Praise Poems

For Equity Day, I took a workshop on teaching First Nations history to youth (Research #11).  The presenters from the OISE Centre for Urban Schooling showed a YouTube song video of War Party, a hip hop First Nations group based in Alberta.  The song was "Feeling Reserved" about life in reservations, the gang mentality the youth adopt, and the issues they can't leave home but bring with them to school.

Karen Murray was one of the presenters and taught high school English.  She said she taught poetic devices through song lyrics and rap before bringing the kids to Shakespeare.  Also, Jeff Kugler talked about Regent Park students here in Toronto who wrote songs about gentrification in their neighbourhood.  Song writing is a craft teachers could use to get students riled up about writing.

A culminating writing task they highly recommended was Praise Poems.  They are based on an African tradition used by tribes for young adults.  Here's the format of the handout they gave us.
Praise Poems
The format is:
1.  Your lineage:  I am the son/daughter of...who was the son/daughter of...etc. Talk about your cultural, ethnic, or other aspects of your identity or lineage.
2.  Physical description:  I am tall, with long dark hair and full wide hips.  My belly is round...My eyes are bright and...
3.  Who you are:  You can say whatever it is that makes you you that is special about you or important to you...
They also provided a student exemplar that resonated with me:
I am the son of Carl Sr. who is the son of Levi.
I am the only boy out of 5 children.
I am a useful and worthy vessel of brown skin
with a thin frame but all structure,
with two large foundations.
Yet at 6’6" and 215 pounds,
I’m just a teenager eager to learn,
still able to mold, the center of the crowd.
I’m athletic but artistic, open-minded but optimistic,
with a heavy desire for success.
Friendly sociable, intelligent, and strong willed,
blessed with courageous and God fearing parents,
who always push to keep me in the right direction.
I love to be with my church, family as well as my own,
with a strong-will to play basketball and develop literary skill.
There’s much I think I know,
but there’s still lots of wisdom to enstow.
I will be successful, I will survive,
and I can achieve anything with God on my side.  (See Research #14 for other examples)
The lines underlined circled around in my head.  This kind of writing empowers students and validates who they are.  And what they value. Equity.  Social Justice. Bullying. Close the achievement gap.  Key terms at OISE.  But I think before we can even begin to address those issues fully, we need to give students power and voice.  Writing allows for that.  You can tell them how able and brilliant they are all you want.  But it doesn't reach the same level as them searching for it and publishing it themselves.


Anonymous said...

Praise poems are a great idea. It's definitely hard to get students interested in literature! 5 stars!

Amira said...

Thanks for your comment! I don't know why I wasn't expecting to get feedback for this assignment. Sometimes I forget I'm on the web.

I hope I get to teach poetry for my next practicum with Grade 7/8's. I'd love to try this out.