Sylvia Plath is well-known for being an unlikely talent that advanced the genre of confessional poetry; and the last sessions at Educare have been meaningful because of their confessional qualities.
Two weeks ago I found myself watching Dangerous Minds for the 10th time, and I could not help but feel tempted to try by the Dylan-Dylan Contest idea that Michelle Pfeiffer carries out in class. In the movie, Pfeiffer, who plays the role of a literature teacher who was formerly a US marine, was using the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s songs in order to make poetry more accessible for students. As the culminating activity of that process, she asked students to look for a Poem by Dylan Thomas that was similar to one of the songs in terms of concept, message or meaning.
With my High School students we have been reading a wide range of short stories from a multiple genres, so I decided to ask them to find a song and a movie that, in one way or another, represented the main ideas of the story, or salient characteristics of the main characters. The objective of the activity was for students to establish relationships and to describe the connection they observed. However, the most important part of the task, since it was group work, was to explain how they arrived at the consensus on the relevance of their comparison, considering what we were learning. For me, as their teacher, I was hoping they acknowledged the extent to which they were making this personal.
With my Middle School students we were reading Esperanza Rising, a novel that deals with changes produced by migration and difficult situations. The structure of the novel is organized in seasons and the fruit that is commonly harvested in each. Thus, taking advantage of the mood and atmosphere in each chapter, I decided to get students to generate the soundtrack that would serve as the companion to the novel. They were asked to take into consideration the dominating colors in each season, the symbolism of the fruits mentioned, the situation Esperanza (the main character) was undergoing. The objective of this task was to get students to observe aspects of the novel that they found to be relevant and establish a connection with one song that would add to the atmosphere in a given chapter. They were encouraged to speak to other teacher and relatives in order to learn about songs that they might not be familiar with. Besides enhancing their communication and thinking skills, I was interested in the way they created meaning.
Students embraced the tasks with enthusiasm and a positive attitude. I always appreciate how hardworking they become when they are given the freedom to make choices and to decide on the course of the tasks we carry out. Yet, what I observed as their work evolved could prepare me for what I witnessed as they presented their projects.
High School students truly went the extra mile to establish the relationships they were asked to. Yet, while they presented, I was fascinated by the way they took their families’ histories to define the significance of the relationship they were sharing. While most of them were able and successful in establishing connections with other subjects (something I did not ask for but appreciated), what truly helped me see their genuine and valuable work was the way they were expressing how they became aware of teachings they had never paid attention to, and of how these ideas and beliefs had shaped who they were.
As for my Middle School students, considering their biological age, I could not be more impressed by the mature reflections they conducted, for the choice of songs they made truly captured the essence of the chapter they were referring to, but most importantly, it felt like the main character was actually uttering those lyrics. This helped me see how ready they are for any task, despite the difficulty, as long as they are allowed to use any and all of the skills they possess. This caused me to wonder the extent to which our instructions when settling a task can actually hinder their creativity.
Sylvia Plath’s poetry is known for the sad and nostalgic tinges it possesses, and I for some reason, these experiences, when students personalized their learning, caused me to sigh and appreciate their vulnerability and openness. I would like to believe that this is an example of the comfortable environment we all have been able to create in the classroom, but above all, this is a gift for me, as their teacher, for I was allowed to see how our experiences at school are having a strong effect in their lives.
Below are the task sheets for the two tasks I described.