Monday, March 27, 2006

On Ninja Zombies, Bullies, and Recess

And Other Joys of 3rd Grade

Since April is National Poetry Month , Barb Lovellette, a friend of mine and an English teacher at Lakeshore High School, decided to do something special for her kids.

She and I came up with a proposal for a short-term project that would benefit her kids, would teach them something about poetry, and would also make what they learned in school relevant to "the real world" in some way. Barb applied for -- and received -- one of Berrien County's educational mini-grants for the project.

I came in and guest taught two sessions. The first was on knowing your audience. Poetry, as you know, is a fabluous genre because there are no rules, other than the ones you the poet dictate for each poem. That said, because the boundaries of poetry are fluid, and because many people find poetry extraneous (because so much of it is), the poet must work doubly hard to make sure that every word, every sound, every punctuation mark included in a poem is necessary. It is essential, then, that the poet know the poem's audience.

A poem may speak to someone outside of the intended audience (as when a poem written to an audience of one -- the poet herself -- resonates with many others who read it). But a poem without an audience will resonate with no one.

The students' audience: third graders.

Your target audience is 8 to 9 years old. They don't remember a world before 9/11. Many of them have their own cell phones, TV's and DVD players. They won't be driving until 2014 -- which is after you will have graduated college with your Masters degree.

What do they like? Macaroni and cheese, recess, running around, video games, birthdays, candy, pets.

What are they afraid of? Bullies, ghosts, getting lost, authority figures, divorce.

You get the idea. After a directed-writing exercise to help them get thinking about third grade things, the students got into two or three person teams and wrote a poem for presentation to an audience of third graders.

The second time I "guest taught," I spoke about presentation techniques. We discussed how to engage an audience, how to connect with audience members, how to "use" a stage to the best benefit, how to use your voice to direct (and keep) the audience's interest -- and more.

The students were to practice their presentations for critique before actually performing it in front of the third grade audience. Part of that happened last Wednesday. Then the plague struck and I ended up in bed for 4 days. The final critique is today. Third-grade Ground Zero happens Tuesday.

It's been interesting -- with the usual exceptions, the poems are surprisingly good. One of our favorites is one about "Ninja Zombies that want to eat your brain" (really!), read in a sort of lilting cadence while accompanied by a guitar.

Another notable poem had to do with bullies, with a sort of impromptu mime-acting that involves a "bully" badgering the reader.

There are poems about recess, cafeteria food, and art class -- things that make you remember being eight. And if they don't exactly make you want to be in third grade again, they certainly make you remember why you're glad you made it through elementary school.