When is A Wheelbarrow Just a Wheelbarrow?

A trick question

Aug 7 · 2 min read

My district is adopting a new literacy curriculum and today was the training. As a coach, I have to be able to support my teachers and help them navigate these new materials. I must say, there is a lot of buzz around this program. It is open source which means it is essentially free to use. The materials are high quality and student centered. There is dialogue and writing embedded in all the complex text.

The sample lesson from 4th grade was about poetry. I appreciate a training where we experience an actual lesson. One of the core texts is Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog. The main character in the story is supposed to write a poem and is having difficulty understanding The Red Wheelbarrow.

As a “class” we discussed what we thought the theme of the poem is. Many at the table were uncomfortable with the genre and wanted to be “right”.

“Poets are crazy,” uttered one teacher.

There was a lot of conversation around what the “correct” theme of the poem was which is typically what the students would be talking about too. No one wanted to be wrong. As a coach it is always interesting for me to see how adults emulate the behavior of children.

This poem is interesting because lots of the conversation was about the theme but also what the poet “was trying to say.”

I feel many times scholars and critical readers try to impose ideas the poet didn’t intentionally create in the first place. Maybe The Red Wheelbarrow is just about a tool in the rain.

I always think about Robert Frost’s true intent of The Road Not Taken is really about his friend and a walk and how he couldn’t decide which path to take! This curriculum lends itself to an open discussion with students about what the general meaning of a poem is. If they can show evidence to back up their thinking, I do not think they are wrong. There is also an opportunity to compare and contrast other analysis.

In our conversation, there were interpretations of this poem I’ve never heard before. Lots of talk centered around the chickens and that the wheelbarrow was for feeding the chickens. Other ideas were the rain on the wheelbarrow was important because everything was outside. It was proposed it was a farm and everything is connected.

We need to allow space for these conversations with students! I am excited to see how these teachers take this great program and dive in next week!

Tammy Breitweiser

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Tammy is force of nature; woman of honor; seer of nuance; ultra runner and ultra reader; & an accidental inspirationalist who writes.

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