Teachers Talk Back: on poets in the classroom
Teachers respond to poetry readings and workshops by the BR renshi poets: Jean Toyama, Juliet Kono, Ann Inoshita, and Christy Passion.
I got to work with Juliet this summer in my 7th grade Art of Writing classes at Punahou. She came to talk about the poetry book she'd written with the other women and then had my class do linking poetry in small groups. She was a wonderful teacher, very clear, calm and encouraging. The kids wrote surprisingly vivid, effective poems together. They enjoyed the process, and each class liked reading the other class's poems and trying to figure out how they came up with their links. I wouldn't change anything about it and would jump at the opportunity to do something like it again.
As part of my website for the summer I documented the workshop by Bamboo Ridge. It was a very productive session, not only for the kids, but for my instruction as well. I am planning to continue to use Renshi poetry in my current English curriculum. Perhaps most powerful was that some of the students who had loudly mentioned "hating poetry" turned the corner to appreciating the art form after going through the process with encouragement, and seeing their finished products. Jean Toyama is truly a talented writer and teacher, and I was very impressed with the quality of work accomplished as a result of her guidance. These fifth graders were truly fortunate to have had this experience as they transition to middle school.
Here is a description from a student's perspective:
Poetry Reading and Workshop
Here are some poems that the students wrote, as well as some of the process from the session:
My only suggestion would be to perhaps have a session where we had the poets interact with the student's work in some way (via revisit, email, or blog form) so that the process of feedback continues. Perhaps the poets could write a poem inspired by a student piece of work and share that with the class. From there, the "tag" could continue. I would like to emphasize that this is simply adding on to an amazing session, and by itself the workshop exceeded all expectations.
I wanted to thank you again for organizing the Renshi poetry workshops at Punahou this summer. Our PUEO students in the Modern Hawaiian History class benefitted enormously not only from the reading, but also from the breakout sessions. Christy Passion had an amazing instant rapport with the students, and it was great for them to talk to someone who was so committed to exploring the power of language in this place. The poetry they produced with her was insightful, fascinating and often profound. I was so moved by the experience that I asked her to come to Mililani High School to speak to and work with about a hundred Pre-AP Modern Hawaiian History students in October, with very similar results. She will be coming again in the near future to run a poetry workshop for a focused group of student writers, due to popular demand. Thank you for helping to provide opportunities for young people to work with such incredible artists - this is what education is all about!
--Amy Perruso, Mililani High School
Re: our wonderful experience with Ann Inoshita during the summer at Punahou.
The experience, for my fifth and sixth grade Technoscribes was rewarding, first as they learned about Tag (Renshi) poetry from the four great poets during the group gathering in Wo Center, and then from Ann directly, as a guest to our classroom. During the visit, Ann gently guided her own experience in writing with the other authors and then gave details related to challenges she had when coming up with writing ideas. This helped my kids to know that even published authors struggle, at times, to get their ideas to flow. Once Ann introduced how we would be adding onto poems that had been submitted and published in the book, No Choice but to Follow, each student received an ending of one of the poems and created their first Tag Poem. Following this, Ann shared each poem aloud with gentleness, leaving each student feeling successful in their endeavor. (The poems were also displayed on a projector for all to see and helped the kids realize that their work was now being shared with their first audience!)
Many students felt great about their work and continued with the experience by writing tags with peers following the exercise. Also, almost all students submitted one or more of their tag poems to be sent to Bamboo Ridge for online sharing. Students later published their own Renshi poetry on their summer school webpages which may be viewed by clicking on the student names at:
Probably the most common response by the students, to this opportunity, related to feeling that it wasn't so hard to write this poetry as other experiences that they had had. Some students felt that the biggest reason they were successful was due to the chance to learn from real published poets.
We enjoyed meeting the gracious Ann Inoshita and we are delighted that she will be visiting students at Ma`ema`e (my home school) during the spring.
Thanks so much for providing us with such a great learning experience!