Tuesday, May 3, 2016

My Favorite Poetry Project, 8th Grade-Style

A few years ago I stumbled onto the My Favorite Poem Project, who has produced about 50 or so videos of people reciting well known poems and talking about how that poem intersects with their life. This one was the first video of I saw, where a man named John Ulrich read and discussed We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Books.

I remember thinking about how I would bring this to my students.  There was no "if" because in these videos was something captured about poetry that my students, and everyone else, needs: an understanding that poetry isn't just about analyzing figurative language, word choice, and (ugh) answering multiple choice questions; reading poetry is about finding ways to articulate the complexity of the human experience. Finding a new lens to see the world or perhaps the words that capture what you've felt but never been able to say.

Anyone who teaches middle school knows about the strange and complex place students are working their way through, and, like these videos show, poetry, even written in a different time and place and circumstance, has the power to help one make sense of the world and feel a bit less alone.

For the last two years I just played around with this idea, having students pick out classic and contemporary poems, recite them to the class, and explain how that poem spoke to them. This year we took the leap to make the project multi-modal and digital, producing our own version of My Favorite Poem Project videos.

We spent plenty of time reading and discussing poetry, and students did quite a bit of exploring on their own to find just the right poems. They wrote and thought about how and why that poem worked for them, and did a little scripting/story-boarding. They used the Chromebooks' webcams and the video editing software WeVideo. And, after spending way more time than I initially planned (crazy how kids so used to selfies and Shapchat are terrified of recording their image or voice), the results were epic.

Today we viewed each others finished videos gallery crawl style (most didn't feel comfortable posting them to their blog), and in these videos my students had the chance to see one other, life, poetry, and all the connections in between in cool new ways. It was what teaching poetry should be about.

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