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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Power of Poetry at Brightwood, Part III: Time to learn how to perform

This fall, DC SCORES Digital Media Intern Paris Volpe is attending the after-school poetry sessions at Brightwood Education Campus (Elementary School) to observe how the Panthers discover "The Power of Poetry." Each week, Paris is writing about the curriculum and lesson plans of the program. Follow as she documents the progression of the students’ self-expression and writing techniques. You can also follow Paris' experiences on Twitter by following @DCSCORESinterns and view photos on Flickr.


Written by Paris Volpe
Digital Media Intern

Glossophobia: the fear of public speaking. Supposedly the greatest fear of them all.

How many kids do you know who can give a speech? At the DC SCORES Poetry Slam! Dec. 3-4, there will be 1,500 who can.

A big component of DC SCORES' poetry and spoken word program is working with the students on their performance skills. This Monday, Atrice Williams, a poetry specialist from the American Poetry Museum, visited Brightwood Education Campus to help begin prepping the Panthers for their 5-minute performance the Poetry Slam!.

Williams started off by defining the words “performance, enunciation, projection, and intonation.” She then assigned the class group work. “Come up with as many action verbs as you can. Then at the bottom of the page write your favorite musical artists. We will use these lists to act out some sentences.”

I grabbed my notebook and joined Joel J., Ashley A., Carlos G., Fitsum M. and get to work. “Whisper, yell, shout, scream, laugh, talk, sing.”

“Do you think we will have to sing by ourselves?” Ashley A. asked wearily. “If we do I want Latino music! It’s my favorite,” explained Joel J., age 8.

Carlos and Joel shared how they are both originally from El Salvador and know a little bit of Spanish. This opened a discussion about the possibility of writing poems in various languages. We began to share the words we know in other languages. “Ohayo” means “good morning” in Japanese. “Aloha” is how we would greet each other in Hawaii. The conversation was effortless. The exchange of ideas, similarities, and interests was plain sailing. Incidentally, it seemed like the quaint little groups learned a lot about each other from this prompt. However, it didn’t take long for the mood to change.

One by one, Williams called groups to the front of the classroom. Using the lists and their favorite artists, she helped the students come up with sentences to act out. “When I hear Taylor Swift songs I tend to shout the lyrics,” Williams said to Nancy R., age 10. Nancy repeated the sentence in a quiet murmur.

It was clear that this was uncomfortable for the students at first. Feet constantly shifting and nearly silent mumbles demonstrated their nervousness. In the safe haven of their clustered desks, students can easily write and discuss whatever they want. I’ve seen them excitedly share poems when seated. But when it comes time to stand before peers, a new feeling takes over. Suddenly, it’s not so easy to speak aloud about much of anything.

The fear of public speaking is deep-rooted in our human nature. We are born to be collaborative, social beings. This is why when we stand alone, we feel ostracized and fear rejection.

But this is why the second half of the DC SCORES season is dedicated to helping students practice their performance techniques. The goal is to make every student feel confident and comfortable. As I witnessed, this is not an easy task.

Williams was untroubled by this. She praised students who stepped out of their comfort zones to project their voice and add animation to the words. “I really liked the way you smiled and enunciated your words!” she told Keily L., age 10.

More importantly, Williams was patient with the more withdrawn students. She delivered constructive criticism and allowed everyone a few chances to improve -- feedback the students will be giving to each other in the coming weeks.

“That was good but you were a bit monotone. I know you can be enthusiastic! You’re doing so well, let’s try it again.” she instructed Trey O., age 10. The second time around, Trey put a little pep in his step and danced to his sentence! Incrementally with each try, stance and intonations improved. The students noticed.

After nearly every presentation, each student wore a winsome smile. A smile that said, “Yes, I did it.”

Exercises like this are a vital part of the after-school sessions. Practicing spoken word develops self-assurance and significantly improves speech overall.

“Sometimes I forget the words I have to say. But it’s better to forget now than at the Poetry Slam!” said Ruben R., age 8.

“What do you think will help you remember?” I asked Ruben. “Practicing,” he responded with a giggle.

The past six weeks have shown these are effervescent kids with incredible talent. With the guidance of their DC SCORES coaches and special guests like Williams, they will surely shine by the end of the season. They already glow with pride when they read their poems to each other. I cannot wait for them to share that same pride with conviction at the Poetry Slam!.

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