In order for my students to feel inspired to create experiences that would lead to poetry, I needed them to unplug from devices. Part of the creative process is trying new things. My students will need to be open about trying things that they might find unconventional because they are so used to interacting with technology. I am hoping to force them outside of their comfort zones (safely) so that they have new things to write about.
There are many ways for children to access their creativity. However, they are often more focused on technology than exploring the world around them. When many of my students think of “playing” they immediately think of video games. I was thinking about play in the more traditional sense. I researched play-based ideas like role-playing, sensory play, and blackout poetry as inspiration for them. I wanted to explore options that my students are not often given in our highly structured school-day.
“The No Child Left Behind movement seemed to discount the importance of play-based learning in favor of more explicit instruction and testing in the lower grades.”19 Many times in the lower elementary grades there is a strong focus on testing. Students are expected to be engaged in higher order thinking problems throughout most of the day. In spite of this, it does not mean that students cannot experience play activities and use these experiences to complete rigorous tasks.
“Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a well-known child development expert in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues that humans learn best when at least one of these four pillars are present: 1. Individuals take an active role in the learning environment. 2. They are engaged. 3. Information is meaningful. 4. Learners interact in a social context.”20
All the play based activities that I would use to explore poetry would include these pillars of learning to ensure that these activities would be more than just traditional “play”. The benefits of these activities would be both social and academic as my students explored new ways to express themselves through play.
Merriam Webster defines role-play as “to act the role of” or “to represent in action”. When children use their imaginations to play or pretend, they are role-playing. Due to the influx of technology, YouTube, and Fortnite as well as highly structured time in school young people do not play in this way as often as they used to. Role-playing is a wonderful way for students to create opportunities that they have missed from being so “plugged” in to technology. They can take the experiences they make and write poems about the role-playing they engaged in. Or instead, they can act out the poems that they have written using their bodies charades style as the role-play. This kinesthetic process would engage more learners than just students who are visual or auditory learners. Susan Griss argues that:
“When educators consciously integrate the arts and education, the benefits are magnified. Kinesthetic learning has wide-ranging applications, such as interpreting a concept through physical means to increase comprehension, exploring literature themes and feelings through creative movement, exploring the universality and particularity of human culture through dance, and channeling disruptive energy into creative paths that eventually improve mental concentration.”21
Learning through moving can increase comprehension and improve our cognitive functions. When we engage in activities that cross the midline of our bodies, such as role-playing, we are creating more synapses in our brains. This increase helps information flow from one side of the brain to the other at a faster rate. Beyond allowing students to act creatively and explore themselves, their brains benefit as well. I researched role-playing extensively to ensure that my students could explore this activity in a way that would help them create or present their poems. In order to bring this into the digital era I would have students watch movement videos to inspire them to move their bodies. Or, to have them take videos of each other acting out their role-play poems, so they could watch them and use them at a later date.
A challenge that this generation of students face is that they do not interact with their peers in the same way that past generations have. Due to the influx of technology in their lives, kids can interact with one another instantly through texts, videos, and apps. However, they are losing out on valuable time together face to face. “Kids seek out places to be with their peers away from the watchful eyes of adults. Now, social media and online games are prime gathering places.”22 Young people have always sought a place where they can interact without adults’, now they have many places where they can interact with each other without adult supervision.
While students are engaging more often with their peers, they are doing so in private where adults are not around to mediate their behaviors. This creates a host of issues that could be avoided if they were interacting in person. “Previous generations likely had greater independent range and more unstructured time than our kids have today. That affected how involved our friendships were, and how we worked out conflicts and power struggles.”23 Technology does not have expression or tone, this means that many things can be taken out of context and misinterpreted. It is critically important for students to form relationships in real life and learn how to deal with conflicts. But they should also be aware that there are cordial ways to act online.
I researched collaboration activities that involved writing and technology. “Digital poetry calls out for shared authorship, but also for shared (negotiated) interpretation: open work becomes open source, reader becomes author.”24 Using technology to create poetry online not only can include more authors but more viewpoints as it is being created. Many times, when new works of literature are being drafted digitally multiple people interact on the same document online. These people may never see each other face to face but they are interacting with one another through technology. They must collaborate entirely online without creating conflicts with one another that would halt their productivity. Some platforms allow for teachers to view student productivity online, this adds accountability to the work. “These platforms (MediaWiki and Google Docs) gave teachers the facility to closely monitor student progress, and to provide feedback to assist in the effective management of the report-writing process.”25 Beyond ensuring that all students were collaborating fairly, teachers could also provide instant feedback without being handed a paper, writing comments, and returning the paper. This can speed up the writing and editing process.
“To get started with Google Docs, users must first create an account and then a document. They can then invite others to collaborate, assigning rights to update or edit the document. Changes to a document are automatically uploaded and saved to the server.”26 There are many different platforms that can be used for collaborative digital writing. One platform that many teachers are already using is Google Docs; Google Classroom could easily support this activity. I would have students either work together in pairs to create a poem. Or I would bring it one step further and collaborate with other students in the building, district, or even other states (with parental consent). Technology allows for kids to interact with people, so it makes sense to show them how to engage with others in a productive and appropriate way.
Technology allows multiple authors to work on the same piece without being in the same place. This is not an opportunity that would exist if we did not have the technology that we do today. It allows access to people who might not have had the opportunity to create with other authors before. Beyond this, an activity such as this can help students develop the cooperation skills that they are lacking from interacting primarily online. It seems contradictory that they would use digital media to help develop a skill that using technology has stopped form naturally occurring. However, this can show children that people can work together online in an appropriate and productive way. This is a skill that they will be able to transfer when they eventually become part of the workforce.