A Classroom of Poets

Notes from the Classroom

students crafting poems

I teach 8th grade at Oak Park Preparatory Academy, and this past semester I had the privilege of having InsideOut Literary Arts Project complete a residency in my classroom.  My writers-in-residence, Peter Markus and Mahogany Jones, came to two of my classes every Monday.  Our classes are single gender, so they came to one girl class and one boy class.  The focus was poetry writing.  Specifically, they wanted the students to think about how they would describe themselves through metaphors, similes, and personification.  Students had a really hard time letting go of their masks and getting real.  We were concerned that they wouldn’t produce great poems.  They fought us every step of the way–maybe because it can be uncomfortable to look inside yourself and see what is rattling around in there.  But eventually, the students started to let go and surprise us with powerful, insightful pieces.  We were often blown away by what they wrote.


poet Peter Markus works with a student

At the end of the residency, all the poetry was collected, sorted, and published in a book for the students called Words Ain’t No Walk in the Park.  Because my classes were small ones, students were able to have multiple pieces represented.  I even had a couple of my own poems put in the book!  We had a celebration to honor the work and have the students bask in their glory.  Special guests from InsideOut and the district came to honor the students.

This was one of the most meaningful teaching experiences I have ever had in my 14 years of teaching.  There was so much growth in the students and in me.  When I read through our book of poetry, it is like visiting an old friend.  And now, I discover something new each time I open the book and read my students’ words.  This project moved the students forward more that any other unit we engaged in this year.  The look of pure joy on their faces when they saw their name and words in print made the struggle worth it.  I know that this will carry them for a lifetime.  In fact, it is going to carry me too.

Excerpts from Words Ain’t No Walk in the Park:

Words Ain't No Walk in the Park

by Shawntelle Avery

Love is like a strawberry.
Love is sweet.
Love is a light that never burns out.
Love is a book with no pages.
Love is a pencil with no eraser.
Love is a kiss with no lips.
Love is like the night with no moon.
Love is like dancing.

I’m Lost
by Jason Leak

I’m always hidden
yet I am always
there.  Why can’t
you find me? It’s like
you just threw me
away. I thought
you loved me.
Am I not
special? I’m
right here in
front of you.
Find me.

Self-Portrait with Metaphors
by DeAndre Knott

My teeth are eggs cracking in a bowl of milk.
My legs are two bats hitting a home run.
My hands are snakes rattling in the grass.
My eyes are two meatballs waiting to be eaten.
My belly is a drum being played.
My ribs are a steel cage that will not open.
My heart is my heart.


LisaKraizaLisa Kraiza teachers eighth grade English Language Arts at Oak Park Preparatory Academy.  She is also a member of the Core Leadership Team of the Oakland Writing Project.

Michigan Merit Curriculum Bill Update

Legislative Updates News

173260217Last week, three bills (SB 66) related to the Michigan Merit Curriculum were discharged from Senate Committee to the Senate Floor. Senate Bill 66, which Oakland Schools supports, was unanimously approved with no changes by the House Education Committee on Wednesday.

SB 66 would amend the Revised School Code regarding the fulfillment of Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements for a high school diploma through a career and technical education (CTE) program. If a district requested information from the Department of Education about CTE programs that meet the requirements of the merit curriculum, that information would have to be furnished within a reasonable time. CTE best practices would also have to be posted on the Department website.  The bill would also require a school board to ensure that students were fully informed about how their graduation requirements could be fulfilled with CTE or another Department-approved program. School Districts would be “strongly encouraged” to establish programs whose completion, after high school graduation, would be credited toward achievement of a professional certificate, training, apprenticeship, or college credit in a specific career and technical field.

The bill is awaiting action on the House Floor.

Teacher Evaluation Bills Have Hearings, Delay of Current Law Moves

Legislative Updates News

488895599As discussed in a previous blog post, Senate Bill 817 (Pappageorge, R-Troy) would amend the Revised School Code to delay the implementation of teacher and school administrator performance evaluation requirements, including conditions for the use of student growth and assessment data in conducting the evaluations.

House Education Committee reported the bill unanimously (with two members abstaining from the vote, Reps. Hooker and McMillin), and the bill is awaiting action on the House Floor.  This bill will likely move as the House now recognizes that the Senate will not be finalizing the full evaluation bills before the deadline passes for implementing the current law.

Senate Education held its first hearing on those larger bills, House Bills 5223 and 5224, this week.  During the hearing, the bill sponsors acknowledged further work is needed and the Committee Chairman noted his intention to hold more hearings and work on the bill into the fall.

Oakland Schools supports passage of SB 817 immediately, given that all schools would be out of compliance with law as of June 30, 2014, through no fault of their own.

3rd Grade Retention Bill Update (House Bills 5111 (H-3) and HB 5144)

Legislative Updates News

463838707Legislators in the House are hearing that the 3rd grade retention legislation may come up for a vote before summer break.

While the changes to the bills allow more flexibility, they still ultimately mandate retention for children in 3rd grade for up to two times, even though research on retention shows negative and harmful effects.

Further, one major issue still exists, which is that funding is not included in either of these bills.  While HB 5144 directs the MDE to seek public and private funding for the pilot projects required in the bill and the legislature is directed to fund the programs, the bills themselves do not contain funding and are, therefore, still an unfunded mandate.  Oakland Schools opposes the legislation.

Many legislators have concerns about the bills.  The concerns center on the effectiveness (or lack of effectiveness) for retention as a policy, the unfunded costs in the bills, and the impact on schools of a large group of children being retained for up to 2 years.

Legislative Content

HB 5111 would require children to be held back in 3rd grade until they reach proficiency level on the state assessment for reading.  The substitute that was reported included significant changes from the original bill aimed at offering exemptions to the retention law for children under certain circumstances.

Further, the bill pushes off the mandate for retention by starting with children in first grade this year, thus giving districts a chance to move more children to proficiency through targeted intervention prior to a child reaching the 3rd grade retention requirement.  The substitute allows the local superintendent to grant a good cause exemption to retention for the following reasons:
a)  The pupil has demonstrated 3rd grade reading on an alternative assessment approved by the State Superintendent.

b)  The pupil has demonstrated 3rd grade reading through a pupil portfolio through multiple work samples.

c)  The pupil is a student with a disability and the IEP indicates that participation in the state reading assessment is not appropriate.

d)  The pupil is a limited English proficient student who has had less than 2 years of instruction in an English language learner program.
The exemption can be initiated by the parents or the pupil’s teacher and must go through the principal and to the superintendent (or chief administrator for a charter).  Children who receive an exemption and are enrolled in 4th grade must be provided with intensive reading instruction and intervention with specialized diagnostic information and reading strategies. Students may retake the grade 3 assessment before grade 4 for a second chance to show proficiency.  The bill limits retention to two school years per student.

115530971 (1)Finally, the bill was amended in committee to prohibit MDE from including a social studies component on the grade 3 state assessments or any pilot of that assessment in order to further the goal of reading proficiency.

Legislation with further interventions, HB 5144, was reported from committee as well.  House Bill 5144 would require the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) to adopt policies and programs to enable more Michigan children to attain proficiency in reading by the end of grade 3.  The MDE is required to submit a report to the legislature identifying reading programs that have been demonstrated to work and then MDE would have to recommend or develop a program that focuses on diagnostic evaluation, early intervention, tutoring, and mentoring.

Further for 2014-15, MDE would be required to implement a pilot program serving up to 400 K-2 students in up to four school districts.  Local districts are required to help ensure 3rd grade reading proficiency by using effective screening instruments to identify students having early literacy delays in grades K-3, notify parents of identified children, use intensive intervention for those students, and submit data to MDE.

Click below to watch Oakland Schools’ video statement on the proposed bill.

The Oakland Schools Literacy Team Blog Kicks Off


460593861Welcome to our blog!  With the roll out of the website, so begins the Oakland Schools Literacy Team blog.  Our blogging team is made up of consultants and Oakland County educators.

Our first wave of posts concern legislative updates, podcasts with education experts, and literacy research & theory.   In the coming months, we plan to develop several more categories including:

  • Notes from the Classroom – ideas, teaching strategies, and stories from Oakland County teachers
  • The Consultant’s Corner – highlighted resources and strategies from the OS Literacy Team
  • Book Reviews – reviews of professional texts submitted by Oakland County educators
  • Literacy & Technology – suggestions for ed tech tools and platforms to use in literacy instruction

Every post has share buttons.  So if you like something you read, please share it on Twitter, Facebook or another favorite social media platform.  We also encourage you to join the conversation — use that comment section!

Have a suggestion for the blog?  We’d love to hear from you.