High Schoolers are finding confidence in poetry

Literacy scores are at a new low according to a recent international schools report but a spoken poetry program in high schools could help young people re-realize the value of words.

The recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report that tests 15-year-olds on maths, reading and science, revealed that Australia’s rank in reading has fallen two places in PISA’s world ranking in comparison to the previous 2012 report.

According to Yasmine Lewis, a mentor of Real Talk, a spoken poetry program targeted at high schools run by the Bankstown Poetry Slam, this is because of a lack of engagement.

“The curriculum, especially on the English side of things, isn’t really updating as fast enough to really engage students in things that are relevant to them in today’s age,” Ms Lewis said.

According to informED, students that are engaged show sustained behavioural involvement in learning, select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given opportunity and exert intense effort in learning tasks.

Real Talk is an extracurricular activity and not bound by the curriculum – therefore, as Ms Lewis said, they’re able to explore topics, themes, and materials that students can engage with ‘more than their normal English class.’

“The main aim of the program is for students to have a platform to really express themselves,” Ms Lewis said, “but without their knowing they’re also learning poetic techniques and some writing techniques along the way.”

Spoken or slam poetry is rooted in Hip Hop culture, having been born out of the Black Power Movement in the US in the 50s and early 60s.
Mentors, usually from the Bankstown Poetry Slam, facilitate the program and run writing workshops with students one day a week for six weeks.

They cover a topic each week that is relevant to young people like gender, identity, racism and bullying each week, and then have a conversation. Students then work together, creating their own original poems.

Mentors will also help the students with inspiration and ideas, and give some prep talk for confidence.

Most mentors are young and can therefore ‘speak the same language’ as young people to get on their level.

High schools run their own poetry slams at the end of the program, where students perform their own original works.

Poetry slams are spoken poetry competitions where performances are judged by five randomly chosen members of the audience.

Eight high schools so far have joined the program with more to be confirmed:
1. Sir Joseph Banks
2. Chester Hill
3. St Ives
4. Plumpton High
5. Bankstown Girls
6. Holsworthy High
7. James Ruse
8. Blakehurst High

Scores are decided through the average of the middle three scores, and instead of clapping the audience are encouraged to click their fingers.

Since audience participation is so encouraged, the performative gatherings normally have a conservational and community feel.

The best of the schools go on to compete in a grand slam among the participating high schools which is open to the public, and normally accommodating a few hundred people.


Riverside Theatre (Source: Theatre People)

While teachers might often doubt that shy or troubled students won’t be able to perform, Ms Lewis assures them that in the end the students always come through.

So far, they have.

“There’s always a student or multiple students who have been so quiet in their other classes or have been so disengaged in their other classes, that have really come out and really excelled in spoken word or in the poetry program,” Ms Lewis said.

Barbara Arambatzis, the Enrichment Co-ordinator of Bankstown Girls High School told the ABC in the 7:30 Report: “We have seen our girls really come out of their shell. So girls that just didn’t want a bar of it at the beginning have just come out and they are blurting out their poems across the library. It’s amazing.”

Spoken poetry doesn’t only benefit students with writing and reading skills, and increasing confidence, but it fosters a sense of community between kids.

In last year’s big competition between high schools, third place winner told the ABC, “everyone connects with something from someone else’s poem and it has brought everyone together, to know that we all know something about each other.”

According to Melissa Donovan, copywriter, in her post on a writing resource site, ‘when poems are shared, they can inspire, move, and honour others, as well as forge deeper connections with people.’

Surprisingly, a lot of the students that did really well in the program were not the kids that excelled in English class.

Real Talk will be exhibiting a showcase of its’ best live performances with tickets for $15 a pop at The Riverside Theatre, in Parramatta on the 27th of May.
For more details go to: https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/fresh-voices-from-western-sydney-a-showcase-of-real-talk/


(Source: Touring Sector)


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