‘Kinesthetic and Authentic Learning through Haiku Poetry’ by Kirk Bergen

Children absolutely love learning and studying anything having to do with animals. They are more focused and tuned in to the learning process visually and auditorily and are excited to learn more with photos, videos, text, sound, conversation, and dialogue with the introduction to the topic.

At Davis-Ramoth School in Selawik, Alaska in Northwest Arctic School Borough, general education teachers have been joining their students during their daily Inupiaq class to learn more about the culture and to learn more about what they are studying and learning. I then like to integrate what they are studying and learning in Inupiaq with social studies, science, art, reading, and writing back in the general education classroom with kinesthetic learning that emphasizes hands-on and interactive learning experiences. This type of learning utilizes the sense of touch and movement to facilitate understanding and retention. Physical activity is incorporated with movement and hands-on experiences to enhance the learning process.

As a part of our learning during our Inupiaq class, a park ranger (environmental educator) from the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge came to speak about the Alaska Migratory Bird Calendar Contest that has both an art and a literature component and has been ongoing for the past twenty-years across the state. As a part of the introduction to the contest, students also got the opportunity to create a design made out of feathers to peak their interest. Subsequent to the park ranger introducing the Bird Calendar Contest to us, our Inupiaq teacher opted to enter students in the art component, and I opted to enter my 4th grade students into the literature component of the Alaska Migratory Bird Calendar Contest sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska.

The Alaska Reads Act is helping our students to improve their reading skills and comprehension. One of the modules in our Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt Reading textbook focuses on the Marvels of Nature. Within the module are stories that focus on Nature’s Wonders: Poetry About Our Amazing Earth. Upon further reflection, I made a connection between our Inupiaq, reading, science, social studies, art, and writing to integrate each of them into learning to write poetry. The type of poetry I opted to focus on was a haiku.

A haiku is a form of poetry that has its origins in Japan that focuses on nature and consists of three lines. The first line has five syllables, the second line has seven syllables, and the third line has five syllables for a total of seventeen syllables combined in all three lines. We have a diverse range of knowledge, skills, and abilities within our student body (as each school and classroom in Alaska, the United States, and around the world does), so I wanted a type of poetry that is simple and straight forward enough for each student to be able to learn, create, and publish haiku poems about.

After explaining what haikus are, watching multiple videos, and asking students to identify specific animals that live amongst us in the Arctic tundra, we made a list of animals, and I asked students to tell me what they know about the animals as a class discussion. We then created and composed a haiku about polar bears. I then asked each student to create their own haiku based upon whichever animal they chose to write about.  It had to follow the 5, 7, 5 syllable format of each of the three lines as well as the name of the animal as the title. Most students struggled at first, but with feedback and editing each student gradually learned the process. Collaborative teaching from a special needs teacher who joined the class during our writing helped to meet the needs of individual students with their respective individualized education programs (IEP’s).

Once students got better at creating their own haikus, we began to research and learn about other specific animals that live in the Alaskan tundra.  Eventually students began to turn their focus to birds that migrate to and from Alaska throughout the year. Each student then choose specific birds that come to the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge that they created a rough draft of. Each student also learned and used the editing and writing process to complete their final draft. Final drafts were then submitted to the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge to be judged. Three 4th grade students were determined to be the regional winners of the literature portion 2025 Alaska Migratory Bird Calendar.

I then worked with each of the three winners to practice reading their haiku poems and they subsequently shared them on VHF radio to their families and friends throughout the village. Feedback from the parents of the children and school community was very positive, congratulatory, and well-received. Management from the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge then contacted me and asked me if I could send a radio station an audio recording of each of the three winners reading their own haiku poems that they wrote because they wanted to air it on one of the regional radio stations that is broadcast throughout Northwest Arctic Borough as a news story. After this the three-minute news story was broadcast on other radio stations throughout the state. It was also shared with our school district superintendent who then shared it with our school board as well.

Learning about and creating haikus is a form of authentic learning that allows students to apply concepts and skills in a real-world context making it more engaging and meaningful for them. I encourage use or adaption of this lesson and idea by other educators throughout the state to better meet the needs and interests of those that we serve, our students and communities that we are a part of. Special thanks go to each of my students and their parents/guardians; Ms. Carrie Skin, Inupiaq teacher; Mr. David O’Connor, Special Education Teacher; Ms. Brittany Sweeney, Assistant Refuge Manager, Selawik National Wildlife Refuge; Ms. Desiree Hagen, News Director, KOTZ Radio in Kotzebue, Alaska; Mr. Jamie Cowart, Davis-Ramoth School Principal; and Mrs. Terri Walker, Superintendent of Schools, Northwest Arctic School Borough. Please feel free to contact me directly at kbergen@nwarctic.org for further questions, inquiries, or feedback.