Sometimes, lesson-plans turn out much better than one could ever have imagined. I had my AP students read Catherynne M. Valente's "A Monstrous Manifesto" in class the other day as part of our Frankenstein unit. I thought we'd have maybe a 15-20 minute discussion of the poem and how it connects to the novel. I also thought that maybe I'd ask the kids to write a manifesto from the Creature's point-of-view, but we never got that far (perhaps we will still do that).
Almost immediately after reading the poem, someone (was it Erin P?) said it would be cool to perform the poem at an assembly, and things quickly moved on from there.
Everyone was full of ideas about how to do it: Maddie S wanted to do it flash-mob style, with people popping up out of the audience as they spoke their lines, and Jake K wanted to start with one speaker up front who would then be joined gradually by more and more speakers, for a cumulative effect, in keeping with the poem's refrain: "Come stand by me." Without any help from me, the students found a way to combine both ideas, as you'll see in the film.
At the end of that class period, we went into the auditorium to practice, and the staging developed even further. People decided where to sit and who would say each line or phrase. This is obviously a poem people connect to immediately and deeply: students eagerly claimed their favorite line (I was just hoping squabbles wouldn't develop over who got to say what!). The kids made the connection with the school's Bullying Awareness initiative. (To tell the truth, I hadn't made the connection myself until the kids realized how perfectly the poem would drive home that point. Call it synchronicity--sometimes, the Universe works with you!)
We practiced over and over, and I urged folks to enunciate and project ("Natasha! I still can't hear you!"). Catherine offered to write up a statement to read after the performance, and I've included that below (I didn't help her with it at all--when kids have something REAL and really important to say, they don't need any help).
Everyone agreed to memorize their lines, and I offered to give them a half hour of the next class period (which turned into 45 minutes) for another practice session. I arranged with Mr Neblett for some time at the assembly, and we were good to go.
In the second practice session, the students had their lines memorized, and we must have run through the poem at least a dozen times. The students decided to wear black tops and blue jeans, blue being the designated color for "Stomp Out Bullying" and National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. One of the students provided blue ribbons for the rest to wear in their hair or tie around their wrists.
And the only glitch this morning was a last-minute panic about whether Asher would show up, but he did, and it went off without a hitch.
Here's the video.
The students, in order of performance, are Cat M, Natasha K, Meggan G, Maddie S, Asher N, Calvin K, Gunnar R, Jake K, Cara H, Ian P, Mary B, and Erin P.
Here's Catherine M's statement:
This is Dr. Nygaard’s AP English class. The other day, we read this poem by Catherynne M. Valente called “A Monstrous Manifesto” and I think it really spoke to a lot of us, especially during anti-bullying week. Someone came up with the idea of presenting, and from there, the next class periods were spent putting this together.
We’ve all experienced bullying. We’ve all seen bullying, been bullied, or even been the bully ourselves. This poem captures the basic idea that we are all flawed. We are all monsters, but we have also all been broken. This fact is what connects us to everyone in this room, yet too often it is what divides us because we refuse to understand each other’s pain, even when it’s so familiar to us. We pretend we don’t see; we pretend we don’t understand.
As anti-bullying week comes to a close, remember this idea and carry it with you throughout the rest of the year. Take a stand; don’t stand by. Thank you.
(I think they deserve a chocolate pie, don't you?)