Friday, December 16, 2016

Slamming our Way Through a Winter Storm

The winter storm headed our way wasn't going to stop a group of seventh graders who had been preparing for this day for almost three weeks. Today was poetry slam day, and these students were anxiously waiting to share their poems with other seventh graders from Hillsborough Middle School in New Jersey. After all of the writing, electronic sharing, commenting, and practicing, it was time to finally meet this other group of seventh graders with whom they had been working since the project's beginning.

The project idea blossomed this past fall when I connected with HMS's wonderful technology specialist, Mary Ellen Davis. We began brainstorming ways in which we could connect our students throughout the year across various grades and subjects.  When we both discovered that our seventh graders studied poetry in November, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a collaborative project. 

At DPMS, I turned this activity into what we call a "stretch."  Stretch activities are created for our advanced students who benefit from more acceleration than what is offered in the regular classroom. Prior to this project, each ELA teacher identified a group of students who either expressed interest in writing poetry or who displayed exceptional writing talent. Once identified, students met in the library during part of their ELA class periods to work on specific poetry activities designed by me, our literacy coach, and our talented and gifted teacher. Students completed this work in addition to the work that they were still expected to complete in their regular ELA classes. All participating students were required to write at least five original poems from the bank of activities that we shared with them.

Once their poems were complete, it was time to share. Using Voicethread, students shared slideshows of their poems to a collaborative DPMS/HMS group. Voicethread was the perfect platform for allowing our students to communicate asynchronously with the HMS seventh graders. Students were expected to provide either text, audio, or webcam comments on at least two poems from five different students. The feedback that they received helped them revise their poems in preparation for our slam.

The final part of this project was the best part: the slam! While participation was optional, most students elected to perform a poem of their choice. To prepare, we watched several examples of slam performances and discussed the importance of movement and voice inflection. On the big day, we rearranged our library to look more like a cafe, dragged our TEDx stage out from the back room, and served cookies and hot chocolate. These students deserved a reward! Through Google Hangouts, DPMS and HMS students took turns performing their poems.

At the end, a winner was chosen from each school using a shared Google Form. HMS students awarded Tyler's performance of "The Crossroads" as their favorite.

Our students were buzzing with excitement after I announced the winner. Some students enjoyed this experience so much that they decided to band together and form our school's first ever poetry club! I can't wait to see what they create next!

Now it's time to face that winter storm...