Poetry theater spurs students toward better language skills

Posted: Friday, October 05, 2001

In his own words, Nile Stanley takes poems "from the page to the stage."

Classic or modern, humorous or serious, long or short, any poem is fair game for Stanley to transform from the written word to an animated performance. And by introducing "poetry theater" into grade schools, he said, students can reap benefits ranging from better reading comprehension to improved public speaking.

"I find that the poetry theater is a great motivational tool to get kids into writing and reading," Stanley said. "It improves all aspects of language. It helps with their poise, their confidence."

Stanley, who spent the past week at Gastineau Elementary School in Douglas, is a professor at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. He started working with poetry theater in 1995 and has made it a focus of his teaching and research.

When working with a class, Stanley starts by performing solo and "breaking the ice." Gradually, he starts to involve the teacher and a few students at a time. By the end of the session, most of the students have had their moment in the spotlight - and the opportunity to learn pronunciation of new words and comprehend the meanings of the poems.

Stanley said the approach can grow to include students writing - and performing - their own poems.

"It's amazing the things children can express through poetry," he said. "They discover there is poetry all around them waiting to come out. You don't have to be someone special or somewhere special to write poetry. You just have to be observant."

Stanley said performance poetry gives a creative outlet to some students who have faced roadblocks in other areas.

At each class he visits, Stanley leaves behind materials to help continue using poetry theater in the classroom. He also conducted an after-school workshop with teachers Wednesday.

"We're not advocating a total approach," he said. "We're advocating it to enhance" existing curriculum.

Stanley visited Glacier Valley Elementary School in the Mendenhall Valley last year. Principal Bernie Sorenson said Stanley's visit was well-received, and created an interest in poetry that continues today.

"Nile is just dynamic with the kids, real open and a lot of fun," Sorenson said. "As a result of his work, we definitely took on the poetry pledge. We've had, ever since then, kids writing poetry."

Andrew Krueger can be reached at akrueger@juneauempire.com.

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