Bringing Poetry Alive in the Classroom; High school students visit Western for workshop
April 16, 2010 -- High school students going to school on a Saturday, it sounds like punishment right? But for a group of students from across Colorado, it was a unique opportunity for fun and learning.
Thirty- plus students from Gunnison, Montrose and Monte Vista visited Western State College (WSC) recently for a performance poetry workshop. The event was hosted by the WSC English department and WordHorde, the English club at Western. Over the course of the day, students attended workshops with professional performance poets, saw performances by members of WordHorde and performed their own pieces of poetry.
Performance poetry has been gaining popularity as a way to engage high school and college students in the English curriculum. Also referred to as slam poetry, it appeals to students because of the encouraging community within the genre, the opportunity for self-expression and the lack of boundaries that exist within the art form.
Teresa Milbrodt, professor of English at Western, helped organize the event. She shared that performance poetry is more likely to engage a young mind in the subject.
“It helps bring poetry alive,” she said. “It gets students energized and interested in the English language more than the written word.”
Milbrodt is also the co-advisor of WordHorde, along with well-known poet Mark Todd, also a professor of English at Western. Todd has been using slam poetry in the classroom for several years now. The idea to connect high school students with the WSC poetry community was born when Todd ran into Tracy Lightsey, an English teacher at Montrose High School at the Talking Gourds festival in Telluride.
Lightsey has been using performance poetry in the classroom for four years. He also brings his students to Western a couple times each year for various poetry performances. He thinks the educational and social benefits are tremendous.
“I notice a big change in my students as I use this in the curriculum,” Lightsey said. “It improves their understanding of the English language.”
For some of his students, poetry becomes their main focus in high school.
“This is their avenue for creativity,” he said. “It’s a form of self expression they can use without judgment. It really gives a lot of students a safe haven.”
For Rachel Zelazny, a senior at Montrose High School, slam poetry has changed her perspective on English and high school in general.
“I went from being very rebellious and not interested in school to falling in love with poetry,” Zelazny said. “I enjoy everything about slam poetry. It gives me an audience to hear my work and an opportunity to share my perspective on life.”
For Laurel Twitchell, also a senior at Montrose High School, watching other poets perform is another aspect of the genre that is enjoyable.
“One of my favorite poets is Buddy Wakefield, (who performed at Western last fall)” Twitchell said. “The energy in his words is amazing. I love the rhythm and the melody of it all and how closely you have to listen.”
Lightsey thinks that his students were exposed to new ideas and concepts at the workshop at Western. However, the greatest benefit from the workshop, he said, is the sense of encouragement and being part of a community.
“Some of my students have been participating in slam poetry events for a considerable amount of time,” Lightsey said. “There is only so much that others can teach a student about the subject. The reason we keep coming back to Western is to be a part of the poetry community and within that community there is a lot of inspiration.”
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations and communications