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