A recurring theme in many of my blog posts is the importance of providing students with an authentic audience for their knowledge and skills. Sure, some students will do a great job in school because they have that kind of work ethic, but others need to know that there is a bigger purpose. One of the top five memories in my class for the past six years is Poetry Night. This is a night that stretches comfort zones, demonstrates extreme teamwork, and allows students to showcase their creativity and poetic talents. And when it is all over, what a sense of accomplishment!
Photo: Rehearsing the drums that are played in between poems.
The Studio 24 Poetry Night production has transformed over the years. It was inspired by the talk of some of my colleagues and has grown exponentially in my mind since then. Do not feel overwhelmed with all that goes into my Poetry Night: it has components that are practiced from the first day of school. Start out small and layer on new ideas each year.
The environment at Poetry Night is probably the most critical piece of the evening's success. Although the easiest place to do the event is the gym, I prefer to transform our media center into the cozy Poets' Fireside Cafe, complete with red tablecloths, candles on the tables, seating arrangement cards, a faux brick fireplace, welcoming PowerPoint slides, and music. You can see the results in the photos below. My aim is to create an intimate environment, and I never combine my evening with another teacher's night. The intimacy would be lost and the parents and students would get bored.
Photo: Bookshelves are covered with a plastic brick scene setter to help create the intimate evening.
Flow of Activities
Of course there are poems, but like any good television show, there must be different segments to keep the two hours feeling like a five minute experience. A typical night might flow like this:
Another thing that keeps the night flowing is that parents are constantly watching their child do a different job. The schedule is complex, but with some organization and rehearsal (and duplication of job duties), it works beautifully. Here are all the jobs students can have during the evening. All students have a minimum of four jobs. (Below are the numbers I use for a 28-student classroom.)
Photos below: Drummers, complete with stylish sunglasses and berets. Poet sharing with the audience. Waitstaff serving their families.
I make sure two poems are read each year. "Pretty Good" by Charles Osgood describes my teaching philosophy and the philosophy of many of the students in the class. "Lost Generation" is a clever poem about the importance of a positive attitude, brilliantly done, as you will see in this video.
So how do I fund this evening? Well, the desserts are brought in by the parents. In the photo you can see some customized 2i2 (our class trademark) cupcakes. I also put out a tip jar. All tips earned by the waitstaff help to pay for the plates, drinks, popcorn, etc. Any leftover money is used to purchase something that will add to the next year's production.
Of course, there are a multitude of details that I have not included here. I hope I provided a few ideas for you to use with your students.
I want to say a special thanks to Ms. Wendy, Mrs. Dombrow, and Luke for their assistance with technology and popcorn during this year's event, and an additional thank you to the Integrity Bros. (Michael Carney, Tyler Skurda, Jacob Tsatsanis, Alex Wiegand, and Anthony Zipay) for working the dessert and pop stations.
Feel free to use these ideas with your students, unless of course you are in my building; I respectfully ask that you allow this to remain a special 4th grade memory.
2i2 is a trademark of Mr. Vasicek's classroom. It respresents living your life to its fullest potential and doing it with integrity.