At Beacon High School, a creative charter school in New York City, an incoming freshman class enter first into an art room located at the center of the school. And the first and only question posed to them is “what do you want to make today?”
During the Spring semester, the workshop begins with the question inspired by Fujimura’s speech: “What do you want to write about today?” I confess I did not expect the students to respond so well and quickly. The first day, a student replied, “New Years Resolutions”; then, on another, “anticipation”, from a senior waiting to hear about college admissions. Another student wanted to write with more images, and another wanted to write about riots, death, unrequited love. One student wrote, but did not share, about self-approval.
This question did a lot of work:
- It raised the stakes for the students and therefore the level of engagement.
- It helped define poems to prepare and poetic devices to introduce.
- It decreased the time it took for students to begin their poems since they’ve already decided on the subject matter.
The question also made individual work more attractive. Besides being highly relational, the students seemed to be attracted to group work for the comfort the group afforded. I could also use better prompts for group work since I’ve notice that groups spend much time deciding on a subject matter.
Last workshop, we read Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish“, drew the scene, and wrote about our selected subject matter with images in such a way that one who read it could draw it.