Jul 9, 2015

On Tutoring Children: Notes to Self

This week, I spent two evenings tutoring local homeless children on poetry, specifically rhythm and rhyme. (Other aspects of poetry, such as simile and metaphor, were covered in other weeks.

The ages ranged from age 5 to teens in high school. Though they were grouped by age, I noticed wide gaps in reading and writing levels. Still, most seemed eager to learn, especially the younger ones, the ones who had not yet acquired the patina of cool detachment.

When setting the task of writing a poem, I encouraged them to be creative, I told them about internal rhymes, slant rhymes, or about not rhyming at all.

One of the youngest participants wrote about his wish to live in a mall, where  ...

       "my car is yellow,
       and I drink Mello"
[a reference to Mello Yello soft drink.]"

A slightly older boy mentioned "living in a mansion/where I can do dancin'."

In one of the poems I read to them, I intentionally left out the last line and waited for them to come up with the missing line, based on the anticipated rhyme.

The older kids were difficult to reach. They seemed to perk up when I threw in song or hip-hop lyrics, but that did not inspire them to take chances with their own writing. Instead, they wanted to argue whether song lyrics can be poetry or whether an Etheridge Knight poem was racist.

A major blessing of this experience was also a curse. The school had volunteers to help the kids. They were a great help in keeping the kids focused and anticipating disruptive behavior, but at times they wanted to "help" the kids by doping the thinking for them. And sometimes the "help" was contradicting what I wanted the kids to do. ("No, you can't use that word for a rhyme." "You can't say that's you favorite food. That's nasty!" "That doesn't make sense.") 

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