Sunday, January 11, 2015

When Students Own It

From left: Students line the balcony at a library slam, enjoy sushi at our baseball field slam, prepare the stage for a garden slam, and perform in a lunchtime poetry jam

I love the slam poetry unit. I've done it with tenth and eleventh graders, in American classrooms and abroad. It never fails to be a highlight of the year. I'm sure I will write more about it another time soon, but at the moment I want to write about a broader idea: giving students ownership over classroom culminations. Whether you are going to spend a month leading up to a reading festival, project open house, poetry slam, play performance, or something else, making the final moment a time to remember has everything to do with involving your students. 
Take our poetry slams as an example. I always divide the class into three committees - ambiance, judging and programs. The groups do research and meet occasionally in class, coming up with virtually all aspects of the project culmination. One class might end up performing poetry in a quietly lit library while eating burritos and examining gorgeous black and white programs while their favorite math teachers judge the show. Another might perform in a garden while students sit on blankets drinking smoothies, a panel of judges from the school administration in the front row. Bottom line, its their show. And no matter how hard I might have worked to prepare a fun environment for the culmination of a project, the fact that its their show is what really matters. They will always remember their poetry slam, because they made it what it was. 
I believe in giving students the chance to showcase their work in a fun environment - I'm all for having a project open house with food and inviting the whole grade, putting the best performers in a speech or poetry assignment on stage at lunch and inviting other classes, bringing in respected guests to watch play performances and creative storytelling festivals. And whenever possible, I want students to help craft the experience. After all, they'll remember the moment they emceed the poetry slam in their prom dress a lot longer than they'll remember my lesson on affect vs. effect (as much fun as that was!). 

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