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California Poets in the Schools Evaluation

Funding Agency: California Arts Council

Dates: 2000 - 2004

Staff: Jana Kay Slater (principal evaluator), Norm Constantine

California Poets in the Schools (CPITS), the largest writers-in-the-schools program in the United States, has received funding from the California Arts Council to conduct a year-long arts education residency program in every fourth grade classroom in Davis, California. During the 2001-2002 school year, a cadre of experienced CPITS poet-teachers who live in Yolo County and visiting CPITS poet-teachers from northern California will visit Davis 4th grade classrooms weekly, for a period of 15 weeks. In a typical class, poet-teachers will introduce students to poets such as Pable Neruda, Walt Whitman or Joy Harjo. Each session students will be given an exercise or prompt and given time to write. Motivational resources may include art work, music, or tactile "mystery objects." At the end of each session, students will have an opportunity to share their work. Poems are not graded; effort and creativity are praised.

CPITS has two missions - both reflected in the BRIDGES project. The first is to help students throughout California to recognize and celebrate their own creativity, intuition and intellectual curiosity through the creative writing process. The second is to provide students with a multicultural community of trained, published poets who bring their experience and love for their craft into the classroom. The BRIDGES project goes one step further - one of its goals is to use poetry to build bridges between students, teachers, administrators, families and the community. Accordingly, this project includes the production of anthologies and performances to share student poems with fellow students, family members and the community at large.

CPITS is interested in how the year-long BRIDGES project may strengthen developmental assets and support resilience in children. An evaluation of a similar, but short-term, poetry residency project last year found that a five-session poetry residency had a significant impact on students' attitudes about poetry. Following the residency, students reported increased pleasure in writing poetry and increased confidence in their ability to write poetry that is interesting to others. This evaluation involved multiple data collection approaches including pre and posttest self-reported surveys completed by students, their classroom teachers, and the poet-teachers. Additional data sources included observation, a focus group, and a writing assessment. Questions related to developmental assets were not included in the pilot evaluation although the few items remotely related to that area showed no change as a result of the five-session poetry education. For example, children's ratings of the following items did not change (I like school; I am a good student; I am creative; I like writing; I like reading). In contrast, student ratings of virtually all items related to poetry increased significantly (e.g., I like writing poems; I know how to write a good poem; my teacher likes the poems I write). As an interesting aside, the five-session curriculum appears to be related to a decrease student's reported enjoyment of "reading" and listening to poetry - this is believed to be related to an ineffective instructional strategy that was used. All 30 students in the class typically read their poems out loud during the final 20 minutes of the session. Evidently students found this portion of the residency boring.

The evaluation of the BRIDGES project will include many of the same (although revised) instruments and approaches used in the previous evaluation and will be expanded to include assessment of the degree to which the residency has succeeded in its attempt to build bridges beyond the classroom. In addition, items will be included to evaluate the effect of the long-term residency on student's well-being in a broader sense. Evaluation advisors will provide guidance in the following areas: identifying the primary purposes of and uses for the evaluation findings, selecting 1 to 5 components to focus on for the evaluation project, developing a feasible evaluation design that includes comparison groups, and reviewing and suggesting modifications for instruments and other data collection approaches to be consistent with primary focus of the evaluation.