In the summers of 2020 and 2021, Teachers & Writers Collaborative offered a poetry writing workshop to teachers with the goal of providing them with an immersive creative experience while modeling lessons they could take into their ELA classrooms. The QuaranTeen video was a project of one of the participants in the 2020 workshop.
By Jodi Sabra
I’m in those last couple of days before we go back to school—you know, that place of dread mixed with jiggles. I should visit my classroom. I should set up my PowerPoint slides for the first month of class. I should get my sh-t together, but my porch swing is calling me and a piece of me wants to just linger in these last few do-whatever-you-feel-like-doing-right-now days. So, I’m perusing emails and looking at some of my favorite websites for inspiration, thinking about my best-of projects and wondering how to tweak them without reinventing the wheel.
The Soul of Summer class for writing teachers that Teachers & Writers Collaborative offered in 2020 was really the spark for my success last school year. Matthew Burgess was such a gracious host and mentor, leading us through a series of thoughtful poetry exercises that felt contemplative, connective, and useful. Last year was weird; my school began all online, then we were hybrid, with students alternating between Zoom days and live days, then we were all in from November (except those few kids who remained on Zoom all year). The room looked like we were conducting standardized testing with all the desks spaced out, straight rows facing forward, and this plexiglass divider that I was supposed to stand behind. I am guessing the room arrangement will be similar this year, so creating a sense of community and intimacy is where poetry-writing plays such a crucial role. The poetry workshops that Matthew modeled were the foundation that I built around, capturing the strangeness we were all living through while giving my students a sense of being poets.
Covid-19 and quarantine gave us all a common experience worth delving into, and I was fortunate to receive a grant that allowed me to capture the reaction of students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. My friend Andrea Green is a Music Therapist and Musical Composer who conducted a Zoom writing workshop with ELA classes, and one of my old middle school students, Tori Harvey, edited the material. The Global Oneness Project film Cocoon was the initial springboard, reminding students of the early days of the quarantine. Ms. Green challenged the students to draft lyrics and visualize a music video to accompany their song, and she shared her own quarantine-response music video, “We’re All in This Together”. Some other sources of inspiration in my sixth grade class included the poem “Pandemic” by Lynn Unger, along with Paul Janeczko’s “Curse Poem” (we needed a little levity!). After the writing was collected, I randomly assigned students to develop a video from other students’ poems. This cross-grade collaboration added another layer of intrigue to the final project. You’ll hear a number of imitation poems, along with some very honest recollections and images. My deepest appreciation to TWC and Matthew Burgess for the encouragement to put poetry front and center in my classroom. The experience was so fruitful, I will dive back in from a poetry perspective as I kick off this new year. Enjoy QUARANTEEN!