Discovering the Relevance of Words
As a student, it is far too easy to spend time clock watching. It never actually speeds up, or moves at the pace one may want, but watching the thin red arm move round and round can sometimes be much more appealing than listening to the teacher ramble on about whatever it is they feel is “important” for students to learn and understand. By the time the red hand rotates 55 times, the bell rings, and students, who have typically grabbed their backpacks at 51 rotations, have started moving toward the door. They may, or may not, have picked up on much of what was said that day, and frankly, they don’t care. As a teacher, it’s frustrating for a few moments, and then you remember that out of the 30+ students in the class, there are a few who truly appreciated the lesson of the day, and those are the times when we smile.
I always tell my students that if they are bored as I’m teaching something, then odds are I’m a little bored as well. The more excited a teacher can be, the more apt the students are to pay attention. It’s funny how that works, right? Seems pretty obvious, but there are too many teachers who just go with the flow, and don’t stop to remember that simple fact.
The whole reason I initially started The Poetry Question was because of my 6th period Creative Writing 1 class. They challenged me to send twitter messages to famous people, and ask whether or not poetry was relevant in today’s society. It became such an obsession that twitter ended up shutting down my original account, thus leading me to emailing a couple old college buddies, and birthing this website. Several of my CW1 kids attend a weekly poetry slam at Backspace in Portland. Slam poetry was something that I’d known about, and watched on a few occasions, but it still felt a bit foreign to me. When I set out to start the poetry unit, they sort of hijacked the unit, and started playing tons of slam poetry clips from Youtube. I played them my favorite pieces from Def Poetry Jam, and we took the unit in a very different direction.
I have a few students in the class who are very interested in rap, and they caught on to the fact that slam poetry was “rap without the backing beat.” This was a huge attention grabber, and the clock watching stopped immediately. One of these students, Andrew Morris, typically one of the most avid clock watchers, and a student who while incredibly bright, chooses to check out for the most part, and become a bit of a class clown, absolutely fell in love with this new poetry. By the third day, he was bringing in pieces for me to listen to – even staying after class to make sure that I had heard of some of his new favorites, and sitting me down to put them on the computer.
He came to truly appreciate a slam poet named Shihan, who was an early favorite on Def Poetry Jam. Andrew connected with him quickly, and decided to do part of his poetry final on Shihan, and include a recitation of his piece called “Flashy Words.” Andrew also began to change his formerly cliché rap lyrics, into poignant slam pieces, and presented one of his own as well. I’ve posted both videos below – with his permission – so you can see just how much he loves what he’s learned. I urge you to watch both videos.
It just takes finding out what your students care about in order for them to actually want to learn. This was definitely one of those moments where even I was inspired by them.
This video does contain a few curse words, so you have been warned.