Finding Our Voices in Lost Voices

New-Orleans post Katrina Sept 2005: house busted by Katrina's wrecking ball

flickr photo shared by Gilbert Mercier under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

We want every student to leave Gear Up knowing they have a voice. They are “active players and not spectators in life” as Walter Dean Meyers., the author of Handbook for Boys wrote (our shared reading this summer). To this end we had students explore what it means to be a lost voice through poetry.

As many of our readers know I am also interested in exploring how the pedagogy of poetry can be enhanced with the use of digital texts and tools. Over the last six years, my colleagues Sue Ringler-Pet and Ian O’Byrne have been exploring the intersection of poetry and technology. We present a project at NCTE celebrating a poet laureate through technology.

This year we chose Natasha Trethewey and her work with documentary poetry. Trethewey says she attempts to find lost voices in historical events. This seemed like a perfect project for the 100 students attending our Summer Academy.

The lesson plan we used appears below:

Step 1: Read “The Elegy of the Native Gaurd” and “Beyond Katrina”

Step 2: Then discuss the following prompt in the Google+ Community: Trethewey in explaining why she writes said her purpose is, “giving voice to the groups and individuals blotted out of public memory.” In these two poems what groups and individuals were brought to the light? What words, phrases, or stanzas capture the emotion or plight of these voices?

Step 3: Annotate the text using the PDFZen. Identify key events, characters, and emotions

Step 4: Record and upload your poem (written in Language Arts) to SoundCloud
-Set up a Soundcloud Account
-Post your Account Name to Google+
-Follow everyone in the class
-Record your Poem
-Upload Your Recording to Soundcloud

In order to make the projects manageable the students coule pick from the following historical events: Slavery, Civil War, WWII, 9/11, and Katrina. They then had to create a narrator for their poem, draft, and record the poem

Here are a few examples:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102118789″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102124607″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102111891″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102274643″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102402343″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102403828″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102405798″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102408911″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102547760″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

My Thoughts

Overall the project went very well. Yet it is not over. These poems will be used as models, and a few as mentor texts, for middle school students in Hartford who will complete the same project this Fall. We will share these voices in Boston at NCTE.

The lesson also demonstrates how good analytical reading does not need to favor informational, narrative texts, or poetry. In fact the best lessons will result in some type of performance piece (the poem) that required students to question and annotate a variety of sources for a variety of reasons.

9/11, with Katrina as a close second, seemed to be the most popular theme among students. I wonder if this is a due to proximity to New York (almost all know of a life touched by the tragedy). The boys (shocking) seemed to gravitate to lost voices in wars.

The poems are a good, but many have an overarching sense of prose, rather than poetry to the stories. Now I cringe at giving students rules when teaching poetry (in fact I asked teachers not to require stanzas at all let alone a minimum number) yet in the next iteration I want students to try to find more poetry in their voices. I may ask students to write their lost voice as a narrative first and then convert this prose into poetry. This had worked in the past as well.

Our Summer Academy is about building bridges to the future in the hope that the entire New Haven class of 2018 is college bound. I hope by exploring lost voices, we helped students find their own so they lear not to be “spectators in life.”

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