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Title:                                                      Video Poetry
Primary Subject Area/Grade Level:   Language Arts and Media Literacy (9th-12th Grade)
Author:                                                   Mary Palmer


The Survival of Poetry

One of my two-year-old daughter’s favorite videos (other than Nemo) is Survival, or as she calls it “Animals Fight,” a video narrated by Anthony Hopkins about how animals survive: the strong attack the weak, the weak either get stronger and adapt or die.

While I don’t want to debate the various forms of evolution, as an English teacher, I knew my unit on American Romantic poetry had to evolve or it, too, would die. I didn’t need to study the standardized scores to know understanding and appreciating poetry was a weakness in my 11th graders . . ., but looking at the available data just confirmed what I saw in the classroom. In the 2002 ND State Assessment Test data for reading and language arts, two of the lowest scores for secondary students involved comprehending literature, especially understanding characteristics of various genres (61 average in 8th grade), analyzing how text reflects culture/historical eras (62 in 12th grade), and understanding how to interact with the text (63 in 12th grade); the other low scores involved engaging in the writing process. While this unit does call for writing, video poetry directly relates to comprehending literature, especially the genre of poetry, which can be carried out to other genres as well. This unit demands that students interact with their literature by understanding the background of the author and the era, by analyzing poetry specific techniques, but more than anything, it demands that students view literature (not just poetry) through the eyes of a new medium.

About five summers ago, I had the privilege of taking a summer workshop concerning video in the classroom. I took it because my teaching partner and I had been experimenting with student-led documentaries. What I took home not only reinforced what we were doing with documentaries, but thanks to video artist and poet, Mike Hazard from St. Paul, it planted the seed that grew into video poetry.

I always knew that the challenge of inspiring students to understand and enjoy poetry was great, so I did what a lot of teachers do: spice up the poetry unit by having students attach it to modern music. Back in 1988, “Sell a Poet” was the first unit I developed to sell poetry. While I experienced some success, success that reached beyond me reading a couple of poems from various authors, asking questions about form, style, tone . . . and receiving generic responses. But video poetry has exceeded my initial expectations.



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Updated: June 24, 2004 9:44 AM
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