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!