Creating and Sharing Poetry
About 5 years ago I began a service project with my students. The project was a modification of a community project presented by Kelly Davis of Lakes region Middle School in Naples, Maine. Students write winter poems, affix them to lunch bags, and decorate the bags. The bags are used to decorate the tables at the Senior Citizen Winter Concert and Luncheon which takes place at our high school every December. We put a few pieces of candy in each bag, and high school students stand them on the tables. Our efforts have been warmly received. The project now includes all 7th and 8th graders in our school.
Each November we talk about winter, various styles of poetry, how to create imagery in our writing, and the importance of giving something to our community to brighten the lives of others. Of course some students take this work more seriously than others. Some poems are thoughtful and expressive while others are quick little ditties. Some poetry bags are works of art while others are obviously slapped together with little thought of design or audience. These are seventh and eighth graders after all.
In the fall of 2010 I thought it was time to add another dimension to our project. My school has a history of supporting our service men and women overseas. As 5th graders, my students made ornaments, wrote letters, etc. to send to various Maine units serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. My son-in-law was serving in Afghanistan at the time, so I was inspired to send some of our poetry bags to his unit and a few others. I wanted to add another element to the project. I thought my students could use GarageBand on their MacBooks to make recordings of the poems. This could be mixed with background music and burned onto a CD. We could include a CD in each of the poetry bags we sent overseas to give our soldiers a taste of home. My students became much more excited about this part of the project. They seemed to feel more strongly about this audience. Some students expressed feeling it was important to support our troops. Others were excited to be allowed to use GarageBand.
Putting It Together
Each student wrote multiple winter themed poems and chose two to decorate poetry bags, one for the senior citizens and one for the troops. Some students created their bags with the specific audience in mind. They knew from the beginning which would go to the troops and which would go to the senior citizens. Students recorded both poems using GargeBand. We had some technical difficulties here as students had to be careful about how they saved their recordings. A number of students had difficulty with this step as they were unable to share their recordings. Some students became frustrated as they made the same error multiple times even after 1-1 instruction. I created a screencast using Screencast-O-Matic to help students record and save properly. This was my first time producing and using this type of instructional technology. Though I shared the screencast in class, most students did not refer to it. Several adults in the building found it helpful as they assisted special education students to complete the project.
Another issue was finding a quiet place to record. Many students opted to record at home and others went to various locations in the building to record. Some recordings have a fair amount of background noise due to this. It was encouraging to me to see some students taking this work seriously. Even some of my struggling students did multiple takes of their recordings until they were satisfied with the results. One of these students proudly pointed out that he had used repetition in his poem. Once they were done, each student’s recording was uploaded to their digital portfolio as well as used for the CD. I used GarageBand to mix the student recordings and added instrumental winter and holiday music from freeplaymusic.com as background. Click this link to hear the poetry recordings and see examples of the poetry bags.
A little later than anticipated half the poetry bags and all the CDs were packed up and shipped to the 379th Engineers Unit, 1136th Transportation Company (SECFOR), and 94th Military Police Army Reserve. These National Guard units had been in Afghanistan for 8 or 9 months. Each student added a short, handwritten note to his poetry bag and we included candy in the package. We have since received a Certificate of Appreciation from the 1136th TC saying our work, “…has had a significantly positive effect on the unit’s morale and mission.” My son-in-law reported that the members of his squad with the 379th Engineers all enjoyed the poetry bags and CD’s. My students were excited to receive this feedback.
As we reflected back on this project most students had positive feelings. Some enjoyed the artistic aspect of decorating the bags while others felt strongly about helping others. One special needs student said, “I think it’s important to help other people if you get the chance.” A few students shared that having a different audience caused them to give more consideration to their word choice in the poems. They wanted to be sure their poems had a positive message. Most students enjoyed working with GarageBand. When we were burning our CDs to send overseas the majority of students enjoyed listening to the final product and were even more excited to share their work.
Next year, when I am working with my students as eighth graders, I plan to extend this project. I have already spoken with teachers from the younger grades who are interested in taking part. I envision my 8th graders working with 5th and 6th graders to help them write and record poetry.