Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Lost Art of Declaiming

I love poetry -- the rhythm, the emotions.  I especially love poetry when it is recited.  Unfortunately most schools only teach poetry once a year.  In much the same way that all things African American are studied in February (but that is a story for another time) poetry is taught in April during national poetry month.  I love to incorporate poetry as much as possible with my students.  I love to read aloud poems and have them read to me. I currently work with lower elementary aged students and do not have a self-contained classroom, but my goal with a older students in a classroom setting would be to open each class with a poem.  If one student opens the class each day, this would require students to recite about one poem per month.  The recitation of poetry improves student self confidence, as the preparation is not incredibly time consuming (I would not require memorization -- at least not in the beginning) and would allow students to explore poetry throughout the entire year and not just during the month of April.  Over the course of a year students will have read 9 or 10 poems in front of their peers and listened to about 170 poems.  Getting into the daily habit of listening to a classmate recite a poem also has benefits.  Poetry draws a student into the process of listening.  The rhythm and repetition can be very soothing and over time the class will get into the habit of being still for those few moments and taking in the poem.

My ultimate goal with this daily recitation would be a classroom or school-wide declamation competition .  This could include poetry, speeches and prose, but would give students the opportunity to build some memorization skills and learn the art of using their voice to translate emotion and emphasis.  Unfortunately most schools have abandoned all things traditional in their pedagogical practices.  Because of the taboo of "memorization" teachers have decided that there is no benefit in students memorizing anything.  I am in no way an educational traditionalist, but there is something to be gained from some memorization.  With memorization and performance, the declaimer is forced to better understand the passage they are reciting and is able to look directly at the audience and relay the author's point.  Admittedly not all students are going to love participating in a declamation, but some might find their niche in this lost art.

Here is a wonderful example of a student performing in a declamation:


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