As I have already noted, I like to wrap up every semester by requiring my students to reflect on the class, their work, and what they learned, but I also like to harness the power of words to relieve some of their stress and raise their confidence. My two favorite tools for this process are slam poetry and praise poetry. However, this semester I had a number of students who had already been through this process with me, so I decided to shake up our praise poem process and found the change to be even more powerful than the original plan.
I have always coupled praise poetry with our badge award ceremony because it gives students a starting point for their praise. They already know the qualities their peers have attributed to them including inventive, impressive, smart, creative, responsible, and so on. This summer I will work on improving our badge award process so it is easier to share the evidence given to support each badge award as I think the comments will be even more informative.
First, we spent some time writing about our superpowers while basking in the glow of the badge awards (or maybe that was just the candy buzz generated by the treats awarded along with each badge). Then I introduced the concept of praise poetry and asked them to make a list of the superpowers possessed by their classmates. They brainstormed in their notebooks but I handed out 3×5 cards so they should write out one line for each person on one card and we then distributed the cards. I then challenged my students to write their own praise poem using the cards and bracketing the poem with the Lucille Clifton line I love so much “Won’t you celebrate with me…”
This is the poem I composed as a result:
Won’t you celebrate with me
That I love learning and laughing with my students
That I possess patience and understanding
That I am sweet and kind and helpful
That I have pushed my students to learn and do more than they thought possible
That I have made my students proud of their accomplishments
Won’t you celebrate with me a life that has given so much to others
Won’t you celebrate with me
That I push my students out of their comfort zone
That I am an awesome teacher who gives out chocolate
That I possess the superpower of encouragement
That I am cool because I teach with Harry Potter
That I challenge my students to be more creative
Won’t you celebrate with me that against all the odds we survived
I loved this exercise and my students, even the doubters who muttered a bit during the process, were amazed at the results. Writing a personal praise poem is an uplifting positive reinforcement exercise, but creating a praise poem woven from the praise of others is powerful magic. I can only hope that positive energy stayed with my students through finals and maybe beyond. I know I will always cherish the poem I created from their words. I cry every time I read it.
Do you believe in celebrating your students? How do you celebrate your students?