Friday, November 13, 2009

Where the Stories Are

Q: Where do you find inspiration for your novels?
A: Out in the world -- that's where the stories are.

Brendan Halpin

Dear Parents,

Today in Martha and Greg's class we had a "virtual" author visit, via Skype, with writer Brendan Halpin. Brendan's first novel, Donorboy, has been an 8th grade Reading Bowl book for several years, and I jumped at the opportunity to bring him (or rather, his big talking head) to school. Students prepared questions about his books and the craft of writing, the technology worked beautifully, and Brendan spent about 30 minutes talking with us from an empty classroom where he is teaching in Boston. Ask your student about it -- I think everyone really enjoyed the visit.

Another junior high class Skyped with Brendan in October, but our network crashed right in the middle of the talk. Luckily, he's a guy who enjoys connecting with teenagers, and he graciously answered the remaining questions in a video, which you can see on the Library blog, The Reticulated Pithon.

We have all of Brendan Halpin's books, some written for adults and some for teenagers, in the Paideia Library. Please feel free to come check one out sometime, and see what other resources we have for students and the whole Paideia community.


Performance Poet Joanna Hoffman in Class

The other half of last Friday's "Regie and Joanna Show" was 2007 DC/Baltimore Grand Slam Champion Joanna Hoffman. At first Joanna was only going to do one class workshop in the morning, but the teacher was so impressed and excited by the class that Joanna stayed on to do another workshop later in the day.
Joanna used poetry of her own and other slam poets to illustrate the diverse styles and ideas presented in slam poetry. Her first poems "Anti-Love Love Poem" and "Why Do I Like You?" struck personal chords with the kids because they both looked at the foibles of love and ended with lessons of humanity and acceptance, which the kids could relate to and understand. The kids participated and read slam poems that she provided and the classes discussed the characteristics of slam poetry such as exploration of the inner self, less structure with a casual conversational tone that makes it appealing. We ended the session with a mock poetry slam.

My favorite poem was about her mother's struggle with breast cancer, which revealed Joanna's impatience with her mother's attempts to always keep Joanna safe as a child, cautious to an annoying level. By the end of the poem, Joanna concludes that perhaps her mother was right to always be cautious because cancer took her by surprise and maybe there is always something lurking in us waiting to hurt us and change our lives. It began with the simple mother-daughter vexations and ended poignantly with Joanna's understanding and grief over her mother's fight.

I came away from the sessions with a new respect for slam poetry and the performers -- not only do they write their own poetry, but they recite and enhance with a performance. One kid commented after reading a poem, "the written poetry is not anything like the poetry that comes out on stage." Others commented that Joanna was "quiet but transformed when she performed her poetry." I saw that change also and was so glad the kids picked up on it.

She did not just come here to perform but to teach and expose as well, which struck me and showed her passion for her art.

One of my favorite lines was from a poem called "Enough" by Andrea Gibson, "I want to live my life like a little league game -- I don't care if I win."

It was a big week for poetry-loving students, who had the opportunity to hear former Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur on Wednesday and Thursday, to hear and perform poetry with Joanna and Regie on Friday, and attend a Slam Poetry Showcase in Decatur on Saturday. Thank you, Joanna, for bringing your art to Paideia.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Slam Champion Regie Cabico in Class

Last Friday, Paideia had a slammin' day in 4 different High School literature classes, thanks to slam poetry champions Regie Cabico and Joanna Hoffman. Both were in town for the weekend's Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, and the library brought them to school for in-class workshops for Marianne, Thrower and Joseph's students.

Regie is a poet, spoken word artist and playwright who has won top prizes in national poetry slams. His work is included in the anthologies Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and Spoken Word Revolution: Slam, Hip Hop and the Poetry of a New Generation.

Crushed that I had to be in Charlotte at the AASL conference, I asked the teachers to let me know how it went. Rather than paraphrase, I give you a workshop session in the teacher's own words. I can see the class in my mind -- can you?
Regie Cabico visited my class last Friday, and leading up to it, he told me that he does all kinds of workshops and has recently worked with kids in Bellvue Hospital. He started off with very high energy, almost as if he were walking on stage in a show. It wasn't off-putting at all, because you got the sense that he was being there with you. He talked a little about himself, his Filipino background, and how he came to poetry, and poetry slams. He was unabashedly gay, but this fact was not used as anything other than that this was who he was and why he was in Atlanta.

Without consulting any text or script, he then launched into a performance of a piece about checking the box called Other when one has to fill out certain forms. His language was incredibly rich with metaphor. I remember one near the end, when after talking about all of the cultural influences he has absorbed (and by extension, I assume, many Americans have experienced the same), he said something like, "How do you expect me to fit all of this into one small box that 'not even a Thumbelina-thin diva' could fit her toe in?"

At one point, he told me that he saw spoken-word art as "3 minute solo plays." And as a teacher, his job is to elicit people's stories from them.

After doing only maybe 3 total pieces, he switched from performer to teacher. He got the kids to make "a list of 50 things that you hate. It can be people, moments, foods, anything. . . But make it specific. " After few minutes of that, he said, now you can switch to things that you love, that turn you on. It didn't matter that we didn't get 50; it was just an incentive to put down bunches.

He invited people to read their lists, and then celebrated them all by having everyone clap. Then without pause , he said, "Now, I want you to write a poem with every line starting 'I have the urge to. . .' and if you want to, you can use the lists that you just made."

After 4-5 minutes, he again invited students to read, making sure that he encouraged others than the first few who volunteered, who happened to be the same ones who volunteered the first time. He said that the first reader would be the teacher. I gamely complied. Each reader was invited up to stand in front of the group, was greeted by applause (Regie playing MC) and then was appreciated by applause when finished.

The kids really liked it; they told me so the next day. They enjoyed the excitement and energy, and they all liked the work of their peers, some of which was really touching, really fun, really serious.

Joanna Hoffman came to school set to do one class in the morning. It was such a success that the teacher called me in Charlotte to ask, please, could Joanna do another class later in the day? Sweet news! Of course she could.

We've got ideas kicking around for more performance poetry events for next year, but that's a long time away. For now, a thousand thanks to Regie and Joanna -- great artists and wonderful people. Let's meet in person someday!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Essential Reading for Junior High Parents

A good school works hard to educate not just its young people, but the entire community of people who surround it. Our Junior High leaders hold a series of parent meetings every year to discuss various topics about raising, teaching and understand young teens (ages 11-14 or so).

The 2009-2010 Junior High Parent Reading list for this year's meetings is available online on Paideia's library catalog. In this list you can see, not only the recommended titles, but which ones are in the library right now for immediate checkout. If you a Paideia parent, you can e-mail me to place a hold on any title that is currently checked out to someone else.

A comprehensive list of Junior High Parent reading (including this year's as well as previous years' discussion titles), plus LOTS of other reading lists for adults and students, can be found on the library catalog's Recommendations page. Visit it under Browse Recommendations in the purple sidebar of the main catalog page.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

This Writing is on the Walls

Imagine what you could do with this in school. Classroom walls, conference room, kids' rooms, family message center. I bet you could use Ideapaint on something portable, like a 4' x 8' piece of plywood that could be propped up anywhere as a whiteboard/ideaboard. Scoreboard?

Or on a car . . . Hmmm.

Thanks to Vicki Davis for the info.