Thursday, April 23, 2015

Poetry Unit, Day 3: Slam Competition/Reading Donika Ross

Our Slam Competition went really well. We pitted the boys against the girls, and each group stood in front of the class and read their poems.

A lot of the students were heavily influenced by the videos we watched the previous day, with many students embodying the idea of love and shyness.

I was exceptionally proud of how students were utilizing the various patterns or forms that we saw in the slam videos, e.g. "the way lovers love loving" and "I am a boy, not a toy, so don't play with my emotions."

Some students were still a little shy speaking in front of the class, but the student who never speaks in class read her poem aloud for the group. Overall the competition was a success.

Because the success of a slam poem relies so heavily on the confidence level of the performer, the winner of the competition was the group that showed the most confidence: the girls.

I am still suffering from the broken-projector blues, so my other classes did a read/discuss activity over two of Donika Ross's poems: "Arkansas Love Song" and "Love poem: Werewolf."

My students devoured these poems. While I have some strong readers, very few of my students openly share their thoughts and opinions during class discussions. The imagery and sense of internal conflict in "Arkansas Love Song" and "Love poem: Werewolf" really spoke to them though.

Like always, students were slow to join in on the discussion. Something about reading and analyze/assessing scares them; they are so afraid of being wrong. But after I gave them a few questions and prompts ("Why does the speaker say the road binds her and the other person together? Why do we think the poet used the word 'bind,' specifically?"), more students started contributing and throwing out ideas. After a little bit, they were feeding off of one another's energy, bouncing ideas off of one another. Their inhibitions were gone, and they started to crank out some pretty deep ideas. Here were some of my personal favorites:

7th Grade comments for "Arkansas Love Song" --

"When the speaker talks about the bird's broken wings, maybe she really means herself. Like she knows her mother is a failure, but maybe she is too. Kind of like a broken angel (fallen angel)."

8th Grade, Class A (boys) comments for "Arkansas Love Song" --

"When she says the bird's breast is just a breast, she could be talking about her own heart and emotions. Kind of how she wanted the trip to mean something but it didn't. She wanted her emotions to mean something, but they don't."

8th Grade, Class B (girls) comments for "Love poem: Werewolf" --

"She really wants to be free. She would rather be free as an animal instead of being a human with all of that human stress."
"She is hiding something. Maybe she is admitting her sexuality, and the door she is knocking on is home where she has to tell her family. The back splitting in two is her shedding her outer layer or what everyone expects her to be."

That last one floored me. The student who shared that idea almost didn't express it aloud because she thought she was "wrong." I am glad she had the courage to share it, though; it was the most interesting interpretation of the day.

The students loved Donika Ross's work, and many of them want to read more of her poems. I have been a fan of her work since I heard her speak at Southern Arkansas University in the spring of 2011, but I have a richer love of her poems now. Any poet who can create something with which my students can connect and get excited about is a poet that deserves the utmost respect.

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