No one should be surprised to see poetry in a middle school history class at PDS. And, no one should be surprised to see the English and history teacher work collaboratively with the seventh grade, as they read a novel, Chains, set in pre-Revolutionary War New England, a time period studied in their history class.
No surprise, because collaboration and expression through art is an important component of education. Mixing art with other subjects helps learning because it requires students to transfer and translate their understanding from one form to another. Exploring a topic from the point of view of more than one subject, tells a growing mind that the concepts are important, and gives a learner more than one access point to solidify ideas.
Shirley Rinaldi, the seventh grade English teacher, explains why she likes to have students write poetry as a response to this novel, “I especially like using poetry in history because it is a way to make historical events come to life. Poetry works well to respond to a novel in that it leads to deeper thinking about the characters and events in the novel.”
Jake Lahey, seventh grade history teacher, chose with care the type of poetry that he and Shirley would require for this assignment: a sonnet. He explained, “Sonnets lend themselves to writing about descriptive situations and the story telling of important events – using iambic pentameter and working on these rhyming groups help students think carefully about the vocabulary and expressions they they will use.” With a touch of humor that should never be far from a middle school teacher’s mind, he added, “Writing a sonnet is like doing creative math, and I never get tired of seeing students count syllables on their hands while doing so.”
The second seventh grade poetry assignment was for history, in support of learning about the Lewis and Clark expedition. For this assignment, students were asked to read the from the expedition journals and respond with more than one type of poetry.
Before the poems about the Lewis and Clark expedition would hang on the wall, a whole environment for the educational activity needed to be constructed. Students needed access to the primary source material, found and made accessible by Jake. What would have taken reams of paper a few years ago is now available with a few clicks. Students had to read texts written generations ago in order to crystalize the ideas that made sense to put down on paper and illustrate them in words and pictures.
Collaboration, connection and creativity. They make for a rich learning experience.