Silver Bear Poetry Project as a Community of Practice


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This was a presentation at the New Literacies conference on education at Wayne State University, August 18, 2011.

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  • Hello, my name is Heather Harrison. I’m a librarian and poet who recently started The Silver Bear Poetry Project as a way of formalizing what I’ve been doing for the last five years. That is, going into K-12 classrooms as a writer-in-residence and introducing kids to poetry. There is an information sheet that goes into more detail about the project included in your handouts. While I ideally like to get paid as a teaching artist, I do a lot of pro bono work. If, after the presentation, you’re interested in having me visit your classroom or school, or just want to talk more about how to incorporate writing poetry into your curriculum, please feel free to contact me.
  • The Silver Bear Poetry Project is a new endeavor of mine, although I’ve been going into K-12 schools and teaching poetry to kids (either as a volunteer or occasionally getting paid) for about 5 years. The project is not a non-profit, although I am considering that possibility. Right now, it’s just a one-woman show. The project grew out of a couple of formative experiences in my life as a writer and teaching artist. One of those is a writers group that I’ve been participating in for the last 12 years. The group is composed of my former poetry professor at MSU, Diane Wakoski, and a number of her former students. We meet every 3-4 weeks, bringing poems, reading them aloud, and then discussing what we think works or doesn’t work and offering suggestions. While group members have come and gone over the years, there remains a core group of about 10 people who regularly show up. Some of our members have moved out-of-state and about 4 years agoI incorporated Skype video conferencing to include those members. What I have come to realize over the course of the years is that we, as a group, have become a genuine community of practice. The other important experience to influence the project was my opportunity to work with the WSU Libraries’ Chapbook Literacy Project from 2007-2009, while I was a graduate student in Library & Information Science here at Wayne. I had the amazing chance to work with former librarian LotharSpang who spearheaded that project. The Chapbook Literacy Project was an outreach project to K-12 schools in the Detroit area. It involved a writer-in-residence (me) teaching poetry to kids, helping students learn technology skills to type and save their poems, and culminated in a print and digital version of a poetry anthology featuring student work. We also invited the students to WSU for a public poetry reading for their family and friends. My work on that project convinced me of the importance of arts-infused education. I saw first-hand students get the writing bug and watched their self-esteem climb when they saw their poems in print and read them aloud to an audience. Unfortunately, LotharSpang died very unexpectedly in July 2009 and the project hasn’t been continued. The Silver Bear Poetry Project is a way of honoring Mr. Spang’s devotion to underprivileged kids and allows me to show students that writing can be exciting , empower them, and give meaning to their experiences.
  • I thought I’d start by getting you writing! We’re going to write a collaborative poem. I like starting my residencies with this activity, or some variation of it because 1. list poems are easy for students to grasp, and 2. these poems can generate a lot of potential material for future poems. I’m curious how many of you are familiar with “I Remember” poems? It has become a popular activity to introduce students to poetry. Joe Brainard, was an avant-garde poet living in New York City in the 70s and 80s. He wrote a book-length poem called “I Remember” and the whole book was composed of “I remember” statements! It’s a fabulous read, as it documents what it was like growing up in the 1950s. The most important lesson I want students to gain from this activity is that a poem can be made up of their own speech patterns and experiences. We call it common vernacular and Walt Whitman pioneered it with Leaves of Grass. Okay, I’d like us to begin going around the room and reading the excerpt of Brainard’s poem. Each person will take one I Remember statement. I’ll start. Now, I’d like each of you to write down three I Remember statement of your own. Be specific and give us detail. For example, a student might write, “I remember riding my bike.” I would push that student to go farther. “I remember riding my bike. It was from K-Mart and was blue and white with a sparkly white bananna seat.” Here’s another, “I remember helping my dad extract honey from the beehives. The smell of honey lingered on my hands for a day afterward.”Okay, now we’ll go around the room and readone of your I remember statements.
  • One of my goals is to create the success I’ve had in my own writers group in the K-12 classroom. That works best if we (the classroom teacher, the teaching artist, and the students) come together to form a community of writers. Etienne Wenger came up with the Communities of Practice social learning theory and it is often applied to business and organization settings. While I was reading about this theory, I had my “ah ha” moment. I thought, “This is what I do in my writers group.” How can I do this in the classroom?
  • Okay, let’s keep practicing our passion! This poem is based on Craig Arnold’s “Invisible Birds of Central America” poem. Can I get a volunteer to read the poem aloud? We’re going to brainstorm a list of sounds, actions, and visuals. What sounds do birds make? What do birds do? What do birds look like? Now, I’d like you to get into a little group of two or three people and write a group “Invisible Bird” poem using the format on the handout.
  • With these poetry activities we are accomplishing a number of learning goals. We are solving problems and helping to answer requests for information. We are seeking experiences and learning about one another’s experiences. When we keep a writing journal, we often reuse material we came up with earlier. Once we get to the revision stage, we focus on discussing the development of a piece of writing and we discover what we have and what we might still need to complete it.
  • The big question is how do we get from the idea of a community of practice to having a busy and involved writers group in your classroom?
  • My best experiences have been with teachers who are invested in me being there. My worst experiences have seen principals “assign” me to work with teachers and when I arrived, those teachers have taken coffee breaks. Teachers need to be in the classroom with me and actively involved in completing the activity with the students. As teachers, how can we expect our students to write if we don’t do it ourselves? I usually walk around the room and try to help students who are stuck. It helps me when the classroom teacher does this along with me. I like having an extended residency at a school or classroom. This allows us to create a sense of community as writers, students begin to expect and look forward to the visiting writer, and we learn to support one another over the course of several weeks. I also prefer collaborating with a teacher. I want to know, “What lessons are you teaching this week?” “How can I complement what you are teaching with my lesson?” “Are there ways to extend the writing into other subject areas?”Finally, I discourage teachers from “grading” student poems. I don’t mind teachers giving participation grades for the project, but I feel that grading their poems can discourage students from writing.
  • Throughout the project, these are the qualities I strive to encourage.
  • The Educational Imagination is another aspect of Wenger’s Communities of Practice learning theory. When I read this, I just stopped and thought, this is what I do as a writer! And so, of course, this is what I want the students to come away with from the project.
  • This is what I try to keep in mind throughout the project. Tom Romano is a pioneer of multi-genre writing in the English classroom and while he was teaching at the University of Miami—Ohio, he informally polled his English Education students. Where have your best experiences with literature occurred? Where have your worst experiences with literature occurred?
  • I strive to get students to view themselves as writers from the first day. I encourage them to write every day in an ungraded writing journal. I also want them to get comfortable with reading their work aloud. Not only is it a good first step in revising, but reading their work in front of a supportive group of their peers can empower them.
  • This activity is based on the collage work of Romare Bearden and the “Things To Do Around” poems by Gary Snyder. This poem is a good way to introduce students to the idea that poetry doesn’t have to be about “big” concepts, but can be about our everyday experiences. Can I get a volunteer to read Gary Snyder’s poem on the handout? Now, in small groups of two or three, try writing a “Things To Do Around” poem. If you aren’t from the same city, you can write a “Things To Do Around Michigan” poem.
  • Silver Bear Poetry Project as a Community of Practice

    1. 1. Silver Bear Poetry Project as a Community of Practice<br />Heather Harrison<br />
    2. 2. History of the Silver Bear Poetry Project<br />12+ year involvement in a monthly poetry writing workshop.<br />Experience with WSU Libraries’ Chapbook Literacy Project<br />
    3. 3. Sample activity: I Remember poems<br />Joe Brainard, poet and visual artist, 1942-1994<br />“I Remember” poems:<br />Detailed, vivid, down to earth, personal<br />Let students know that poems can be made of their own speech patterns and experiences<br />
    4. 4. Communities of Practice Social Learning Theory<br />Etienne Wenger <br />Definition:<br /> “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”<br /> E. Wenger<br /><br />
    5. 5. Domain<br />Community <br />Practice<br />Characteristics of communities of practice<br />
    6. 6. “A community of practice is not merely a club of friends or a network of connections between people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people.”<br />E. Wenger<br />Domain<br />
    7. 7. “In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. Having the same job or the same title does not make for a community of practice unless members interact and learn together. But members of a community of practice do not necessarily work together on a daily basis. The Impressionists, for instance, used to meet in cafes and studios to discuss the style of painting they were inventing together. These interactions were essential to making them a community of practice even though they often painted alone.” E. Wenger<br />Community<br />
    8. 8. “A community of practice is not merely a community of interest--people who like certain kinds of movies, for instance. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction. The development of a shared practice may be more or less self-conscious. Nurses who meet regularly for lunch in a hospital cafeteria may not realize that their lunch discussions are one of their main sources of knowledge about how to care for patients. Still, in the course of all these conversations, they have developed a set of stories and cases that have become a shared repertoire for their practice.”<br />E. Wenger<br />Practice<br />
    9. 9. Sample Activity: Invisible Bird poems<br />Craig Arnold’s “Invisible Birds of Central America”<br />Focuses on specific sounds & actions<br />Invisible Bird poems:<br />Encourages students to describe things/birds they cannot/do not see (imagination)<br />Focuses on at least one of the five senses: sound (detail)<br />Older students (3rd grade+) explore metaphor & simile<br />
    10. 10. Problem solving<br />Requests for information<br />Seeking experience<br />Reusing assets<br />Discussing developments<br />Mapping knowledge and identifying gaps<br />Activities involved within a community of practice<br />
    11. 11. How do we get from there to here?<br />
    12. 12. An involved classroom teacher who is invested in the success of the project<br />A teaching artist who is committed to building relationships with students and teachers over the course of 12-25 weeks<br />A classroom teacher and teaching artist who are committed to collaborating on lessons and who meet regularly to discuss what works and what doesn’t.<br />Ungraded writing journals=student writer space<br />Non-negotiables<br />
    13. 13. Commitment to domain (passion, shared interest)<br />Shared competence<br />Students helping one another<br />Shared information<br />Building relationships<br />Practice (practitioners)<br />Qualities to encourage <br />
    14. 14. Orientation: locating oneself—getting a panoramic view of the landscape and our place in it.<br />Reflection: looking at ourselves and our situations with new eyes, being aware of the multiple ways we can interpret our lives.<br />Exploration: not accepting things the way they are, experimenting and exploring possibilities, reinventing the self.<br />E. Wenger<br />Educational Imagination<br />
    15. 15. Best/Worst Experiences with Literature<br />Tom Romano<br /><br />Informal poll w/200 English Education undergraduate students<br />50% of students have had their best experiences with literature in school<br />90% suffered their worst experiences with literature in school<br />
    16. 16. Student Writers with Passion<br />Students need to view themselves as writers with important and unique voices<br />Uncensored/ungraded writing journals encourage space and time for writing each day<br />Get students writing!<br />Get students reading poems aloud!<br />Read out loud!<br />
    17. 17. Sample Activity: Neighborhood poems<br />Based on Romare Bearden’s iconic collage, “The Block” 1971<br />Guided mini-tour of one’s neighborhood<br />Neighborhood poems<br />Poetry (and art) is everywhere!<br />Allows students to transform their neighborhoods into exciting, vibrant communities<br />The big question: How do YOU see/view your neighborhood?<br />
    18. 18. Poetry Foundation<br /><br />The Academy of American Poets<br /><br />Poetry Daily<br /><br />Poetry 180<br /><br />Let the poem be your guide: finding poems that will interest/intrigue students<br />
    19. 19. Free: Internet blogs—Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr<br />Cheap: MS Word + photocopying with stapled binding. Alternative: comb binding via Kinkos or another copy shop<br />With funds: Internet-based, print-on-demand publishing. Can be as low as $4.95-6.95/book<br />Example:<br />Publishing <br />
    20. 20. Communities of Practice: learning, meaning, and identity, by Etienne Wenger. Cambridge University Press. 1998.<br />Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: teaching children to write poetry, by Kenneth Koch. Harper. 1999.<br />Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: teaching great poetry to children, by Kenneth Koch. Vintage Books. 1990.<br />The List Poem: a guide to teaching and writing catalog verse, by Larry Fagin. T&W Books. 2000.<br />Poetry Everywhere, edited by Jack Collom and Sheryl Noethe. T&W Books. 2005.<br />Bibliography<br />