Poems in the making

I have to write about this before I forget the poetry I heard in freshman English class today. Having recently returned from the NCTE conference in Las Vegas, I was experiencing let-down, realizing yet again that even the best lesson plans will be interrupted by a dismissal bell, school picture make-up day, or other class business needing to be addressed in the 45-minute slot that reading shares with writing, speaking, listening, and viewing. Before NCTE, my 9th graders had divided into small groups to do an initial read-aloud of scenes 3.2-3.5, the immediate aftermath of Tybalt’s death at the hands of Romeo. Today, assigned to particular scenes, their task was to cut the scene down to under two minutes and perform it. [Check the Twitter feed for 45-second audio to accompany this post.]

Spencer Wright, spencer77

To be honest, I like watching the rehearsal process as much as any performance; they haven’t presented their pieces yet, but the animated voices of group members debating specific lines to keep or discard were as entertaining as a finished product.

Initially worried that I would jinx it by recording the moment, I eventually gave in to the impulse and toured the room with an open mic to capture their candid energy (using Evernote on iPad).
I heard vehement pleas to cut whole speeches meet with rebuffs, and mutate into constructive invitations to suggest alternate cutting methods. Shy and reluctant readers became as vociferous as their more outspoken counterparts. I was pleased with the students I had appointed as leaders; they accomplished what they set out to do, and each person in the groups of 2 to 4 seemed to be contributing substantially. Done with their cutting, one group experimented with voices and interpretation, while others donned wigs, hats, and coats pulled from a trunk in the corner.
Although it feels as though we have been in Romeo and Juliet forever, today it felt fresh. Putting the 2-minute constraint on the scene forced students to be conscientious about the story Shakespeare tells and judicious with their cuts. Students discussed the main dramatic conflict in each scene to be sure their choices left it intact; the hope is that their mad slashes will focus the action and language on the bare essentials.
Poetry takes many forms. If the meaningful communication I heard today pleased my ear in its spontaneity, its mirthful music and its candor, and if it wore a kind of beauty, then, yes, my students gave me a sonnet.

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