Finding Our Voices in Lost Voices

New-Orleans post Katrina Sept 2005: house busted by Katrina's wrecking ball

flickr photo shared by Gilbert Mercier under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

We want every student to leave Gear Up knowing they have a voice. They are “active players and not spectators in life” as Walter Dean Meyers., the author of Handbook for Boys wrote (our shared reading this summer). To this end we had students explore what it means to be a lost voice through poetry.

As many of our readers know I am also interested in exploring how the pedagogy of poetry can be enhanced with the use of digital texts and tools. Over the last six years, my colleagues Sue Ringler-Pet and Ian O’Byrne have been exploring the intersection of poetry and technology. We present a project at NCTE celebrating a poet laureate through technology.

This year we chose Natasha Trethewey and her work with documentary poetry. Trethewey says she attempts to find lost voices in historical events. This seemed like a perfect project for the 100 students attending our Summer Academy.

The lesson plan we used appears below:

Step 1: Read “The Elegy of the Native Gaurd” and “Beyond Katrina”

Step 2: Then discuss the following prompt in the Google+ Community: Trethewey in explaining why she writes said her purpose is, “giving voice to the groups and individuals blotted out of public memory.” In these two poems what groups and individuals were brought to the light? What words, phrases, or stanzas capture the emotion or plight of these voices?

Step 3: Annotate the text using the PDFZen. Identify key events, characters, and emotions

Step 4: Record and upload your poem (written in Language Arts) to SoundCloud
-Set up a Soundcloud Account
-Post your Account Name to Google+
-Follow everyone in the class
-Record your Poem
-Upload Your Recording to Soundcloud

In order to make the projects manageable the students coule pick from the following historical events: Slavery, Civil War, WWII, 9/11, and Katrina. They then had to create a narrator for their poem, draft, and record the poem

Here are a few examples:

My Thoughts

Overall the project went very well. Yet it is not over. These poems will be used as models, and a few as mentor texts, for middle school students in Hartford who will complete the same project this Fall. We will share these voices in Boston at NCTE.

The lesson also demonstrates how good analytical reading does not need to favor informational, narrative texts, or poetry. In fact the best lessons will result in some type of performance piece (the poem) that required students to question and annotate a variety of sources for a variety of reasons.

9/11, with Katrina as a close second, seemed to be the most popular theme among students. I wonder if this is a due to proximity to New York (almost all know of a life touched by the tragedy). The boys (shocking) seemed to gravitate to lost voices in wars.

The poems are a good, but many have an overarching sense of prose, rather than poetry to the stories. Now I cringe at giving students rules when teaching poetry (in fact I asked teachers not to require stanzas at all let alone a minimum number) yet in the next iteration I want students to try to find more poetry in their voices. I may ask students to write their lost voice as a narrative first and then convert this prose into poetry. This had worked in the past as well.

Our Summer Academy is about building bridges to the future in the hope that the entire New Haven class of 2018 is college bound. I hope by exploring lost voices, we helped students find their own so they lear not to be “spectators in life.”

craftivism workshop at The Royal Standard arts collective

flickr photo shared by craftivist collective under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Many of us agree that we need to align our classroom activities with the digitally literate lives our students lead. Yet we still hear of many classroom simply focusing on technology integration.

Simply put this is a mistake. When we look at the shift from page to pixel in terms of technology integration rather than an ever shifting and dynamic text we create a horse race environment where technology never improves learning.

It’s like the old Orbitz commercial where a refund is delivered by hovercraft instead of mail.

Just because you have technology does not mean you need to use technology. Instead always ask yourself, “How do these emerging text enhance or inhibit my pedagogical goal?” Do not simply use a hovercraft because you have one.

Multimodal Poetry

One area that I have been working on for the past five or six years is to integrate digital texts and tools into my teaching of poetry. There is something rewarding about using the oldest genre of litertature with the newest forms of text.

I also think poetry, as a potter’s wheel of the soul, is a great place to shape ideas about design effecting meaning making. Each word, phrase, stanza, image, or metaphor continuously redesign meaning as a new audience stumbles upon the poem.   The rich words and guttural reaction to poetry allow for a conversations around topics such us color scheme, image placement, font, etc.

Finally I have too often seen poetry taught so poorly that generations of new writers may have never discovered their poems from within. We do not let students work with one poem over time, or to play with meanings. Instead the focus in on literary elements, i.e. find me a one poem with a metaphor, one poem with alliteration, etc.

The humanity is lost in the hunt for the mechanics

Celebrating Poet Laureates

It was decided then that at each year at NCTE we would submit a proposal to celebrate the work of a Unites State Poet Laureate through multimodal poetry so we could get away from what Billy Collins (our first featured poet) called teaching children, “To beat the meaning out a poem with a hose.”

In 2009 we highlighted Billy Collins by exploring new ways to respond and author poetry with images.

In 2010 we featured Kay Ryan and went through #Twitpoems and multimodal retellings with iMovie.

This year, in Chicago, we brought in the works of W. S. Merwin and connected to using poetry to make the world a better place. That is our definition of critical literacy-words in action to change or question the status quo for the greater good.

W. S. Merwin and Poetry for Change
 
W. S. Merwin is also an interesting choice as he has developed a natural suspicion to many things digital. We wanted to show that there is just as much poetry in the design choices students make as in the words they add or leave off the page.

Basically we read some Merwin poems as mentor texts. Next we took ideas from Probst and concentrated on converting prose to poetry. Students had to choose a social justice issue. Then we took he project into two separate directions.

One group of students completed an internet inquiry topic around their issue. They wrote a collaborative paragraph. Next they highlighted important words or phrases in the paragrpah and used those a basis for a poem. Students then, using Audacity and iMovie, created a multimodal version of their poem.

Another group of students went out into their world to find a social issue. They collected cell phone pictures to document the problem. They then searched for similar images online. Using search engines they connected back to the websites that hosted the images and “found” texts they wanted to use in their poems. They then used iMovie or MovieMaker Live to create the poem.

Moving Forward

Poetry has been a great avenue to explore multimodal design elements. We hope to continue our work at NCTE next year, or by simply sharing our work with other teachers.