Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Spoken Word with my Y10 English Class

Reflecting on the fantastic series of lessons we've had...

The last few weeks we've been looking at different poems and yesterday I started the lesson where we were going to start creating our own poems.

I grabbed one of the metal stools and placed it in front of the class. Explaining that we were going to start creating these poems and using the poems we've studied as models... I started off with a simple Origin story, asking one of my students who was being a tutu to come sit beside me on another stool and present an on the spot story similar to that of Sarah and Phil Kay/Kaye.

It wasn't the best but we got the idea across. I allowed my student to go back to his seat and began an alternative.

I seriously wish I had recorded it. I can't recall the words I said but I remember how I said it. I envoked Sarah Kay and Maya Angelou and found my voice again as a spoken word poet. To say you could hear a pin drop would have been an understatement.

I might try to write it below... but for now I just need to think about the effect and impact on my students.

After the remainder of the lesson where students wrote their own Origin stories, some using the age sections like I did or using a structure more like Joshua Iosefo or Shane Koyczan, I saw again the most beautiful cohesion. A majority of students writing and sharing and collaborating naturally.

A small minorty who weren't focussed but continued their work today.

I went around and asked them all for their first lines. It was a good strategy to get them all started and the timed writing sessions helped too.

Going back around I saw a few of my students starting to hit full steam with their writing. I checked in a bit more and carried on.

Two of my top students finished pretty early. I asked them to share their work together. They did. With a little bit of nerves. And shaking hands.

I forgot how powerful your first session of spoken word poetry was. That nervousness around sharing truly personal stuff. The need to share but the fear of the judgements from others as a result.

I asked the two to give each other some feedback once they'd read it. So proud of them.

As my students left yesterday they were buzzing. Buzzing! Why had I not done this earlier?? Wow.

Today... today hit a mark where I was in absolute awe of my students. I cried. Was proud. And absolutely in awe. So awesome.

Today they were given more time to write. Those that had written most of their Origin stories yesterday were asked to go through and identify areas where they would use pace, pauses or differing intonations.

Sitting with students and reading their stuff... impressed to say the least.

Students who had been having a tricky time with me opening up and sharing their work with me (Re: Broken Relationship post!!) and other students wanting feedback or a cautionary first glance at my facial expressions as I read their work to see if their words had the desired effect as I read quietly.

Throughout the period I signalled time-limits and the need to share their work. They were already doing this collaboratively previously but I had asked them to bring their noise levels down (when did I become that kind of English teacher...?) and then wanted them to share again in their groups when they were ready. I need to do less prodding and more encouraging.

Towards the end of the lesson, I asked one f the mighty duo to sit on the stool as I did yesterday and share her story. I had read hers fully today. I had asked her to edit it a little by adding future plans to it to help balance it out. Beautifully done too might I add.

I had been getting her ready for it throughout the period but she was still very nervous. Shaking and asking me again whether she had to. That kind of questioning which showed she did want to, was nervous about the reaction of others and possibly the fallout as a result of sharing her work... she believed in me and held absolute trust in me. Beautiful. I had told her that it would be good for her to share her work and become more used to growing her confidence levels. After a little bit more prodding she had shared her work with me and I then understood why she felt uncomfortable. Adding the future part did help anchor all of what she'd said previously.

Those moments are rare in class. Seeing student's talent evolve and grow. Students recognising when the teacher is moved emotionally by someone's work and when students trust you to guide them on their pathway towards their bright futures...

When she sat on the seat the room went quiet. They knew of her prowess as a Shakespearian speaker when we did Romeo and Juliet. They were ready. But... before they heard it I asked them to listen. To be respectful. That we don't video spoken word poems as they're personal. That if poems were ever to be shared in that way then it would be up to the poet to create the video.

She started speaking. Not well practiced, but practiced enough that she used her book merely as a guide. A natural speaker. Her intonation was on point. Pauses and emphasis in the right spots. She held us all in her grasp as she read, baring her soul. Absolutely courageous.

The class burst into loud clapping for her as she ended. A few of us around the room were wiping away at tears. I began modelling appropriate feedback. Sharing with her and the class what I liked about her poem, how she'd added the second part and how she should be proud of herself and believe in those of us that believe in her. I asked other students to give their feedback also. They did. Beautifully. Finally nailed that discussion skill in our class.

Next up I asked the other of the mighty duo to share his poem. I hadn't prepped him but I was sitting in front of him so had whispered quickly before I announced it was his turn next. Luckily, like the first speaker, he'd shown me his work and likewise had been given feedback to even it out at the end - to talk about the differences that he would make in his life compared to events in his past.

Before he spoke, knowing what he was about to speak about, I reminded the class that what is said in class, stays in class, no gossipping or judging. These spoken word poems are powerful!! They need to be given full respect.

He sat on the stool stoically. As always. The fangirls were pumping him up and then the room went deathly quiet.

He spoke fast. Faster over the more difficult parts. Slower intonation on certain areas - particularly when he said "I think Dr. ______  ______ sounds cool." And then his ending, which I hadn't read yet - was beautiful. Was everything I had hoped for and more. He shared about how he was going to be better than the example he'd been set while growing up. So honoured to work with such amazing students.

The feedback again was well done and then we were onto the next student. I'd read her work, amazed at her willingly sharing her work with me! (Second time in two days!) And knew what she'd be talking about.

When she sat on the stool, the class weren't quite ready but she explained to them all that her poem was a bit different. That it wasn't following the same style as the previous ones.

She spoke. Naturally as well. Stunning. Using humour as her go to technique, use of sound and well timed sung lyrics to anchor her poem sections.

The bell rang on her last sentence. The class stayed patiently as she finished and then they left.

She even said goodbye as she left today. Maybe the advice you all gave me actually did work.   :)

Looking forward to seeing how many more are now willing to share tomorrow. So proud of them all. :)

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