Through poetry the students will look at the struggles encompassing the Negro’s history over a 60 year period. In particular students will be examining an evolution of the poems, the people and how their attitudes, over time, have changed and shaped the tone of the poems. The students will observe that certain events and people may have provoked anger, hope, despair and therefore caused the poem’s moral. These events directly correlate and effect changes in the poems tone over the two eras. Since the special education students have poor organizational skills and become confused and overwhelmed with too much material, only one theme is to be examined at a time and taken through the course of history. In this way your students will clearly see that history is reflected in the Negroes’ poetry. They will sense that the first era was basically a desperate passive individual defeat for the Negro humanity. Hopelessness and black pride was minimal. Yes, individual rights were being taken against discrimination and segregation, but these were sparse, spreadout and resisted individually. In the second era there is a unifying force, a collective hopeful action taken as a group, rather than in individual spurts. Although there is positive hope in this era there was also an anger at being suppressed for such a long period of time and at civil rights laws that continued to be unpracticed. Black pride has also taken a positive swing upward, ringing happiness for their race (color). The themes your students will be comparing and examining are;
black pride, discrimination, and equal rights
. In the first era there are conflicting events effecting the Negro population and confusion with who am I? Where do I belong? and Am I worthy? Are some of the issues that can be read in the poems. In the second era although conflicting issues exist (positive/negative) there is a sense of this is me, I am proud, and I’m going to fight for my rights! These feelings are resounded in the themes of the poetry.
As you are presenting your students with the poetry, also present a time line of the historical events affecting the Negro population. Make 2 time lines for each era; one containing the positive events of the era and one containing the negative events of the era. If you are doing a poem concerned with separated public facilities, for example, you may want to make one focused time line containing only the events surrounding these issues. One line may contain the positive events and one may contain the negative events. Present the positive or negative time lines separately and briefly discuss what was happening at the time. Then present them together. An overhead projector would be an excellent visual method to emphasize this overlapping of events. A time line is a concise, consolidated whole. It is brief, yet sufficiently serves your purposes. This easy to read tool is beneficial to the special education student with a short attentions pan and poor organizational skills. A time line is a simplified history and a handy reference to use in conjunction with the poetry. As the teacher, you will be the one doing the ‘research’ for the historical background and ‘feeding’ it to the students. Although their concentration is geared towards reading and writing poetry the history you present is an important and integral part towards achieving the goals of this unit.
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The poems that I have chosen for the students to use with this curriculum are poems written with children as their audience. The vocabulary and the meaning of the poems are at an understandable level for the special education student. However, poems geared more towards adults with simplistic language are also used so that the student receives a broadened view of the poetry. Selecting and maneuvering the amount of poems to use has been a difficult task, since there are a tremendous number of feelings so beautifully expressed. Poems which reflect the obvious themes of black pride, discrimination and equal rights were the ones I selected. The students will be looking for the tense the poem is written in. This way they can decide if the author is talking about past, present or future events or/and feelings. By looking at descriptive key words, the students can deduce what the status of the Negro is at that present time. This will be made easier for the students since they will simultaneously be learning about people and events of that time period. This leads the students to identify the tone of the poems. They will pick out angry, happy, sullen words in the poems to help this identification process. You can implement any of the strategies used in the first two weeks of study whenever it would enhance the students understanding of poetry. Also, ask your students to look at the title of the poem since this often gives insight to what the poem is about. The students will also circle nouns in the poem to help them identify the author of the poem; a mother, a child, a slave, M. L. King, an authority. While circling nouns, studying the Negro history the students will also identify the events being discussed. The special education student needs this concrete process of reinforcing ideas for the material to get in his mind. While studying this poetry the students will also write their own poetry. They will pretend they are a certain person such as M.L.K. (KKK) in the midst of the segregation issue, or they can pretend they were a slave and are looking back, writing in past tense about how life used to be. And again, they can be a college bound Negro during the 50’s searching for equal opportunities and dreaming about a future when he will be recognized as an equal. This will give the student not only a sense of the time element, but also a chance to recognize the different points of view/experience people have on the same issue.
According to Peter Elbow in his
Writing With Power
if you write all of the prejudices someone has on an issue, from their point of view, you may get new insights into an unclear, confusing situation. The students will write a poem on the way a white person feels riding side by side with blacks on buses, or sitting seat by seat with blacks in classrooms. Elbow also suggests writing non-stop for a period of time to get used to the habit of writing in general. Although he suggests that no specific topic is needed, special education students definitely need a direction. Before writing a poem on Martin L. King, Jr., for example, the students will write in their journals for 5-10 minutes (whatever is appropriate) about how they think he felt about his race, humanity or equal rights. If they get stuck they can write ‘I’m stuck and not sure what I want to write next.’ By doing this writing ideas are concretely on paper and the students can refer to it as a reference. Another activity I have set up, the idea coming from Mina Shaughnessy’s
Errors & Expectations
is to have the students pick (3) nouns, (3) adjectives, and (3) verbs from a chart to use in their poems. To do this the student has to identify their subject (by circling it) as singular or plural and then correlate it with the correct verb tense. Hopefully, this will aid the students in using subject-verb agreement in their other subjects.