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- 1 Write a poem about your home town
- 2 Write a paragraph in which you are a famous poet, explaining one of your poems
- 3 Write a dialogue between two Harlem Renaissance poets
- 4 Write a song (blues/rap)
- 5 Write a poem about what really makes you mad
- 6 Write a poem about issues faced by teens today
- 7 Compare two poems
- 8 Analyze an aspect of a poem (mood, form, rhythm, etc.)
- 9 Describe your inner conflicts/dreams/worries in a poem
- 10 How might your poetry make others feel? How does a poem make you feel?
- 11 Illustrate a poem
A word about Assessment
As mentioned before, generally I don't grade journal entries as I would an essay or other types of projects. Usually I will simply comment in the journals and give them a reminder that I am checking on their work. In this unit I need to make sure students are participating in the writing assignments, especially as we get closer to the final project in which they will be looking for their own pieces to put in a collection. So journal writing, although basically graded based on participation, does become a form of assessment. Second, students will be asked to participate in the "Open Mic Fridays." This can also serve as a point of assessment, but due to the nature of the activity (Who doesn't remember being terrified when asked to come up in front of the class at least once in their educational career?) I will give extra credit to those who choose to participate in the activity. Finally the third larger part of the project and the one that everyone will be graded on for their participation is the collection of work that culminates this project. Besides these areas, there are several other opportunities along the way where students can be quizzed or tested on the literature they are reading.
Section One-Listening for voices in the classroom
I will begin work in this unit with discussion. It is important that students begin to feel comfortable discussing issues and problems with each other openly. I am certain that students know how to communicate with each other on a certain level, but I am not certain that they are willing or comfortable communicating with each other on a more meaningful and thoughtful level. How many eighth graders are willing to discuss their problems and concerns with each other? Are the issues that students face regarded as secrets that they are unable to share or are they willing to discuss what is on their minds? I think the initial discussion section in this unit can begin the steps needed for students to get to the point where they are willing to talk about their problems in poetry and prose as easily as the eighteen characters are able to in Bronx Masquerade. The discussion session must be a chance for students not only to begin telling or sharing their thoughts and concerns, but a chance for students to begin listening to each other. As students sit in a large circle facing each other in the classroom, I give them an object, a ball, a "talking stick," something (later to become a microphone) which will indicate that they "have the floor." For the initial discussion, students come up with topics on their own. I ask students to write down issues and concerns that bother them and tell students to write down their concerns on a slip of paper and then put them in a hat. Once someone has chosen a concern from the hat, I see who wants to begin the discussion. Sometimes I, the teacher, have to start and I have to decide if a topic is too much for your class at any point in the exercises. As students discuss, I remind them to listen to not only the issues being discussed, but to all of the individual voices that are participating in the discussion. Many of the issues concern all of us, but how do we voice them differently, how do we react differently? Discussions should take place weekly. The literature that is explored in the unit will enter the discussions as the characters we read about have many of the same concerns that students in the classroom have. Finally the weekly discussions will become the "Open Mic Fridays" that will take place on a weekly basis along with the reading of Bronx Masquerade. Students should reflect in their journals on their feelings about the discussions. Teachers can provide different writing topics if needed. (How did listening to others make you feel? How were two or more voices different in the classroom? How would might someone else in the class respond to your biggest concern?)
Section Two- The literature
In this section of the unit, I will introduce several stories that I believe will be useful for helping students see the struggle of adolescence in literature. In this section of the unit teachers may want to substitute their own favorites and utilize the activities that I have suggested to their own liking. Toni Cade Bambara's story "Raymond's Run" is one that my eighth graders love to read every year. It is the story of a girl named Squeaky who is growing up in modern day Harlem. Squeaky is a tough girl who really has two loves at this point in her life; one is taking care of her handicapped brother Raymond, the other is running. Like all children at her age, Squeaky has challenges and rivalries which she faces daily and it quickly becomes clear in the story that Squeaky is very much shaped by her environment. Living in New York, she is a tough girl with tough language and a tough attitude. She has a powerful voice that barely cracks under the rivalries and responsibilities that she faces in the story. Students love Squeaky because of her voice. They love how she deals with her problems and feel that she is a leader who they can look up to. Another story middle school children love to read is Robert Cormier's "The Moustache." The main character in this story, seventeen-year-old Mike, is anxious to grow up at the beginning of the story. He likes to drive his father's Le Mans, he has a girlfriend and he has grown a moustache. Mike is a middle class kid growing up in the suburbs. His attitude about his conflicts, his having to visit his grandmother in the nursing home, is that he just wants to get it done and move on. As you introduce these characters into the classroom, they become a part of the discussion. These characters join your students in the "search for self" and they provide you and the students with someone that you can freely talk about and incorporate into the search. Instead of saying "How do you think Billy Smith would handle this problem?" (Billy Smith being a student in your class) you say "How do you think Squeaky would handle this problem?" Or "What would Huck say about this issue?" The characters really provide a sort of safe zone for the students and you to discuss and write about how different people handle different issues, what those responses sound and look like and what they say about the characters and us.
Section Three- Bronx Masquerade and "Open Mic Fridays"
This section is the culmination of the unit. Nikki Grimes has put the characters in her book Bronx Masquerade exactly where I want my students to be; in a place where they feel comfortable sharing their concerns and listening to each other through poetry and writing. Basically what we try to do in this section of the class is imitate the students in Grimes' book. I am constantly reminding students that I am "Mr. Ward," the teacher, and that they are the Tyrones, the Wesleys, the Chankaras and the Rauls from Bronx Masquerade. Just as Mr Ward's class has "open mic Fridays," so does our class. Just as Mr. Ward's students write poems in their journals, so does our class. Just as Mr. Ward's students confide in their journals, so do we. And finally as Grimes has compiled the poetry and feelings in one collection, so will we. There are several ingredients of this section which should be discussed here.
In the beginning of Bronx Masquerade a student writes a poem to Langston Hughes instead of an essay as his English teacher has asked him to do. Although the teacher does not accept the poem as a replacement for the essay, he does allow the student to read his poem to the class. The reading is such a hit that other students want to share their work and eventually the teacher provides for everyone through "Open Mic Fridays." One at a time Grimes introduces characters as they provide a journal entry and a poem in the text. As the readings unfold a host of problems including alcoholism, abuse, obesity, and dyslexia come out. Throughout the story, one character named Tyrone provides a commentary as students get up to share their work.
The Spoken Word and the Poetry Slam
The development of spoken word can be traced to the Beat poets who regularly read their poetry in New York bars, as well as the protest music of the sixties; it entered a more public forum with the introduction of the open microphone in the late seventies and eighties. In the eighties "performance" was added to the poetry readings and in the mid eighties Marc Smith organized the first poetry slams which are basically spoken word competitions in which the audience scores the performers. Spoken word performance poetry is really poetry reading combined with performance. It is poetry and emotion put out there for the audience and for the poet. The "Open Mic Fridays" that I have enjoyed with my classes so far are just naturally full of performance. Students love to share their work and by this point in the unit they should be fairly comfortable speaking in front of each other. It may take a little prodding, but once the "Open mic Friday" begins in your class, it will take off.
The Harlem Renaissance
Wesley 'Bad Boy' Boone laments in the beginning of Bronx Masquerade, "I mean what's the point of studying poetry and then writing essays? So I wrote a bunch of poems instead. They weren't too shabby, considering I'd only done a few rap pieces before. My favorite was about Langston Hughes." (Grimes, 4) Mr. Ward asks Wesley to read his piece to the class and the "Open Mic Friday" is born. The Harlem Renaissance also fits nicely with this unit. The movement which lasted from the twenties into the early forties was really a cultural "search for self." African Americans moved to Chicago and New York in search of an identity. Figures such as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Billie Holiday and Langston Hughes were leaders in a sort of cultural revolution that resulted in fabulous music, writing and artwork. Let students listen to blues and jazz in preparation for "Open Mic Fridays." Let them look at the artwork of Jacob Lawrence or Romare Bearden and respond in their journals. Students should see that in this cultural search, many identities were shaped just as their own identities are being shaped now In this unit I will use the Harlem Renaissance in two ways. One way will be in preparation for "Open Mic Fridays." We will listen to the music of the Harlem Renaissance and respond in writing. We will look at artwork and poetry and also respond. I have included a section on this is the lesson plan section of this unit. The second way I will use the Harlem Renaissance in addition to the Bronx Masquerade unit is to have students choose a figure from the Harlem Renaissance and complete a report on that subject at the end of the unit. Many of my students will end up doing power point presentations, but others will choose to do other types.
Activities For the Third Section
The final project in this unit is simply a culmination of the work students have done so far in class. By the end of this unit students should have several pages of poetry and responses in their journals that they will be ready to contribute to a collection of prose and poetry that you as a class can decide what to call. I allow the students to take charge of this project. I put together an editorial board that will work with submissions and put the book together. I ask all the students to choose one or two poems to submit to the editorial board. A letter that states what kind of piece that they are submitting, what was their motivation and why they think this piece would be a positive addition to the book should accompany the pieces. Once submitted, the board (with the teacher's assistance) can make suggestions to writers. Student conferencing on the work should take place and finally writers should finalize their prose and poetry. Illustrations should also be accepted. At least one piece of writing or art from each student will be included in the book. When submissions are all accounted for the teacher or the board should organize them, bind them with a cover and give a copy to each student.
- 1 Students will reflect on "Raymond's Run" as a class
- 2 Students will respond to guiding questions on literature
- 3 Students will discuss connections with literature and their own lives
- 4 Students will create written response in relation to class discussions.
Initiation Ask students to choose their favorite piece of dialogue from "Raymond's Run" and read it out loud as if they were Squeaky. Allow several students to share and then initiate discussion by asking students to respond to a few response questions in their journals. Tell students they have seven minutes to respond and to just quickly jot down ideas on a few of the questions you have prepared. Procedure I find it very important to help students prepare for anything that is "impromptu." They need to sort of prime their brains for discussion or (as you'll see later) even for open mic. Discussions will run smoother when students have had a chance to prepare response ahead of time. Have response questions written on an overhead or blackboard ready for students to answer. Among the questions you can use are: What do you hear in Squeaky's voice; What does her voice tell you about Squeaky? How does voice reveal character in the story? How can you relate to Squeaky? Have you ever had to take care of a younger sibling? Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever had to stand up for yourself? What do you love to do? What are your fears? Once students have had a chance to think about the questions, I'll have them sit in a large circle and we'll begin to talk about how they feel. Students will not really need to look at their journals, the discussion will feed off of itself. I serve as moderator and let students talk as much as possible Closure Ask students to jot down in their journal the most important or insightful point that they got out of today's discussion. Homework is to write a poem or a paragraph on something we discussed. Have the students share the next day. Have discussions on a weekly basis as you go through this unit. Intertwine journal writing and discussion and try to allow students to begin to discover their own voice.
- 1 Students' journals
- 2 "Raymond's Run" by Toni Cade Bambara
- 3 Discussion questions
- 1 Students will listen to the poem "Harlem" written by Walter Dean Meyers
- 2 Students will identify images from the poem
- 3 Students will create a web in which they will write images of their own hometown
- 4 Students will write poems named after their own hometowns
- 5 Students will share poetry
Initiation Ask students what an image is. Take a few minutes to talk about how important images are to poets. I often tell students poets paint pictures in our minds through words and images. Ask students to give you examples of images from literature or poetry that they are familiar with. Sometimes I will have students draw an image and then describe it in words on the back of the drawing. Procedure After talking about images, ask students to listen closely as Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs reads "Harlem" to them from cassette. The Scholastic Book recording and illustrated version of this poem is wonderful for this part of the unit. Students listen very closely and you can have a student show the class the illustrations in the book as it is read. Before beginning ask students to jot down the images that really strike them. There are many images in the poem that the students love. Ask the class to share the images that they enjoyed. Reiterate how images really put a picture in our minds through some of the examples. Now give students a web organizer. Ask them to write their own hometown in the center and to think of some images that remind them of their hometown. Share some of the images they come up with. Now students are ready to write their own hometown poem. They may have to finish it for homework. Be sure to share with the class. Closure If anyone is ready, ask them to share their poem!
- 1 Students' journals
- 2 "Harlem" by Walter Dean Meyers (recorded version if possible)
- 3 tape recorder
- 4 web organizers
Initiation Ask students to pick out one of their favorite pairs of work from Bronx Masquerade. Allow a few students to read out loud those sections. Procedure After your brief discussion on the pairs of writings from Bronx Masquerade, ask students to brainstorm about what bothers them. Have a student write on the board or overhead as they call out what they dislike (little brothers or sisters; parents yelling; teachers getting in your face; friends that talk too much, etc.) After a brief class share of our pet peeves and problems, ask students to choose one of the ideas just shared and to write a brief paragraph in their journal in which they talk about that problem. Closure Ask if any students are willing to share their responses. For homework ask students to write an additional poem on the subject. Sample Lesson Plan-Four- From the "Open mic Friday" section; Singing the blues In this lesson students are invited to explore the Harlem Renaissance, blues and the open mic. As mentioned before students need to be primed for open mic Fridays. They will have lots of materials as the unit roles on, but be sure to start each Friday with a mini-lesson and short writing activity. Objectives
- 1 Students will review poetry/prose from Bronx Masquerade
- 2 Students will brainstorm what really bothers them
- 3 Students will write a paragraph and a poem about something that bothers them
Initiation Put some jazz on the radio in your room. Grab some classic Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday and watch the kids tune into you. Procedure Lead students in a discussion of the music. See if anyone can identify what they just heard and ask them if they know where jazz comes from. Explain to them that much of today's music has its roots in jazz and the blues. Ask students to tell you what blues is about. Brainstorm with the students. Once you have your list, ask a student to give you a blues beat. Now play some blues selections for the students to hear. Finally ask students to come up with some of their own blues lyrics. Tell them it can be serious or it can be silly. One of my students this year wrote "The Spaghetti Blues." Finally if anyone can play a harmonica or a guitar, give your students a blues beat and ask them to come up and share their lyrics with the class. Closure As students are sharing their work, ask others to respond in their journals to what they are hearing.
- 1 Students will discuss the roots of jazz
- 2 Students will brainstorm "The blues"
- 2 Students will listen to selections of music from the Harlem Renaissance
- 3 Students will write their own blues lyrics
- 4 Students will share work in open mic format
Eleveld, Mark, editor. Sourcebooks, Inc: Naperville, IL The Spoken Word Revolution. 2004. This excellent publication touches on every aspect of the development of the "Spoken word Revolution" from the Beat Generation to Hip Hop and the Poetry Slam. It also comes with a CD that will come in handy in the classroom when introducing the open mic concept.
Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair, editors. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. Norton, New York, 1988. A nice selection of a wide variety of modern American poetry.
Grimes, Nikki. Bronx Masquerade. Puffin Books: New York, 2003. This fictional account of a classroom poetry slam is a wonderful introduction to what I want teachers to do in the third section of this unit.
Lathem, Edward Connery, ed. The Poetry of Robert Frost. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975. This is a wonderful, complete collection of Frost's poems.
Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor Books,1994. This is my favorite all time book on writing. There are lots of good practical ideas for writing as well as advice on life. A must read for all writers.
Meyers, Walter Dean. Harlem. New York: Scholastic Books, 1997. This award winning picture book/poem is composed of a great number of images of Harlem. The book is illustrated by the author's son and comes with a cassette in which the poem is read by Sean Combs.
Elise Paschen and Rebekah Presson Mosby, editors. Poetry Speaks. Naperville, IL Source books, 2001. A concise collection of African American poetry useful for this unit.
Smith, Marc Kelly, and Joe Kraynak. Complete Idiot's Guide to Slam Poetry, 2004. The famous "Idiot's Guides" takes on Poetry Slams with the help of two leaders in the field.
Sullivan, Charles, editor. Children of Promise: African American Literature and Arts for Young People. NewYork: Abradale Press, 1991. This book contains of variety of art and literature done by and about African Americans, including paintings by Jacob Lawrence and literature by Langston Hughes and others.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (Penguin Classics Edition) New York: Penguin, 2003. A classic Twain tale in which voice is explored through several characters.
When done with this unit, students will have achieved the following Connecticut's Common Core of Learning program goals for the arts;
- 1 Create works using the language arts in visual, oral and written texts;
- 2 Read, write, speak, listen and view to construct meaning of written, visual and oral texts;
- 3 Choose and apply strategies that enhance the fluent and proficient use of the language arts; (brainstorming, use of graphic organizers)
- 4 Read with understanding and respond thoughtfully to a variety of texts
- 1 Create (imagine, experiment, plan, make, evaluate, refine and present/exhibit) art works that express concepts, ideas and feelings in each art form
- 2 Respond (select, experience, describe, analyze, interpret and evaluate) with understanding to diverse art works and performances in each art form
- 3 Understand the connections among the arts, other disciplines and daily life.
- 1 Students will demonstrate strategic reading skills before, during and after reading
- 2 Students will demonstrate strategic writing behaviors
- 3 Students will participate in a wide variety of writing experiences
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