Introducing Slam Poetry to the High School ELA classroom

Introducing Slam Poetry to the High School ELA classroom

I’m late to the slam movement, but I am fast falling in love.  I introduced two of my classes to it this semester, and several students and I now share new poems that we find with each other.  I’ll be honest though, slam poetry is risky.

slampoetrygraphic4 - CopyPart of what defines it is the fact that it is raw emotion about painful events–and such raw emotion is rarely pretty or grammatically correct or edited for polite society.  Slam poetry is equal parts performance, metaphor, pacing, story-telling, and advocacy.  It will sucker punch you when you least expect it, either with its painful honesty or its biting ironic wit.

Below are five of my favorite slam poems, all of which I have played in my classroom. Yes, the language is often sailor-like and salty, but that’s part of their power.  Slam poetry is about letting go, and letting people who don’t know your pain or frustration share it.

(1)  Taylor Mail:  If you’re a teacher, and you haven’t been privvy to Taylor Mali’s taylor mali“What Teacher’s Make,” you’ll want to bookmark this and watch it about halfway through test season (what we used to call ‘spring.’) It’s statement of what teachers really do, and what we really make.  Mali’s other work is great, but as a middle school teacher, he sums up why we do what we do, and does it with power and pizazz. Here’s the text of it, but you MUST watch him perform it.   Goosebumps. I promise. (You can find Mali on Twitter at @

(2)  Janette McGhee Watson:  If you’ve ever wanted to wander through a woman’s head janetteand find out what heartbreak and weak and absent fathers do to our psyches, “I Waited for You” by Janette McGhee Watson will take you there. Unapologetically and artistically, her poem is her wedding vows, and they are forceful and brutally honest.  I have so much respect for her; it’s a ten minute treatise on why she is who she is, and why she is marrying the man in front of her, and it is as beautifully painful as anything you’ll see in a long time.  You’ll need to watch this a few times to get all of it, as her rapidfire word play is sometimes difficult to catch, but oh, is it ever worth it! You can find her and more of her work here.

(3) Jesse Parent“To the Boys Who May One Day Date My Daughter” jesseparent.jpgis just flat funny. Teenagers will love it because it’s a dad’s message to boys who, as the title says, may want to date his daughter.  It’s a message every parent has thought at some point, and as a teacher, I think it’s a very cool thing for our kids to know that this is how we feel about them. Funny, threatening, loving, and hopeful, it’s great fun, with only a little bit of controversial content. (Jesse tweets @jesseparent.)

(4) Amina Iro and Hannah Halpern (@hanhalp), the two girls who perform this poem, have taken their personal experiences and differences and made the point that those things aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. With the Middle East still (always?) in the forefront of the news, their poem is and likely will be, timely for a long time. Check out their take on the Arab-Israeli conflict here.

(5) As a trans-racial adoptive mom, Javon Johnson’s “cuz he’s black”   broke my JavonJohnsonheart, and forced me to look at my son differently.  Every person of color in the room will nod and agree, even if their white peers don’t.  With so much talk about racism in the media today, it’s important to remember that you cannot dictate to another person what their own experience is.  This poem helps teach that lesson. You can connect with Johnson on Twitterat @javonism.

 

6.  Kai Davis:  This last one might require special permission to use in the classroomkai depending on where you are because of the ferocity of the language, but it is so worth it.  Kai Davis’s “I Look Like” has a lot of f-bombs and n-words, but the message and the performance and the wordplay are near perfection. It’s about the judgement faced by smart kids of color by both their white and black peers, and how this one spunky young woman refuses to sell out to anyone.  Kai tweets at @KaiDavisPoetry.

 

Slam poetry’s increasing popularity makes it an amazing classroom tool, and because of its tendency toward performance, self-evaluation and clever phrase turning, can appeal to a wide range of people. However:  as a teacher, be cautious.  These poems and their honesty and salty language are not for every classroom.

If I’ve missed a good one, let me know in the comments!

 

The Seven Best Love Poems of all Time

The Seven Best Love Poems of all Time

It’s time we had the talk.   The love poem talk.

As a teacher, I love to encourage my kids to write, but Lord help me when they bring me their love poetry to look at .

When I make them write poetry, I tell them that they can write about anything they want, as long as it isn’t romantic love.  “If you can out-sonnet Shakespeare, then go for it; if not? Pick a different subject.”  Then I tell them that if they give me a teenage love poem to read, I will make confetti out of it.

If the poem has the phrase “there for me” in it, I’ll add glitter and use it at their next parent conference.

So, this being National Poetry Month, we’re going to get the obvious out of the way.  If you love poetry, there are love poems you love.  This is not complicated, unlike love itself, whose complication is infinite and ever-changing.

Here are my favorites, and why I love them so much.  Can I use the word ‘love’ again? I’d love to, thanks.

shakes

(1) Shakespeare’s sonnet 114.  Otherwise known as “Let me not to the  marriage of true minds admit impediments.”  One of Will’s best known, it basically says that love isn’t going to break if things get in its way. It’s not going to change for the worse when bad things happen.  If it’s real love, it’ll get stronger, and the fact that you’re reading the poem is proof of it. The fact that we study it is proof that The Bard was right.  When it comes to love poems, he wrote more than a hundred of them, and they are all worth reading, especially if you are both in love and a poetry geek.

 

(2) The Seafarer–This poem may seem like an odd choice for a list of love poems, but the Anglo-Saxon Bard who wrote it was no stranger to the heart ache love can cause, especially if the thing you love does not love you back.  The speaker’s one true love is the ocean, which we all know is capricious and unrelenting.  Not great traits for a lover to have, but we don’t pick who or what we love, do we?

(3)I Love You, by Roy Croft  This poem has some dubious origins if Wikipedia is to be bettermanbelieved, but regardless of who wrote it, it maps out why we love the people we do. It’s not just about them, it’s about who we become when we’re with them. Remember Jack Nicholson’s “You make me want to be a better man?” speech?  That’s essentially what this poem is.  It’s simple, free verse, and doesn’t require much reading between the lines to understand. I think we had it read at our wedding, because it’s just that awesome of a poem (and my memory is just that out of whack!)

(4) Annabel Lee, by Edgar Allan Poe  My favorite poem of all time, bpoey one of my favorite writers. It’s a sad fairy tale love story about love that goes on beyond the “sepulchre there by the sea” into eternity.  When I was in 6th grade or so, I figured out that “Annabel Lee” rhymed with Tracy Marie, and that made my little heart explode. Even now, when I recite it, I have to sub my name for Annabel Lee’s name at least once. And it still gives me a goose bump or two. Like much of Poe’s love poetry it mourns the loss of his love, but does so in a beautiful lyrical style with sound effects and rhythm as only Poe can do.

 

(5) 1st Corinthians 13:4-8.   These are the “Love is patient” verses, and might be the most recited passage in the history of modern weddings.  It is a Biblical definition of what love is and isn’t, and no matter where you are in your spiritual life, you have to admit that the definition is pretty spot on. Now, there are about a gazillion different translations for the Bible, and while some are better than others, your choice as to a favorite is exactly that.  The link I added here allows you to choose among MANY translations.

(6) Sonnet 43, Edna St.Vincent Millay  Many might argue against this choice for a great love poem, but hear me out.  Each of us has a lost love story.  A broken heart is good for someone because of all the lessons that come with it, but most sad love poetry is all “please come back, baby.” Millay is wise enough to know that such wishes only create more problems, and that broken hearts and loves that didn’t work out should stay in the past, sighing and tapping on the window pain.

(7) To Althea, From Prison” by Richard Lovelace. Love doesn’t hold us back, cage-gravure-2400pxaccording  to Richard Lovelace, it gives us the freedom of flying angels.  Perhaps best known for its “Stone walls do not a prison make” line, most people have at least heard of this poem.  He admits to loving the physical relationship with his beloved Althea, and offers the idea that true love is the most precious kind of freedom.  Plus, he uses the verb tipple.  How can you not love that?

 

 

Worksheets for some of these poems are in progress, and will be posted in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store when they’re done!

What’s your favorite poem?  Comment with a link below!

Introduction to Poetry

Introduction to Poetry

 

Part of the frustration of any literature teacher is the groaning chorus of poetry haters who are not excited about the poetry unit. To help this, I try to introduce poetry via song lyrics and fun poems.  One of my favorite fun poems is Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry” which presents the problems of teacher expectations running into students.

It is perfect for teaching assonance, metaphor, and free form structure.  And it nails #thestruggleisreal feeling teachers get when trying to get students to read beyond the surface of a poem.

I’m in the process of creating a worksheet for this poem geared toward high school students.  I’ll email the first five requests in the comments a free PDF copy of it when it’s done!  Everyone else will be able to buy it from my Teachers Pay Teachers store when it’s done.

Enjoy!

Introduction to Poetry

BY BILLY COLLINS

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
Seven Reasons to Celebrate National Poetry Month

Seven Reasons to Celebrate National Poetry Month

NPM-Poster-2016Started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry month is a special kind of nerd thing.

Many people are nerds for science fiction, gaming, cosplay, computers, coding, music, musicals, TV shows, fan fiction, etc. Those of us who nerd for poetry get pretty excited that we have a whole month dedicated to the thing we love that so many other less fortunate people don’t.

If you don’t love poetry, you might want to come back in May.

If you love poetry, or love someone who loves poetry, this spot will be the place to be, as in the next 29 days, we’re going to look at the world of poetry. Where it came from, how we study it, why we study it, and why more people should stop and love it. So, in true modern blog fashion, here are some reasons you should celebrate national poetry month.

  1. You remember something about poetry because a poetry geek pounded it into your head.That geek was probably one–or four–of your high school English teachers.  Each of mine were amazing women who pushed me to write not just for grades, but for passion.  That they cared enough to make me remember that sonnets have fourteen lines and haiku three, means something. And that you remember it means something too. 
  2. You might admit to having a favorite poem if forced to.  We all have a favorite book, and if we’re the smart educated sort, we might even have a favorite poem.  I do. I have several actually, but the one that will always top the list is Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabelle Lee.” I memorized it in middle school, and have tucked my kids into bed with it, despite its depressing story.
  3. You have actually liked a song for the lyrics and not the music. There are some performers whose lyrics are just gut wrenching.  I bet you can name a few songs whose lyrics were the perfect backdrop for an event in your life.  Like it or not, those lyrics are poetry. Everything from sappy country to hard rock and rap are, at their heart, poems.
  4. You want to impress your significant other. Every romantic wants someone to think they’re beautiful enough to have a sonnet written for them.  I had a student once who, as part of his poetry memorization project, recited one of Shakespeare’s sonnets to a girl in his class, gave her a rose, and sat down.  I’m pretty sure they’ll both remember the absolute amazingness of that two minutes for the rest of their lives. I don’t remember the student’s name, but I can see him, on one knee in front of her, one hand on his heart and one holding out that rose.
  5. Educators could use the support. There are poems about everything.  Find some, and encourage your children, your friends, your family, to read them.  Teachers can use all the help we can get to encourage our students to dig a little deeper, and not be embarrassed to embrace something like poetry.
  6. Poetry is a living, beautiful thing that grows and changes and demands that you pay attention to it.  I stole this from a teacher at a training years ago: Good literature is like a good girl. She doesn’t kiss on the first date.  You want something more than company? You’re going to have to work for it, earn it.  With poetry, that work means you may have to read a piece several times to really “get it.” My favorite poem for this lesson is William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” which my 10th grade literature teacher made us memorize the last stanza of.  In her honor, I make my juniors memorize it too.
  7. The Academy of American Poets has it all planned out for you. They have a “poem a day” email that will bring you cool poetry you’ve likely never read before straight into your in-box on the daily, so you don’t even have to go looking for it.  They have lesson plans for you teachers, and poems for every event and occasion you can imagine.  Some of the best poets are represented on their website.  You should check them out.

Don’t be embarrassed.  Poetry is a really cool thing.  Trust me.  Celebrate it.  You won’t regret it!

Two funerals too many

Two funerals too many

They were very different girls, Altonise and Alexis.

Both were fun-loving, full of life, and feisty. Beyond that, their similarities were the color of their brown skin and the first letter of their names.

I taught them both, loved them both, and both were murdered.  IMG_0637

One was a senior, one was a junior.  Different high schools.  Different challenges in life. Different goals. Different styles.  Different attitudes.

Both were found dead in their homes, both of their last moments filled with violence and terror.

Unfulfilled promise that will never have a chance to bloom.

As a teacher, there are no things worse than the funeral of a student, except maybe the day when you and your students find out about that death.

I couldn’t go to Alexis’ funeral because my husband works weekends and I couldn’t find a sitter.

Altonise’s fell on Monday after a rainy Easter weekend.  The day burst with bright blue sky and a few dancing white clouds.  My heart wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the day nestled in with the tragedy of the funeral.

But even the funeral wasn’t gloomy.

There were songs of hope and the promise of salvation, and guarantees that, if we follow the right path, we’ll be able to see our loved ones again. The mourners sang and clapped along, and silences were punctuated with the keening of her friends and family.

There were speeches of forgiveness and admonitions against violence and revenge.

And there was pink.  Deep rich pink, like impatiens in the summer.   It was in the corsages members of her family wore, in the flowers around her casket, and in the headbands and hairstyles of her friends.

As a mom, there are no words I can offer for comfort. And as a teacher, there aren’t either.  Death is of life, and we must face it, but when it is a shocking death, a loss of the promises of youth, how do you find comfort or offer it?

Love.

And faith.

And so, for Alexis and Altonise, two spirited young women whose tenacity and spunk lit up the world around them, I can only offer words. One of my favorite poets is John Donne, whose poetry is by turns passionate and full of faith, lost and full of love. In one of his holy sonnets he says, “But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space.”

I will mourn the space that held these two girls, and hope that as the world turns on, those who loved them will live a little more, do a little more good, and experience a little more of life in their honor.

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Yes, I Just Emailed This to the Governor

Yes, I Just Emailed This to the Governor

Hello Governor Deal (and whichever staffer is lucky enough to be reading this),

I am what you call a “veteran” teacher.  I’m on the downhill slide toward retirement; and I’ve gotten to the point that I’m tired of keeping my mouth shut about issues concerning my profession.
The GMAS system stinks. The Georgia Teacher Evaluation system stinks.  The fact that my elementary school children do more to prepare for tests than they do play outside stinks.  Are you seeing a pattern here?
I love to teach. I love my students, and like parents all over this state, I love my children and want what’s best for all of them.  However, tests that aren’t reliable or valid are not what’s best for them. Tests that generate no useful data for teachers are worse than useless.  Tests that are compared to different tests for the purposes of evaluating me are even more useless than that.
Tests that are far beyond the abilities of a disabled child are not good for them. Having little to no recess is not good for elementary school kids, and pushing small children to do what they are not developmentally ready to do does damage that takes years to undo.
Governor Deal (and your dedicated staffer), if you want to know what teachers and students need, how about asking teachers?  How about asking parents?  Ask actual experts instead of relying on the corporate input that got us into this mess; wouldn’t it be nice to go down in history as the Governor who actually made genuine change for the better in Georgia’s schools?
If you want to know how to do this, ask the people who know. Ask teachers. Ask parents.  And when you do, listen to them.  Sending them a survey and then ignoring what it says is not sound policy, Governor Deal.  If I ran my classroom like that, I’d be out of a job.
I would love to be able to come talk to you and the legislature in person, but our grades are due this week, and school policy forbids me from taking the day before a paid holiday off, or I would be there early Friday morning to talk some sense into you and the representatives you’re leaning on.
Instead, I have to rely on the saucy tone of my letter to do that for me.  Please encourage the legislature to do what’s right by teachers, students, and their families and pass 355 and 364.  It’s the right thing to do.  And since I voted for you, I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a citizen of the state of Georgia if I didn’t ask you to do what your electorate wants.
Respectfully,
Tracy Saunders
18 Year Public School Teacher
Mom of Seven
Classroom Wish List (Updated 8/28)

Classroom Wish List (Updated 8/28)

Hello!  I’m applying for a Reddit teacher gift package, and to make it easier for people who might adopt my classroom, I’m posting my wish list with links and explanations here.  Regular readers, Facebook friends, and everyone else, don’t feel pressured. Unless you’re easily pressured, independently wealthy, have money to burn, or any of combination of those three, then feel free to embrace any invisible pressure you may be feeling.

Here is my Amazon wish list link.  I hope it works. I’ve been fiddling with it.

If it doesn’t, on Amazon, go to the Wish List Tab, and select “Find a Gift Registry or Wish List.” Search for Mrs. Saunders; I’m the lady with tiara (it’s the same picture as my profile here.) The list is called “WTTCHS ELA Wish List.”

Thank you!


Over the summer I did some Pinterest-inspired making over of my classroom, and while it’s not done, it is in progress.  Most of the supplies I’m asking for go along with the changes I made this summer.

UPDATE:  Thank you so much for your generosity: Jen, Gwen, Tammy, Nioka, and Cindy!  I am so excited about how this school year is progressing.  Your help has made a huge difference, and I am humbled by and thankful for your generosity.  

FOR STUDENT SUPPLIES:

Here is where my student work supplies are stored; please ignore the mess.  It’s a work in progress, I have drawer labels almost made, and zip straps and tape to deal with all the cords and wires. Once that’s done, it’s gonna look amazing.  (Thank you Debby for the drawers!!)   I’ll post the after pics in another piece, hopefully at the beginning of next week.

IMG_0358

Right now, each box contains between four and six miniature marker boards, what’s left of my marker supply from a purchase four or five years ago, some mostly dried up glue sticks, and a pair of scissors, and a pair of socks.  I color code things, and have my students do the same, on a regular basis. For that to work, this is what I need:

  • 12 packs of colored pencils (Thank you and CH!!)
  • Black chisel permanent markers (other colors welcome, too!  (two dozen)
  • glue sticks(Thank you CH!!)
  • 12 SIX packs of Crayola markers (Thank you NT!)
  • 12   SIX packs of six color highlighters (pink, orange, yellow, green, blue & purple) ((Thank you, T&DB and NT!!)
  • Notebook paper
  • Copy paper in any color you’d like to send!!

FOR ORGANIZING

For right now, this is what suffices for each table’s folder.

IMG_0355

However, with the supplies below, I could make this much easier, more efficient, and longer lasting.

  • 6 binders in 6 different colors (My groups are labeled by colors, based on the paper I could find to identify the tables) (Thank you NT!!)
  • 6 sets of dividers

FOR CLEANING/HEALTH MAINTENANCE

Once kids get past fifth grade,  parents don’t help much with tissue and cleaning supplies.  I’m not sure why, but trust me, we still need the help.  If there is tissue or sanitizer or cleaning supplies in my room, it’s because I’ve bought them, or a parent has sent them in after seeing my wish list at the bottom of a mass email.

  • Bleach wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Facial tissue  (Thank you J.F.!!!)

FOR CHROMEBOOK CORNER

Again, this is a work in progress.

At the end of last school year, I got a grant for eight Chromebooks for my class room. Thus summer, I bought/picked up the tables, rugs, pillows and the lamp seen in the picture below.  I’m currently looking for two baskets for under the tables to hide the cords and wires, but that’s assuming I can find two matching baskets in good shape, that will fit, and still hold everything. Everything in the picture, (except the computers) was purchased via yard sales, or Facebook yard sale groups. (Thank you Gwen, Gwen’s friend down the road, and three other nice ladies who sold me stuff for pretty cheap!)

IMG_0356

Ideally, I’d like to have at least eight to twelve good-sized throw pillows or bean bags for student seating.

**Pillows or bean bags


MISCELLANEOUS

Here is where my yoga balls spend the night; they earn their rest, as they are used all day, every day.  They’re great for kids who are twitchy and wiggly, and for kids who are either to short too tall to fit comfortably in our desks.  I’d like to get more, because my students love them.  I bought three of them in yard sale groups, and had one given to me when she realized what I was getting it for (thank you Debby, Gwen, and two nice ladies whose names I don’t remember!).

IMG_0357

Again, for my regular readers, this is not a plea for you to send me stuff (unless you’re purging things and have items to get rid of).  I’m doing this for a teacher supply giveaway being done here.

And to all those ladies I bought items from, or who gave me supplies for my classroom this summer, THANK YOU SO MUCH!!

Comments, suggestions or ideas?  Add them in the comment sections.  Thanks for stopping by!