As I walked towards the front entrance of E.O. Smith Education Center to observe WITS Writer Deborah Wiggins, I sensed love in the air. On this Valentine’s Day, Wiggins’ writers were preparing to work when I slipped through the classroom door. An international performance poet with a commanding stature, Wiggins is a take charge teacher with a big smile and a warm heart. She wasted no time arresting the boy’s and girl’s attention, using a count-to-ten approach. By the time she reaches number 10, every bottom should be in its seat and all eyes should be on her. (She later told me her students usually are glued to their chairs by number 9.)
Deborah Wiggins inspires her 4th graders to create heart-shaped love poems. Photo by Jennifer Watson.
Getting the children to focus is one of the many challenges Wiggins learned since she took on the class last fall. WITS writers are tasked with developing innovative teaching methods that encourage children to think of language in unconventional ways in addition to showing them that writing about their everyday experiences can be fun. Although each WITS writer is given a sample curriculum as a guideline, customizing the lesson plan to each classroom is no easy feat, not even for a seasoned teacher like Wiggins.
“The biggest trick to working with the kids at Smith is [finding] engaging and active ways for them to interact with writing that transcends the page,” she said. “There are no interesting pieces without imagination. As long as their imaginations are alive, so are their emotions and stories.”
WITS student Guadalupe Hernandez and Mayor Parker. Photo by Gayatri Parikh.
In the spirit of the holiday, Wiggins shared a heart-themed prompt to inspire love poems. Everyone was given construction paper, scissors, and pencils to create a heart and decorate it and asked to write a poem beginning with a simile. The children read their work aloud, and the results were beyond charming. What impressed me most was the individual attention Wiggins gave to every student and her ability to draw on their emotions in a way that got them excited about describing their hearts’ desires.
Wiggins’ natural gift of connecting with her audience as a spoken word poet is a skill she transfers exceptionally well as a teacher. In a recent public performance she was invited to showcase both talents at the kickoff event for Public Poetry, a reading series established to celebrate poetry in the community. She brought along Guadalupe Hernandez, a 4th grader from E.O. Smith, to read poems in honor of National Poetry Month. Of the featured poets including Wiggins, Mayor Annise Parker, Rich Levy, Martha Serpas, and Eva Skrande, it was Hernandez who stunned the crowd with her two poems “Diamonds” and “Untitled” (below).
By Guadalupe Hernandez
My world feels
Cold and windy
The grass is wet
temperature around 65 degrees
it moves like a sphere
the right way the wind is going
My world sounds like
Vibration of the wind
In my ear
I could hear the freeway
When the wind blows
And the trees blow
And the leaves get in your face
And the bears migrate in the winter
And when it stops
It feels hot
I get mad
And our stuff flies away.
Her courageous performance was a testament of how writing “transcends the page” and manifests itself into an experience memorable enough to make a teacher/writer/poet’s heart incredibly proud.
by Jennifer Watson,
Writers in the Schools