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We live among layers upon layers of story

Posted by Celia Brogan

“Anyone can lead a walk because everyone is an expert on the places they live, work, and play.”

Have you heard of Jane’s Walks? Inspired by the work of Jane Jacobs, Jane’s Walks are neighbourhood walking tours, led by a member of the community. The tour routes and content are as varied as the citizens who lead them. Consider this as a great way to get our students to embrace their presence in their community. If you don’t have the capacity to actually do the waking tours, a adaptation might include a mapped route with photo-anchor accompaniment to written or audio descriptions for a set number of points of interest. The global festival is May 1-3, but you can do Jane’s Walks any time through the year.

Another way to explore and bring forward the stories in our neighbourhoods and communities is to dig through the layers of a place. The book On Looking: 11 Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz can provide the inspiration to bring your classroom into the community. The author took the same walk around her neighbourhood 11 times with 11 different people and noticed the difference in what she noticed.  To think about why we see what we see, and how we see it can be a fascinating entrance into a celebration of our place.

Poetry Month: day 20

Well, this April has been pretty good, poetry-wise.  I will finish this series by telling you about a poetry month initiative I run in my school.  The idea was shared with me by a colleague and I’ve modified it a bit.  I wouldn’t be surprised if other schools do it too.  It’s called Poem in my Pocket and my version is simple:
To participate in Poem in my Pocket students must

  1. find a poem they like (in a book, online, on a bus, anywhere!), or write one of their own
  2. copy that poem onto a piece of paper.
  3. carry that piece of paper in their pocket a while.
  4. bring the poem to me and read it aloud to me.
  5. repeat.

I then take their poem and post it on my “poetry wall” until the end of the month, at which time I put all the poems in a bin and draw a winner for a poetry-related prize.  Students may carry/read/enter as many poems as they like.  This year I have a grade three student who has entered approximately twelve poems–she shows up every few days with two or three new ones to read to me; a few years ago I had a student who entered between 20-30 poems, all authored by her.  I love how this ‘event’ brings out the poetry bugs in my students.

This year the prize is two tickets to the Poetry in Voice finals.  I thought it would be the perfect prize to go hear older students reciting poetry when that’s what these students have been doing for me.

Thank you for celebrating Poetry Month with us here at BCTELA.
I will leave you with a simile one of my grade five students wrote today:

The apple blossoms sway like swings carrying the wind.

 

Poetry Month: day 18

Poetry sucks.

Or at least, that’s what we hear all the time as English teachers.

It’s boring, and dull, and doesn’t make sense. It’s not alive. And, it’s old school. As my English Connected team began planning what we could offer for students in our upcoming focus on poetry last month, we discussed the plethora of negative associations our students had expressed about poetry. It’s challenging for a team of English teachers who have a love of poetry and literature to hear from the faces in front of us a high degree of disengagement with a topic before it’s even launched in class. The resounding feedback I heard from my peers was the need to make poetry relevant and engaging, and offer students a voice.

One of the joys of my teaching assignment is teaching in a Connected Learning environment. I collaboratively plan and deliver instruction with three other teachers in rural, distant sites across SD74. We merge our classrooms via videoconferencing, shared online spaces, the creation and sharing of student created media, and shared experiences. With regular structured collaboration throughout the year, I get to draw from the strengths of four unique teachers with different perspectives, talents and passions. While technology was the initial hook, it is the relationships and energy of the people within the team that has sustained the momentum of the project. It was this team, and the innovative educators within it, that breathed new life into the way we were approaching poetry.

We wanted to focus on both the literary devices that support students to craft powerful poetic writing as well as the speaking skills needed to deliver powerful oral readings. My colleague Jen Eddie proposed that we differ our focus this year, and offer the students a chance to express themselves via spoken word. Jen and I co-planned the unit we would launch, and the scaffolding our students would need to write and deliver spoken word poetry. We wanted our students to be creators, and to be able to build an artifact of their learning that they could share with the larger English Connected audience. We knew that our students would struggle to perform their spoken words live via video conferencing, and be concerned about the high pressure situation that might place them in. We opted to use technology to enhance the spoken words with strong visual imagery that was sharable in a digital format across the sites.

We launched with a theme of crossing boundaries, and asked students to brainstorm and deconstruct themes that were challenging and multifaceted. Many of these issues took on a social justice theme, and students spent time connecting to a particular issue they felt strongly about. With student generated topics ranging from racism, substance abuse, the environment, beauty and animals, students worked both individually and collaboratively to pull of details and powerful vocabulary they could weave into their spoken word. We also focused on oral techniques, such as repetition, rhythm, crescendo, decrescendo, pause, and rhyming patterns, and students experimented with using these oral techniques to create emphasis. Using examples from the web allowed students to see impressive exemplars that displayed powerful writing, purposeful oral techniques, and visual imagery that deepened the message.

Although the medium of delivery was up to students, most chose to use  a free web-based software called Powtoon. The software allows for incredible creative control in both image and word visual animations, voice-overs, and layering multiple audio tracks. It’s a simple software that students were quick to master and use to create spoken word animations that delivered convincing messages and greatly enhanced the written and spoken component of their poetry. Student engagement was high, and students who don’t often engaged in class found this unit approachable and personal, and they were able to structure spoken words in ways that worked for them. It allowed students who sometimes struggle with formal writing and conventions to share their voice in a unique way to the larger Connected audience. One of my students remarked that this was the first time in his life that “poetry didn’t suck.”

To check out some of th amazing student-created spoken animations, check out our English Connected youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/connectedenglish

 

This has been a guest post by BCTELA member Brooke Haller

English Connected teacher, SD74

Poetry Month: day 14

Happy Earth Day!

I taught again today the lesson I described on day 10. It was another group of 6/7s and I used the same poems from Joyful Voices for them to practice and present.  One difference was that I didn’t use the Shane Koyczan “To This Day” as the introduction.  I found that, while a great piece, it didn’t exhibit the particular characteristics of slam poetry I wanted my students to notice and attempt to imitate: Koyczan’s piece is too polished, too smooth.

Luckily, the other night I came across this piece from the Brave New Voices festival slam competition (this particular piece has been picked up by Upworthy and made a round on facebook so you may have seen it.)  It is a poem for two voices, which is great for my students to see and hear what I’m going to be asking them to do in the second part of the lesson.  I ask them to listen for how the two voices work together, and off each other.  This piece is by two young women and is on the subject of religious stereotypes le viagra pas cher.

If you poke around the Brave New Voices website, you will find the Speak Green page.  What a perfect source for Earth Day!  (you can use it next year.)  This collection of environmental poetry is a pretty cool spark to inspire some of our young poets to challenge themselves to focus their creative voices on a issue that matters to all of us.

 

Poetry Month: day 11

Slam poetry is often generated from a place of core feeling.  Not always, of course, but much of the compelling performance and slam poetry to be found online and at local poetry slams seems to originate deep in the speaker’s heart.

Because the topics are so close to the speakers, we often hear pieces about bullying, racism, and abuse and discrimination.  Provocative subjects, and powerful tools to hear about, process, and express issues of social justice.

I have just discovered Zaccheus Jackson.  He is a Blackfoot poet currently living in Vancouver.  He speaks about poverty and addiction, and the struggles of our society coming to terms with the history we share with first nations peoples.  His figurative language is wonderful (warning: he does use profanity).

On the subject of North American history, Alex Deng has piece titled “What kind of Asian are you?” which has been quite popular lately.  He’s from Portland, OR, but his voice resonates, I think, in BC.

When looking for slam poetry to play for you students always preview!  This is obvious to us teachers, but profanity seems to come hand-in-hand with difficult and provocative topics and more than once I have become excited about a piece to share with my students only to find that the last two minutes’ word choice push it beyond what I feel comfortable sharing with 6s and 7s.

I still love this form and these poets will continue to move me to tears regularly.

Poetry Month: day 10

I am introducing performance poetry to my students this week.  My plan is to give them a taste of an example and then move into two-voice poems.

I will introduce them to Shane Koyczan by showing them the first six and a half minutes of this,  and then I’ll hand out poems I’ve photocopied from a wonderful book by Paul Fleischman called Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices.  Because I want this to be an intro (and because I have limited time) I will give some of the shorter poems to some pairs but most I will give to groups of four and ask them to switch paired readers halfway through.

They will have the end of this first period and the beginning of our next to read through and practice their poems.  We will read them out to each other at the end of the second period…. unless they really want more time, then I might push it to next week and give them an extra period.  If I do give them more time I will likely do a second mini-lesson on performance speaking so that they have the tools to work with over the longer time-frame.

 

p.s. I found it harder than anticipated to find good, not too long, examples of performance or slam poetry that was acceptable and/ or engaging for an elementary audience.  If you know of a good source, please share!

Poetry Month: day 5

Poetry should be heard.  It should be read aloud and savored on the tongue.

Students often aren’t sure how to read poetry aloud: the periods don’t match the ends of lines; sometimes there is no punctuation at all; and if there is, it can be all crazy-town!
The proper reading aloud of poetry is important to me.  I have made a point–in whichever school I find myself come the days preceding Remembrance Day–to check that the students who are tasked with reading “In Flanders Fields” understand the phrasing and meaning of the lines.
The understanding of the phrasing of poetry can mean the difference between an impassioned or cold, robot-esque experience.

One great way to induct our students into the sonorous, lyrical, or imagist turns of phrase in the poetry we teach is to let them listen to poetry being read by others.  There is a great book/series called Poetry Speaks you may find it in your school library.  It comes with CDs of poets reading their work.  If you like this idea but don’t have any good recordings on hand, I suggest podcasts.

There are a number of websites which feature free resources like the short, streamed audio of single poems in the Poem of the Day section on the Poetry Foundation website, to the Vancouver-based public radio program Wax Poetic (note: every episode of this show is tagged on iTunes as “explicit” so it is likely best for senior students).  The Poetry Foundation also has a number of other podcast series.  Check out “Poetry Magazine Podcast,” “Poem Talk,” “Poetry Off the Shelf,” and “Essential American Poets” (and more) for some interesting listening.

Once your students have heard a number of poems and have started reading aloud with more art and confidence, you may want to suggest that they ‘give back’ to the online poetry world.  The Poetry Foundation has created a space on soundcloud for anyone to record and upload their own reading/interpretation of a piece of poetry.  It’s called “record-a-poem” and the cool thing about soundcloud, in case you’re not familiar, is that listeners can comment at chosen points throughout a sound recording which creates a really cool audio/visual populist and synergistic experience.

Happy listening!

Poetry Month – day 4

I have two words for you: Shane Koyczan.

You may remember him from a lunch-time salon at a BCTELA conference a few years ago, or you might have seen him preform at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Shane Koyczan is a BC spoken word artist, poet, and author.  He has won a number of slam poetry competitions and is currently on a performance tour.  He creates and performs provocative, heartfelt, and funny poems suitable for middle school and up (some are more appropriate for younger listeners than others.)

He is becoming widely known for his poem “To this day,” the popularity of which is growing into a full anti-bullying campaign.  You can see more videos of his work on his website here.

We think Shane Koyczan is great.  You might too!

Poetry Month: day 3

Have you heard of Poetry in Voice / Les voix de la poesie?  It’s a recitation contest for Canadian high school students.  They have a useful teachers’ page with lesson ideas and link to other resources.  Speaking poetry aloud can completely change the way students can access poetry.

I just saw that this year’s national finals are being held in Vancouver!  If you’re in the area, it will be pretty cool to check out:  May 8 & 9.

The best part about Poetry in Voice (this month) is that they are doing the same thing as us: they are tweeting a different poetry idea every day.  If you’re on twitter, check out @PIV_LVP.

 

Teacher in Play: The Invitation of Performative Inquiry by Lynn Fels

Lynn Fels is Assistant Professor at SFU. Her research interests are performance and technology, performative inquiry, and teacher education. She and co-author George Belliveau recently published Exploring Curriculum: Performative Inquiry, Role Drama, and Learning.

The story that follows was told to me by a colleague of a grade twelve English teacher who had taken his students outside into the playground of the elementary school next door. “Take time to explore the playground,” he tells them, “the swings, the climbing bars, the slide.” It was, as he tells my friend later, a curious sight, witnessing his grade twelve students, on the cusp of adulthood, playing, shouting, laughing, calling to each other, as they scrambled up ladders, swung into the blue sky, and slid down the slide. “Back to the classroom,” he yells, as the elementary school recess bell rings, and the playground is swarmed by wide-eyed children, who stutter to a stop at the sight of high school students occupying their playground. (more…)

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