Friday, June 1, 2007

ASL Poetry

I was never a big fan of poetry; nursery rhymes and Mother Goose perhaps (is that a stretch?)and maybe a little Robert Frost at times, but generally I just was left standing on the side of the road with my thumb out waiting for the poetry truck to come give me a ride. Well, I was standing on a deserted road my friends.

However, I pride myself on keeping an open mind and have gained a new appreciation for this genre through my co-teacher Lauren's love and appreciation of it. We have been teaching together for the past five years so her influence has rubbed off a bit. Lauren is always excited to begin delving into poetry. Slowly, I have come around and if I have not exactly matched her enthusiasm, I have indeed grown to appreciate the possibilities.

Our study begins by immersing the children in poetry through read alouds and modeling. Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic are both excellent resources. His poetry is playful, easily accessible and fun with clever illustrations. After a period of time exposing the students to various styles of poetry they naturally want to give it a go themselves which leads seamlessly into the unit on poetry writing.

We have been encouraging the students to write about things they know a lot about. Yesterday we sat together and threw out ideas for topics from which to draw upon in creating our poetry. The students raised their hands and suggested 'cats', 'food', and 'school'. All very civilized and polite, no excitement, just children doing their best to adhere to the prescribed program. Then someone mentioned Medusa and the shift in energy was palpable. I love when this happens and children are suddenly so engaged with the task at hand. The wheels were turning as they negotiated with one another how best to depict the story they knew so well into a new format.

This new format (ASL poetry) is one that I liken to acrostic poems. Acrostic poems are based on a word or phrase with each letter represented by the first word in the lines of a poem.
Here is an example, an Edgar Allan Poe poem titled simply An Acrostic:

Elizabeth it is in vain you say"

Love not" — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:

In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.

Zantippe's talents had enforced so well:

Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,

Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.

Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried

To cure his love — was cured of all beside —

His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.

See how it spells out Elizabeth?

Anyway, this idea is adapted for use with ASL poetry. ASL letter and number stories are fascinating to watch but also difficult to comprehend the first time because you are watching not only for the message but also for the numbers and letters being presented. The poet creates a story following a specific structure. For me, this is poetry at its finest. Clever and thoughtful.

Our students used the signed letters to tell of Medusa (M) slithering across the floor (E) as she comes closer and closer (D) to Perseus. Then the focus shifts to Perseus who sees her (U), is shocked, pulls out his sword, cuts her head off (S) and finally holds it up in victory (A).

The sign language alphabet can be spelled out in different handshapes; each one representing a different letter. MEDUSA is printed above and I did this so that those of you who are not familiar with American Sign Language (ASL) can watch out for them in the video below.

After I made this video (in my classroom this morning using our MAC) I realized that the 'tapestry' the children made for Medusa was hanging right behind me. I couldn't have planned it better if I had tried.

I wish that I could show some of the students signing their own poems. We have some good ones; Super A-hole wrote one entitled "Cyclops", the "I Spilled Myself" girl wrote a fantastic poem called "Book" and Blue's Clues boy wrote an ASL number story about Spider-Man. I will include some of their written poetry at a later date (meaning when they write it). I am sure it will be amazing. They always are!


J. David Zacko-Smith said...

I am glad that you are embracing poetry - it's like all things, some of it you'll love and you'll find that it will resonate with you, and other work you won't care for as much or it will leave you emotionless - but it offers a lot if you investigate it! I've been writing poetry for years, and enjoy reading it, too, and going to readings now and then...

Have a great weekend, handsome!

lettuce said...

fascinating post - clever and thoughtful

(like you?)

and i love the vid. esp. the slithering


Joy said...

umm... are you saying you lied when you were praising my poetry? ;)

Great post! A little Poe, a little Medusa, a little ASL vid, what more could anyone want?

Reya Mellicker said...

AWESOME VID!! Wow!!! I don't sign but I completely got it. Lettuce is right, the slithering was great.

More vids, please?

SaraSkates said...

very cool!

Junk Thief said...

I agree that poetry falls into the love it or leave it category. In school I loved to write it but hated teachers that were sure they had the handle on what the classics "meant" and would not accept my take on the poets. I think anyone who tries to find meaning in poetry just doesn't get it.

marxsny said...

This is a really great post. Would this be considered an acrostic?

You!, I want to cool it is what she yelled
Over the seat with boney finger held
Ushers did nothing but came and went
Ronstadt possesses a powerful instrument
Everytime when it's Blue Bayou she sings
Heaven is similar to the pleasure it brings
Once we saw Sarah Brightman together
That time at MSG do you remenber?

Glad we got that video to work ;-)

Gary said...

Now that I have figured out how to do the video I hope to include more. Lauren and I may do some easy ASL lessons on here...stay tuned.

Mike M said...

Cool blog!! I will be back for more -0-0-

eMack said...

Gary...hi! I want to email you but don't have an address. Mine is jdon13(at) Can you say hi so I can respond please.

I have something coincidental to tell you!

Brendan said...

The shame of life is that sometimes one's first experience of a medium turns them off from ever looking there again. We teach a lot to young children through poetry. But we get too little exposure to poetry as teens, I think. The result is that when we come back to "adult" poetry, we aren't as well equipped to find ourselves in it as we are with other media such as novels, paintings, film and music. That call for extra patience sometimes to learn how to travel through poetry.

Shel Silverstein is wonderful. Full of double and triple meanings that work for children of all ages.

And the "Giving Tree" is still one of my favorite books.

Reya Mellicker said...

Gary - I'm going to be in NYC on Wednesday afternoon. I'm meeting some other bloggers to hang out. Email me if you want to try to hook up one way or another. My time is limited on this trip so it's not dire, but let me know.

d. chedwick bryant said...

I am saving the watching of the video for the daylight hours. it might be scary

Jenny Faye said...

WOW! Now that is amazing! haha. I can't wait to see more.

Pod said...

ched i made that mistake and quivered all night!
i bet the kids love you gary!
shame we can't see some of them on vid
have a fun weekend

Robert said...

Oh that was too wonderful! Thanks for that!

Sebastien said...

That video is soooo cool! You seem like such an amazing teacher, I can't imagine how much you inspire the kids!

I like poetry, but I don't like it when it's hard or cryptic for no good reason. Sometimes I feel that some poetry is tough to read only because the poet is trying to be hard to read in order to show off and show how smart they are...


Related Posts with Thumbnails