This blog post is straight from our classrooms!
A couple of weeks ago, I used writing to promote some social emotional learning with students while fostering community in the class. I used a picture from the New York Times publication titled “40 Intriguing Photos to Make Students Think.” You can see the image at the bottom of this blog post.
What I want to share is what I did with this class and how it’s inspired us to go beyond the lesson itself. I began by sharing the picture, projecting it on our white board. I asked the students to take several minutes to examine each of the 40 photos. After, each student selected a different image that resonated with them and explained why. The original question that was posed in the article was, “What’s going on in this picture?” I emphasized the fact that we can all view the same photo yet offer varying interpretations. The diversity of perspectives helps enrich our dialogue, which is important because every voice matters in my classroom.
There are various social emotional skills that students should be developing. Two of those competencies are self awareness and social awareness and this activity touches upon those two, in particular. Given the nature of some of the pictures, the students’ writing revealed empathy, thoughtfulness, depth, and tenderness. Through our discussion we talked about noticing and relating to others. We talked about learning more about ourselves, understanding cultures, and thinking about our beliefs. So much going on!
Finally, after the lesson and the sharing of our insights, I continued my own writing. The students inspired me and I created the poem you see below, “More Than Words Can Describe.” Underneath the poem, Lorena offers us ways you can use the poem and the image in your class.
More Than Words Can Describe by Roberto Germán
Rubble decorates the environment
Reminding the community of ruins
Not so ancient
Traumatic stages don’t await
They’re fully awake
Trying to refrain from yawning cause there’s smoke in the air
This is a vignette with borders
For the money, power, respect and terrain
We’ll treat one another inhumanely and frame it as an act of love
Which begs the question, “When is enough enough?”
How many buildings have to collapse
For us to react with the type of compassion that can’t be held back?
Held knees on the somersault help hit the landing
As the ground shakes simultaneously
Stirred emotions live within open-wound peace treaties
Peace retreats like, “Please, there was never peace!”
Who will piece these buildings back together?
Bodily pieces scattered
But since privilege clouds perception
It’s mind over matter
Jedi mind tricks like… it really doesn’t matter
No matter what your heart tells you
Your heart will fail you
The truth smells rotten
And everyone thinks they’ve got it
Until the truth reveals something about themselves that they’ve forgotten
Short-term memories get moved to the margins like those we view as “the other”
And it’s back to the business of cruel and unusual punishment
In the form of willful neglect
So selective in regards to the social justice issues we choose to address
This whole thing’s a mess
And yet… there’s joy
Hard to comprehend the casual posture of the boy
Or the seemingly enthusiastic young man
Highlighting the complexities of being a human
So what’s going on in this picture?
More than words can describe
While I encourage you to consider doing the same activity Roberto did, using this poem and image with students can be a good idea. Below are some potential tasks and academic exercises you can take on with students.
Task 1- In partners, students can select a line from the poem that would be a great caption for the image. They can present their idea to the class and explain why by answering questions such as: how does that line highlight the picture in a unique way? Does the line you chose help us to understand or call us to imagine?
Task 2- Students can discuss how the poem might offer insight or a new point of view. Here, you can help them see how the photographer may have had a purpose in this image, but the message can shift based on the reader/viewer. You can engage here in a conversation about the author’s purpose and effectiveness of a message.
Task 3- Discuss how poetry and image go hand in hand to express thoughts, emotions, and speak to social causes. There is something to be said about two mediums that either use no words (photography) or minimal words (poetry) to convey a message. Discuss with students: how does this poem pull out (metaphorical) words from this picture? What are all the words you would use to explore the emotions in this picture?
Helping students to develop social emotional competencies with students is very important, as you know, and writing/literacy is a great avenue for that. Our work with families and young people in extracurricular settings always involved the presence of poetry. Adding visual literacy to the skill set is not a bad idea, either. We hope you use this poem and the picture in your class with students. Share with us how it went at firstname.lastname@example.org.