Poetic Power

A Creative Communication blog

Featured Student Writer: Natalie Danckers

ImageNatalie Danckers is today’s featured student writer.  Natalie is a junior at Libertyville High School in Illinois.  Natalie’s essay, “Sister“, was selected as a Top Ten entry in our Fall 2011 essay contest. When asked what inspired her winning piece, Natalie responded,

“‘Sister’ was inspired by, unsurprisingly, my own sister. She left for college this past fall and my essay is a description of what I went through as I attempted to adjust. As a writer and a person, I owe her so much. She truly inspires me daily and pushes me in all that I do. For me, writing is a way to connect to others and myself. By writing, I hope to share experiences that people can relate to or learn from; because writing is so important to me, it’s an honor to be chosen and published. In the future, I will to continue to write and be grateful to my friends and family, including, of course, my sister.”

Thank you, Natalie, for sharing the influence your sister has had in your life.  Congratulations again on being selected as a Top Ten Winner in our national essay contest.

For more information about our national writing contests, please visit www.PoeticPower.com.

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The Thumbprint of a Teacher: We Leave Our Mark

ImageAs our judges read each poem and look at each piece of art, it is amazing what these students create.  Many of the teachers become unmet friends.  Where as many class assignments are generic in nature, many pieces of art and poetry have a clear thumbprint from that teacher’s style. 

Yesterday, I was judging art and without seeing the school or the teacher’s name, I could identify both by the art that was submitted. It was a school in Texas, whose students each do a very original painting; however, the style is so refreshing and unique that it is very identifiable.  The goal of our publication is not to hit percentages, but to publish good art.  For this teacher, all 55 of her students, covering grades 1-8, were accepted to be published.  Each piece was several grade levels above where they would normally be. 

For poetry, we have many schools that I can identify the teacher and the school by the students’ work.  One such school, in California, does not follow the normal conventions of formula poems where the students follow a pattern, but they each create original thought and style.   This school has had many Top Ten Winners over the years.  Another school in Northern Idaho is based on the classics and their entries are identified by the use of the old style pen that takes an ink cartridge.

Each thumbprint that a teacher creates through their students’ work makes us feel like we are meeting and judging the work of old friends.  Would we know them on the street?  No. But the quality of their students’ work makes them very well-known in our office.

Each year I have students who sit on the back row who I thought were just another student in the class.  I am a bit surprised when these students come forth asking for a letter of recommendation for graduate school.  Of all their teachers, I stood out.  I was not aware of my influence, but it was there. For every teacher, your thumbprint on your students may not be obvious, but we all influence in ways that are not always visible.  Keep up the good work.

For more information about our national writing contests, go to www.PoeticPower.com.

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Featured Teacher: Heather Hohnstein

Today we have a wonderful teacher, Heather Hohnstein, sharing her thoughts on motivating student writers.  Heather is a 7th grade Language Arts teacher at Eagle Point Middle School.  Here are her thoughts:

“It is an honor to be asked to write a piece for the Creative ImageCommunication blog.  As a way of introduction, I was born and raised in Southern Oregon, Medford to be exact. I attended Western Oregon State College for a year before transferring back home to complete my undergraduate degree in Psychology at Southern Oregon State College.  After working two years as a Senior Milieu Counselor and Activities Coordinator and three years for a commercial hardware supplier, I decided it was time to go back to school and earned my Master’s Degree in teaching from Concordia University.

I have been teaching at EPMS for the past 6 years and absolutely loving every minute with the students. I have had the opportunity to teach 7th and 8th grade language arts as well as two different reading intervention classes. I have a wonderful team of colleagues to share ideas with and who support me.  I have coached volleyball, boys’ basketball, and girls’ basketball at the middle school, and am currently a member of the school Leadership/PBIS team, the district’s Superintendent Advisory Committee, as well as being the National Junior Honor Society Founder and Advisor for our district’s only chapter.

Motivating students in the classroom is paramount to teaching and ultimately to learning. My classroom doesn’t run by rules, after all, rules were made to be broken. We operate by student created and voted upon principles. This first step changes the climate in my room from “classroom” to learning community.

Next, I give my students choices. I know what I need them to learn and be able to do, and I realize that there are a number of roads to get there. These choices motivate the students by giving them a sense of control which leads to a desire to try and a freedom to discover, all while encouraging a sense of personal responsibility.

ImageFinally, I work to make my lessons fun, engaging, and challenging.  We begin class most days with a 10 minute quick write. While I give my students topics which range from philosophical to just plain goofy, my students take turns giving me topics. Writing with my students motivates in two ways. The first, if I have to manage behavior, I can’t write, which means they don’t get to see what I wrote (translates to them seeing if they stumped me or not). The second way it motivates is more subtle. Even my most resistant students have bought in since I started writing with them. They watch me struggle to find words and put thoughts together, they watch me as I giggle when I get it right, they enjoy seeing the product and giving me feedback.  The first time a student tells me that my writing missed the mark is a special moment. Every year the room becomes preternaturally quiet, students avert their eyes, and you can feel the tension squeezing in until I agree with the student and ask for suggestions to make it better. Tentatively at first, ideas are shared. By this time of the year, they don’t even raise hands before weighing in – good or bad.

Speaking of engaging and challenging, I have two favorite lessons. I guess I wouldn’t call them lessons, but more pieces of units.  The first is a form of an “I Am” poem I use as a final project for the novel, Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen.  With three stanzas and each verse prompted even my more reluctant writers feel they can be successful.  The twist I add to it is that the students must choose a dynamic character from the novel (elements of literature) and write the poem from that character’s point of view. They must also show the change in the character from beginning to end (First stanza = beginning; second stanza= middle; third = ending). Finally, there is a verse that repeats itself throughout the poem so the students must think about the character and choose two characteristics that are true about them during the entire novel to complete the verse.

I find this assignment to be extremely challenging for the students and yet, I have a great deal of success with it. It is amazing to watch the students think, analyze, reason, discuss, compose, and finalize a very complex poem which integrates not only what they know about the novel but what they have learned in terms of literary elements. Many students choose to enter this poem in your fall poetry contest as opposed to their other pieces.

My second favorite lesson is one I present in the spring. It is part of my Tolerance Unit. For five to six weeks we study our Nation’s history as well as the world and look at instances of intolerance, who perpetrated it and who overcame it.  Towards the end of the unit, I give them a copy of the poem, “Ballad of Birmingham”.  We read it and do a quick analysis. Then I show them the University of Tennessee Choir video performance that has footage of the aftermath of the bombing (can be found on YouTube). Following a class discussion the students write their own poem about the general topic of intolerance/tolerance. Again, the content is challenging but it is something that the students relate to.  Many students draw connections between their own experiences and historic examples in their writing.   They choose different styles of poetry to mimic, some write similar to the, “Ballad of Birmingham” while others have similarities to Maya Angelou and still others strike out on their own.

The poems they turn in represent heartfelt snapshots of not only what they understand, but who they are at that very moment.  I like this particular assignment because I enjoy challenging my students to look deeper, to think and reason on their own, and to write from their heart. When they write with that emotion their writing begins to take on a depth of complexity that catches them by surprise. When they share these pieces you can feel the pride they have in their writing.

ImageI find that the Creative Communication’s poetry contests give my students an opportunity to share their work with a greater audience. For some, it is the first time they have ever taken the risk to share their work outside the teacher/student relationship. It gives all students an opportunity to take pride in their work and to feel a new sense of accomplishment beyond simply completing an assignment.  The contests also teach humility and grace – how do they react when their poem is going to be published but a classmate’s is not.  It teaches courage to enter and face the possibility of rejection and resiliency to try again the next time.

My students love getting the books. Students who have been published get to highlight their names and share their work with others. I have the whole collection since I first started teaching and each year my 7th grade students enter and ask if they too can find their names from the year before and highlight.  It is a tradition that allows me to share in their pride and joy of writing.

The books are also a fantastic resource. I received a book from the Texas contest on accident and was able to keep it. One of my students was going through a very difficult time and she found a poem written by a high school student in that book. She ran to my desk with tears streaming down her cheeks and asked if she could make a notation by the poem in the book.  Her notation was about how she no longer felt so alone because the author of that poem shared something similar.  You can’t beat that kind of genuine connection to writing!”

Thank you Heather for sharing what makes your classroom so successful!  Keep up the great job and we look forward to seeing more work from your students.

For more information on our national writing contests, go to www.PoeticPower.com.

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Contests Create Student Honors

ImageThis last week was a week of honors for two of my children.  Within three days we had the Utah State Regional History Fair (where they took 2ndin documentary and are going to the state competition); Utah Math Competition, where they were both selected in the top 10 students in their grade in math; and today my son is at Utah State University in the Honor Band preparing for a concert made of the top students from area schools.  Each of these events creates an experience and an accomplishment that they will remember for the rest of their lives.

For your students, we are glad to be here to create honors for them.  As we are getting close to the poetry contest deadline I reflect back to the calls I received last semester from teachers telling me of the energy that is created when the students receive our postcards saying that students are accepted to be published.  One teacher related that there is “a buzz in the halls” and “an excitement that can’t be replicated by classroom teaching.”  We are glad that we can be here to partner with our teachers.

As the deadline gets closer, remember to send in your students’ work by April 12th.  Good luck and I hope we can create some memories and honors for your students.

Go to www.PoeticPower.com for more information about our national writing contests.

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Featured Student Writer: Chae Bin Park

ImageThis week’s featured writer is Chae Bin Park.  Chae Bin’s essay, “I Am a Child“, was a Top Ten Winner in our Fall 2011 essay contest.  Chae Bin considers herself a writer by mind but not merit.

“I know how difficult it is to accept your position as a grunt or amateur.  The fact is:  everyone starts somewhere, and that is the thought that brought along my essay.  To me, writing cannot be SOMETHING without a thought.  I am not writing words, but I am writing my thoughts.  I’m branching my opinions to others when I write, and it is the enjoyment of putting my thoughts out there that coaxes me to keep writing.  I love writing, but I also love playing the piano, drawing, reading books, and sometimes just sitting down and thinking.  I hope I will become a better writer in the future, but for now, I’ll work hard to ‘climb the ladder’ with hard work.”

When asked what her inspiration for writing her essay was, Chae Bin responded, “My Language Arts/literature teacher was the one who inspired me to weave my thoughts into my writing.  I’m so thankful I have a guide who can spur my inspiration.”

Chae Bin’s Top Ten essay can be viewed here.  Thank you Chae Bin for sharing your story with us!

If you would like to enter a poem or essay in our national contest, go to poeticpower.com to find more information.

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What Makes a Winner?

We often receive emails asking what it takes to be a winner in our contests.  A great question.  With so many wonderful entries, picking the Top Ten Winners is a tough job.  For poetry there are several things we look for.

We receive many formula poems that take a pattern and follow it.  Often is it hard to tell the differences between many of these poems as they are so similar.  For publication into the anthology, this is fine.  To be considered as a Top Ten Winner, then we do look for more originality.

How are the words used?  Do they evoke thought or emotion in the reader?  Does the language flow so that the words create images.  Often rhyme is forced too much and rather than add to the poem, it draws attention to the rhyme.

Topic is often an important factor.  A topic that is unique or has social significance stands out a bit more.   If there is anything that promotes anything illegal or immoral, it is not considered and is rejected.

We also consider the grade level.  We are much more forgiving with poems from the lower grades than the upper grades.   Overall, it is the top 45% that is accepted to be published.  To be a Top Ten Winner becomes much more selective.

Taking a look at the past winners will also help with an understanding of what it takes to be a winner.

We are heavily involved in the reading of each poem and judging them for the spring contest.  Good luck to you and your students.


Featured Top Ten Winner: Francis Wilson

ImageToday’s featured Top Ten Winner is Francis Wilson, a junior at Lakeside Upper School.  Francis submitted his essay into our Fall 2011 Essay Contest and received special recognition for being selected as a Top Ten Winner out of thousands of entries.  When asked what inspired him to write his essay, Francis responded,

“The inspiration for my essay was my participation in a school service trip to the nation of Morocco in the summer of 2012. I was suddenly plunged from the stress of high school finals into a world where time seemed to move at a slower pace.  After dealing with the rat race of grades and the crammed schedule that had dominated my life during the school year,  it was a real blessing to have been given the opportunity to live for a month without worrying about these  school-centered troubles and be involved in the lives of a small Moroccan village.   I witnessed in Morocco a happiness that did not come from material wealth or the professions that we tend to attribute to success.   This new perspective inspired me to write my short essay.”  Francis’ essay, “Time to Wake Up from the American Dream,”  can be viewed here.

Francis enjoys writing because it is his art form, his creative outlet.

“I am no dancer or singer, but I feel that I can show who I am through the points that I put down on the page. My interests range from serving as an editor of our school newspaper to being a juror in a Municipal Teen Court.   Through these two activities respectively,  I am able to form a strong argument that reaches a big  audience at school and I am able to help erring teens learn responsibility for their actions.

Writing has so much potential and power and the myriad ways that writing enables me to define myself makes it my life’s passion. Being a top ten finalist for this writing contest means a lot to me because I write so that others will read my work and hopefully come away  from thinking about what I had to say, changed for the better.  Having my essay published online gives me the opportunity to broadcast my words to the world.”

Thank you Francis for making a difference in your community.  Keep up the great work and congratulations on being honored as a Top Ten Winner!

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Art and Poetry Across the Curriculum

ImageAs the entries come in for the art and poetry contest, I appreciate more and more the time that teachers take to have their students enter our contest. I received an email last week from a teacher who stated that even though her school was asked to not teach poetry in order to make time for more testing, she felt the benefit of entering our contest was too great to ignore.  She related that she was going to teach poetry to her kids and send them into our contest no matter what.  We appreciate the support, but more importantly we appreciate what she is doing for her students. Through the demands of state, local and national testing, classroom time is filled.  It is a challenge to fit in everything that is required. 

When I was teaching in Illinois, the state added speaking and listening assessment for all public schools.  I traveled the state through the education service centers to not only explain the state requirements, but to also help teachers use as little class time teaching the requirements as possible.  Cross discipline teaching became the key as teachers used math story problems to assess listening, or history oral reports to teach content in history and assess speaking skills.

Poetry and art are the same.  Each year we receive hundreds of poems written about science and math topics, and art that breaks down the parts of a flower.  These come from teachers who felt the teaching across the curriculum not only helps teach the concepts of the parts of an atom or the battles of the Revolutionary War, but also teach language and art skills.

I hope classroom time doesn’t get so filled with the tedious tasks that we lose sight of what is important.  It takes thinking outside the box and some creative energies, but working art and poetry into more “academic” subjects can sometimes achieve several objectives at the same time.

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