A Note Slipped Under the Door: Teaching from Poems We Love

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Stenhouse Publishers, 2000 - Education - 241 pages
2 Reviews


- Naomi Shihab Nye

How do we read a poem? What can we teach from a poem we love? How can we name what poets do in order to inform our writing, our teaching?

In their staff development work with teachers, Nick Flynn and Shirley McPhillips have often encountered these and similar questions. This book invites preservice and inservice teachers, staff developers - anyone who wants to make a lasting place for poetry in their own and their students' lives - into many of these same primary through middle school classrooms for an up-close look at several thoughtful, rigorous, poetry inquiries.

Each chapter begins with a mentor poem as the centerpiece for discussion, followed by a short narrative of ways the authors view their world through that chapter's particular poetic "lens." The authors then walk the reader into a classroom writer's workshop where, through vignettes, conversations, and carefully designed mini-lessons, that chapter's key element of poetic practice is being studied over time.

Other aspects that will help teachers in designing and conducting inquiry around mentor poems include:mini-lessons that take students through an inquiry from launch to in-depth extensions;illustrations of student writing samples in the "try it" stages, successive drafts, and crafted poems;words, stories, and examples of best-loved poets that inspire and instruct us in our own thinking and teaching;appendixes that include various types of book lists, charts, conference transcripts, and additional poems.

A Note Slipped Under the Door will show how you might help your student writers let the poems they love teach them what they need to know, and build a writing life that includes finding and crafting their own.

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A Note Slipped Under the Door is a great resource. Not a checklist of boxes and standards or a blueprint of what and when you must perform in your classroom, but an invitation for inquiry and dialogue around poetry, an opportunity for creative teachers and students to interact with and to find mentor texts, poems, and each other (Imagine the discussion that can come from the first chapter's title alone--Watermelons in My Grandmother's Car--which is about image of course).
The way the text uses examples taken from classrooms and shows progressive revisions is helpful, especially for students (and teachers) who crave instant gratification. Sometimes it takes several revisions, and maybe going back to Chapter Four about the sounds of language, before a student (like one I remember) rewrites what were invisible plane passengers so they begin "stowing baggage and sipping green tea." Through this process, when students find poems that speak to them, and they tuck them into folders, it is a rewarding thing to watch. The authors have poetry know-how; A Note is an excellent addition to your mentor catalog.

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Whatever Shirley or Nick tell you--Believe them--Naomii Shihab Nye
This is a book that spends more time off the shelf and in my hands than any other book on poetry in my collection. For good
reasons: It is both practical and beautiful. Practical, because if you're thinking about teaching with this book, you'll find ideas that you can bring into your classroom that are honest, and authentic. Beautiful, because the mentor pieces that begin each chapter have been written by outstanding poets--Charles Simic, Jane Kenyon, William Stafford, and Stanley Kunitz to name just a few.
I would even recommend that you spend some time perusing the appendix in the pursuit of building your own professional library. Shirley runs with the best of them.


Watermelons in My Grandmothers
It Gets Late So Early
A Note Slipped Under the Door

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About the author (2000)

Nick Flynn has worked at a variety of jobs, including ship's captain, electrician, and as a case-worker with homeless adults. As poet-in-residence for six years at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, he taught writing to young people and their teachers in New York Citynbsp;Public Schools. His poetry and essays have appeared in thenbsp;Paris Review, The Nation,and in several anthologies.nbsp;Some Ether,nbsp;a book of poems published by Graywolf Press, won a "Discovery"/The Nation Award, as well as the PEN/American Center's Joyce Osterweil Award. He lives in Provincetown, MA, and in Brooklyn, NY.

A former classroom teacher, Shirley McPhillips has also worked as a literacy staff developer, writing consultant, educational writer and poet. For several years she was affiliated with The Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. Currently she is a member of thenbsp; Writers Council of the National Writing Project .In 2000, Shirley co-authorednbsp;with prize-winning poet and memoirist Nick Flynnnbsp;A Note Slipped Under the Door: Teaching from Poems We Lovenbsp;(Stenhouse), which focused on writing craft and mentor texts. Shirley's more recent professional book,nbsp;Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers, (Stenhouse, 2014) helps teachers bring poetry into their lives and the lives of their students through close reading and writing of poems.Shirley serves as Poet Laureate for Choice Literacy online (choiceliteracy.com) where she publishes original poems and essays. Her poems have found homes in places such as the Sewanee Review, Journal of New Jersey Poets, Edison Literary Review, Poets Online, and in several anthologies.In 2016, Shirley's new book of poems,nbsp;Acrylic Angel of Fatenbsp;(Finishing Line Press), made its debut. She is at work on another collection tentatively titlednbsp;Mapping the Labyrinth.When asked about the importance of ongoing professional development, Shirley says,nbsp;"To devote oneself to growth and learning is probably as crucial a decision as one can make." She describes effective staff development as "the way we keep our minds open, our spirits creative. The way we come together with others to forge new paths of thinking."In anbsp; 2015 radio interview nbsp;with Tanya Baker of the National Writing Project, Shirley talks about her life in and with poetry, and her work with young readers and makers of poems.

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