc.) — to help students learn the basics of drawing, painting and collage. When I visit, I present a short biography of Syd so the students can more personally connect to the poems — that is, put a face and voice to them. We also recite the poems aloud. We discuss the words, how they sound, and the feelings and images they evoke. Sometimes we act them out, almost like little plays; or move to them (like a cat, bird, etc.). The students also write their own haiku.
Since 2013, my partnership with AFA has grown to include a Queens school and haiku/music workshops for second-graders. The teacher selects the haiku she wants to use, usually around a theme (for example, cats!). The haiku are used as lyrics to construct a song and the teacher and students also create their own haiku “chorus” to tie Syd’s “verses” together.
Most of these classes have been for second-graders. We’ve done one fifth-grade haiku/art class in the Bronx. Some of the classes had special education students.
It has been gratifying to see Syd’s haiku come to life in art and music and have a purpose today. I think she would have been delighted with this approach to cultivating young audiences. None of this would have been possible without the enthusiasm, resources, dedication and talent of my Arts For All partner, which saw the possibilities immediately. While I still hope to publish at least one picture book in her memory and honor, I look forward to what will come next with AFA, as well as other worthy organizations that give kids and families access to the arts!
Since I first posted this article in January of 2017, Sydell’s H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku From A to Z, was released by Penny Candy Books this past April (National Poetry Month). I first learned about this independent publisher, started by two poets, from Aubrie Cox a few years ago. I am grateful to her. The poems in this collection (illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi), celebrate the small moments in our daily lives. I hope it will bring kids and the adults in their lives joy, and encourage them to write their own haiku, too.