Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Take a Turn at the Mic

Visit Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life!
                       Find a second helping by searching #slice2013 on Twitter! 
Thanks to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, and Elisabeth for all the work you're doing!

Today students in Poetry Club talked about last month's virtual open mic. They are busy preparing for another one next week, so were practiced pieces during today's weekly meeting and talked about how to slow down and speak up. As Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger say, we worked our P.I.P.E.S. (projection, inflection, pacing, and eye-contact).

We also worked the schedule. We talked about contacting poets to join us.  Last month Kwame Alexander said yes, but a scheduling conflict derailed him, so he didn't get to hangout. Students also want to connect with local poets, some who go to schools who compete in our spring slam. Creating those connections takes time and relationship,  but I am encouraged that students want to, ask to and are looking to connect outside of school. We have a lot on our poetry wish list and a lot to practice before slam season.  But you know what ? It's worth it. I could power a small city with the electricity students generate when they stand up and perform their own work. It is energizing, emotional, and powerful writing work they do.

Last month we used Skype and Google Hangout simultaneously to connect because one of the participating groups could only use Skype. There was a little fumbling on my end trying to set up laptops--one of which crashed before it booted, but we had back up devices waiting just in case. We ended up Skyping with youth poets from a military academy in St. Petersburg, Florida on an iPad and "hanging out" with Cindy Minnich and her youth poets from Pennsylvania from a laptop station. We made it work, no excuses or apologies. My student poets cared less about the technology. They wanted to hear other students perform and they wanted to perform too. Poetry craves audience. 

As with most learning, things start out messy. We were figuring out how to "pass the microphone" how to shift screens (Skype to Hangout, to Skype), how to maintain the wifi and really tune it to listen as poets from elsewhere took the mic. Then there I was accidently broadcasting live minute after minute of precious on-air time of me on camera fiddling with settings to connect or reconnect. Nerdfighters would certainly punish me for that one.
Next week there will be much less of me and more poetry!
A friend who watch the video as aired encouraged me. She said  it's amazing to see a teacher learning, doing--right there, live--she could see the  edge of the curve as I skated it --she was being nice, but I am learning and I ams all in, committed to giving the youth poets air time and an audience. They loved it, they didn't mind that we had a bit of set up. They didn't mind that I broadcast the raw footage. Even they know that the process will get smoother with practice; I do too, but I'm glad they see me learning in front of them. I glad they see that reaching out takes all kinds of work. 

Junior, Cherry is experimenting with spoken word and song--she has an amazing voice.

Poetry Club decided to make the virtual open mic a monthly event. We need inspiration and we need practice. Audiences give us both, virtual or in person. We're aiming for third Tuesdays from 2:30 -3:30 p.m. (EST). I would love for you to join us.

Next week will be open mic session number two.  I am hoping that you know someone who might know someone who might know a teenager who writes poetry and would be inspired by or needs  an audience. It is as easy as answering a "call" on your computer or device. If you are unsure about the technology, I'd be happy to do a trial call and we could talk through it.

We need poetry and the community that forms around it when we have the courage to stand up and speak.  We learn so much when we share our work with others. Last month, we talked about being off of the page--memorizing our pieces-- so that we could make virtual eye contact. We talked about presence on camera and how it is different from having or feeling a poet's presence on stage. We talked about pacing and pitch and projecting--all lessons these youth poets need to get ready for our the spring Poetry Slam stage. Won't you join us? We want to listen to your poetry. We want to hear what you have to share. 
Senior, Juan was the first to take the mic from our team last month.
If you are a poet or poetry coach or a poetry club sponsor or a teacher with a group of poetry-minded students that would like to share the microphone next Tuesday, reach out in the comments or email me at spillarke[at]gmail[dot]com. You could also add your information to this spreadsheet; dates are tabbed across the bottom if you'd like to plan ahead. I'll use your email to send you details and to invite you to the hangout on Tuesday. 

Hope to "see" you next week!
Lee Ann


Holbrook, Sara and Michael Salinger. Outspoken: How to Improve Writing and Speaking Skills Through Poetry Performance. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006.


  1. What a great slice -- I wish I were in your club! This sounds amazing. I hope I can tune in some time, but I am not a poet.


    1. Thanks, Clare. I bet you have poetry in you...we'd love to have you join us one Tuesday.

  2. What you are doing is amazing. Both the actual event and also your willingness to learn and struggle with the technology! Keep it up!

  3. You're doing such amazing work with these students, Lee Ann. I wish I could say yes, but think those students I do write & share with are a little young. I'll try to be in touch when I have more time; going to NCTE next week. Are you? One of my former students was on Denver's winning team this past year at the Chicago competition. He is so motivated by it all, is also a songwriter and guitar player-very creative. Thanks for sharing-best with the tech too!

    1. Thank you, Linda, I'm trying. That Chicago slam competition is something else--out of this world! The talent our students (and former students) have amazes and inspires me. I WILL be at NCTE and I'm going to go to the Slicer's breakfast. Can you believe we will get to meet in person!? I'm exited just thinking of it.

  4. This is so inspiring, Lee Ann. So much work coordinating all this, but so worth it. Bravo!

  5. Fantastic! Can't wait for next week's event!

    1. YOU...motivate me. Thanks, Sara. It will be Tuesday and then Thursday and then Saturday in Boston with the "geese" before we know it!

  6. Hi Lee Ann,
    This is my first time at your blog thanks to Sara Holbrook who posted it on FB. I am so happy to hear of what you are doing with Poetry Club. In fact I love it. I do poetry with elementary kids. They LOVE it. I call it Poetry on Parade or Suzuki for Poetry. Mainly I work with 3rd graders as a volunteer now. I will see if I can friend you on FB. I am Janet Clare. I am off to NCTE to share my poetry again. Also heading to IRA 14 in NOLA. I looked at the spreadsheet and the date Oct. 22 showed up in the intro section at the top. Is this for next Tues. Nov. 19? My third graders could recite poems they have learned, if the classroom teacher can schedule it in. You can catch a look at some of what I do on Youtube by searching Janet Poetry on Parade. In that clip you can see 3 poems written by kids: Photos, My Box and the last one Our New Classroom. In third grade I lay the foundation for a love of language and literacy through poetry. So I am really hoping to find more about what you are doing. Is there a way to find your video online? (I only see your photos here as pictures, right?) I have kids in my school district from 3rd - 12th this year who "did" poetry with me. I am eager to interview kids to find out if/what the poetry meant to them.....Yesterday I taught "Stopping by Woods" by Frost. They loved it and will be able to say it as a group in a few weeks time. Plus more. They are sponges in 3rd grade. I also think a dose of poetry love and fun during the age of CCSS is important. It is more real. Then they have the immersion needed to start to write more on their own. Thanks to Michael and Sara for their great books and poetry work! They give teachers great tools. Their new book has wonderful tips and lessons for teachers to get kids writing and thinking.High-Impact Writing Clinics: 20 Projectable Lessons for Building Literacy Across Content Areas (Corwin Literacy) [Paperback] (I just saw them in Albany at the NYstate Reading Association conference. Janet F. Hi Linda and Tara! See you soon! My NCTE session is Sat. am at 9:30.