Thursday, February 13, 2014

Slam poetry. And the other stuff.

Nearly finished week three of term one now. It's challenging, the start of the school year, isn't it?

If you're lucky you score a group of amenable students who know you and already approve. You just roll happily with it. This is me this year with my year 10s given all those teething battles were played out back in 2010. Our first session was an emotional reuion. Even teared up a bit seeing how they'd grown. They were all smiles and sheepish laughter as they automatically sat in their year 8 'seating plan'. 

In a big school like mine - nearly 1200 students - you can easily go for a year without seeing any of your former students. It was great to see my year 10s and I look forward to watching them develop as the year progresses.

And then there's that other class; amongst the 25 students there are five fourteen year old boys giving me what for, yelling over me in a  constant barrage of testosterone-fuelled insolence. These lads are IN MY FACE and DID YOU SEE THAT? SHE'S PICKEN ON ME! WHY ARE YOU PICKEN ON ME?? They're chesting up to me, anything to disrupt, to draw my attention, to grab an opportunity to assert themselves over me. My adrenal gland's been getting a bit of a workout. Have to remember to breathe; act angry before I'm really angry. Be patient, tolerant, understanding. This isn't about me, I'm just generic 'old female teacher' now.

Leap on those opportunities to praise, to build self-esteem like a seagull on a cliched chip. Oh so many complex personalities to fathom before it subsides. Well, usually.

My other year 9 class has been a gift; 25 bright, eager students who are open to possibility so why not try out some slam poetry? I attended a VATE conference session last year on slam poetry. (Thanks, Anthony Young @ProffPoet) I showed the students some examples of other students performing slam poetry - a YouTube search was helpful here. The students were a tad skeptical but they gave it a go. I gave them a list of possible topics - places such as the city, the beach, holidays and so on, and emotions that they could write about. As per Anthony's instructions I got them to work in groups as a strategy to help them to overcome their performance anxiety.

I used Anthony's formula for constructing their poem. Poems had to contain a metaphor, an anecdote, a repeated line, a really long line and a really short line. They brainstormed their ideas individually then collaborated with other group members. I darted around the class offering suggestions and encouragement, as you do when you're the alleged teacher.

The students, bless them, ran with it. Today they presented. It was wonderful and they knew it as they savoured the power of their own and each other's words. 

If you haven't given slam poetry a try, it's worth doing. The kids loved it and so did I.