Tuesday, March 17, 2020

2020 Post #3 -- Sarah Kay and the Power of Lists

by Candace Brobst

Sarah Kay has the power to convince even the most jaded students among us that poetry isn’t so bad. She is both poet and hypnotist, and April is a time when teachers are perhaps more in need of the latter. To be honest, there are days in April where T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” doesn’t seem so bad.

I teach Seniors, by choice I might add, not because my school’s administration is trying to punish me. And by April, student engagement is waning. Seniors have grabbed the nearest scissors, and they are cutting their own umbilical cords to anything school related. Younger students are no doubt also feeling the restlessness of spring, the home stretch, whatever. I like to capture that I-have-something-to-say-before-I-go energy with Sarah Kay’s “If I Should Have a Daughter…” TED Talk.

The entire TED Talk (18 minutes) is a you-can-do-this tutorial and inspiration for writing performance poetry so if you have a whole period, keep going. Have students become the virtual participants in Kay’s master class. There’s even another great poem at the end.

But if time is short, and you are trying to follow Brett’s lead with this poem-a-day challenge, just play the poem (the first three and a half minutes of the TED Talk). Kay assumes the role of an imaginary mother giving advice to her imaginary daughter. In the spirit of the poem, direct students to become the sages (a.k.a. mothers šŸ˜‰). Have them create a quick list, as in: “Things I Know to be True” or “I Wish I had Known…” From there, Pair-Share, throw ideas on the whiteboard, or make a Nearpod Collaborate! Board.

Seniors in particular can do this as a culminating reflection on high school. Start with a list they can ultimately use to write letters to younger versions of themselves, armed with what they now know… things like: “Don’t wait until Senior year to take that first art elective” or “Audition for the musical; you are going to meet your best friends.” One year, my school (graduating class around 1000 students) had Seniors write letters of advice to incoming Freshmen. Distributing them was a logistical nightmare (one we never repeated), but it may work better in smaller districts.  

Further Reading:

Candace Brobst (brobstc@parklandsd.org) teaches English and Creative Writing at Parkland High School in Allentown, PA. She very much enjoys receiving assignments from former students.

Postscript: OK, OK, this is Brett writing now and I need to explain the last line of that bio . . . Candace Brobst is my high school creative writing teacher and one of the MAJOR early influences. My love of reading and writing poetry owes so much to this wonderful teacher, and I feel so honored that she agreed to write a post to my blog project.

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