By Sylvia Denice
I have the honor and privilege of co-teaching with my school’s resource teacher, Mrs. Burcham: the same teacher I student taught under to earn my Special Education licensure. We have worked collaboratively for a few years now, and are fortunate to have an organically cooperative approach to teaching all students. Mrs. Burcham is a poetry and music enthusiast, and has completely revolutionized my celebration of April as National Poetry Month as a teacher. When we sat down to plan ahead for April, she was eager to take the reigns, and has led some incredibly impactful poetry lessons in my classroom this past week.
Mrs. Burcham started off tapping into her own area of interest to introduce the topic of poetry: rap music. She read aloud some of her favorite pieces from Tupac Shakur’s book of poetry, The Rose That Grew From Concrete. Students were hooked, and the number one question of the week quickly became: When will Mrs. Burcham be in Room 18 today? Students were requesting copies of poems that Mrs. Burcham read aloud to them when they felt moved, and everyone was feeling in their element.
The next day, Mrs. Burcham prepared students to dive into the question “What is poetry?” through the TED-Ed video "What Makes A Poem... A Poem?" featuring Melissa Kovacs’ three characteristics of poetry. Mrs. Burcham then created with students a “Poet-tree,” highlighting what students recognized as common, identifiable elements of poetry. Students brought forth ideas including rhythm, rhyme, feelings, beats, creativity, figurative language, imagination, meaning, freedom, and imagery.
Students in Room 18 have shown an overwhelming connectedness to Mrs. Burcham’s poetry lessons. They are eager to analyze texts that, to their surprise, end up being lyrics of songs they know and love. From Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” to Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly,” students have been reading, interpreting, and writing about any musical hit Mrs. Burcham presents. I compiled a playlist of songs influencing our first week celebrating National Poetry Month; we hope you enjoy!
Room 18 Poetry Song Playlist - Week 1
The Rose That Grew From Concrete, Various Artists
We love Tupac Shakur’s book of poetry, The Rose That Grew From Concrete. In 2000, the poems from The Rose That Grew From Concrete were released on an album read, sang, and rapped by various artists and celebrities. Just as we loved them on paper, we love their audio representations equally as much. We have found The Rose That Grew From Concrete to be a wonderful representation of the unique, creative genius of humanity, and have studied rhythm, rhyme, beats, and feelings in these pieces.
Tracks Room 18 recommends:
“The Rose That Grew From Concrete”
“In The Event Of My Demise”
“Can U C The Pride In The Panther?”
“Wake Me When I’m Free”
“Happy,” Pharrell Williams
“Happy” was Mrs. Burcham’s introduction to analyzing poetry for our students. It was entertaining to watch them read the “Happy” lyrics on paper independently of music, only to realize later they were reading the anthem of the beloved Despicable Me. Pharrell Williams also performed the original score for Hidden Figures, so students made many strong connections to him as an artist. Through “Happy,” we explored rhyme, rhythm, and figurative language through his obvious lyrical similes and metaphors.
Mrs. Burcham shared with us Alicia Keys’ Def Poetry spoken word performance of her poem “P.O.W. - Prisoner of Words (Unsaid),” and we were inspired. Our conversation around Alicia Keys led us to explore the variety of metaphors in her work. Alicia Keys found her place on our playlist through two of her empowering, emotion-filled songs.
Tracks Room 18 recommends:
“Girl On Fire”
“Killing Me Softly With His Song,” Fugees
Mrs. Burcham presented the lyrics to the Roberta Flack version of “Killing Me Softly” to students on paper before sharing a video of Lauryn Hill’s rendition. After identifying and analyzing messages and emotions in the lyrics, students hummed the song around the classroom for days to follow. “Killing Me Softly With His Song” had clearly earned its place on the Poetry Month Playlist. With Fugees, we celebrated the poetic elements of feelings and imagery, as students visualized and illustrated what they read, heard, and saw in their minds’ eyes.
“Best Life,” Cardi B (feat. Chance the Rapper)
“Best Life” was just released this past Friday, April 6, on Cardi B’s new album, Invasion of Privacy. I will not be playing the entire song for my class--even the clean version isn’t necessarily “school appropriate.” However, after experiencing my students’ clear affinity for 2Pac’s artistry, I can’t resist sharing the snippets of the song referencing his work, including the lyrics “I’m the rose that came from concrete.” “Best Life” makes the Poetry Month Week 1 playlist as a featured bonus track in appreciation of making contemporary poetic connections.
As we embark on the second week of National Poetry Month, we look forward to adding songs to our playlist in celebration of lyric poetry while also exploring new types of poetry. We will also be writing our own poetry and studying new poets in the days to come. We would love to hear from you your favorite poems, poets, songs, and activities to celebrate National Poetry Month!