Friday, April 24, 2015

I am On It, On It, On It

My students wrote Praise Poems today. This was the third year for the assignment, and as always, I explained that Praise Poems come from Western Africa and celebrate an individual's identity. They are often call and response, with the audience chanting a chorus between lines.

The formula I give my students is to write six lines and a chorus. The first line is your name, the second about your place of birth or ethnicity, the third about your family, the fourth and fifth compare you to natural elements or entities, and the last chooses a positive, defining quality about you and repeats it three times. The chorus is an expression of what they hope might be said of them by their community, and so it is written in third person.

When teachers of other disciplines talk about teaching English they often express relief and envy– they are glad that they don't have to read all that student writing, but sorry that they don't get the insight into our students that you get from reading all that writing. I was reminded of that this evening when I read the following:

I am D
Life is so messed up
Police have more power than laws.
Life is so messed up
Dad's on the road my mom is at home.
Life is so messed up
I am the strength of an erupting volcano,
Life is so messed up
The speed of a trash bags in the air,
Life is so messed up
But I'm super super bored

To teach this boy every day, you would never have an inkling of any such turmoil and dismay; he seems soooo steady and studious. But since he went ahead and published his feelings, we have a place to start a conversation.

And we will.

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