Tag Archives: English

John Dewey, Experiential Education, and Slammed Poems with Taylor Mali

dewey 1

John Dewey said that “education is not preparation for life, but life itself.” I took this quote to heart when I planned my assignments for the Boston semester. I believe that the rational for larger assignments should not be that students will need those skills in their future lives, but that they will need those skills soon, for something real, something much more important than a grade. For my unit on poetry I wanted students to have a real life reason to learn the skills associated with this unit, and what better way of motivating students to learn the skills associated with poetry than by creating a real poetry slam, with real slam poets, at a real NYC comedy club?



mali 1mali 2Think Global School invited the four-time National Poetry Slam Winner, Taylor Mali to meet us in New York to take the poetic techniques and devices we had learned in class to the next level.

We started our unit in poetry by completing experiments or investigations into a particular use of a poetic device. Each class was centered around the central question, “what makes good poetry good?” With this mindset, we set about to break down poetry into a few key techniques and analyze each of those separately. And of course, because this is TGS, we decided to look at those particular skills while also getting a background on each of the major poetry movements that occurred in the USA.

We started by asking ourselves, “what makes good diction good?” We decided to attempt to answer this question while analyzing Edgar Allen Poe‘s “The Raven” and also making some assumptions and conclusions about the American Romantic Period of poetry.

We then asked, “What makes a good comparison?” We searched for an answer while studying the Harlem Renaissance and using Langston Hughes “Harlem” or “Dream Deferred” compared to his other poem, “Dreams.” 

Following the Harlem Renaissance, we moved into the Beat Movement and used Allen Ginesberg’s poem, “Howl” to draw conclusions about how to write ‘good’ imagery.

Finally, we looked at how to create ‘good’ sound by studying the American Hip Hop movement and looking at a song by Nas and analyzing how his use of different types of rhymes creates a type of flow.

Following all of these ‘experiments’ students had a pretty good understanding and opinion on what makes ‘good’ poetry, and we put these skills to the test by spending a few days writing our own poems. During this time students were given a lot of choice and free range on how they wanted their poems to sound and feel.

Finally, it was time for the main event. Students, poems in hand, had a chance to learn from a master of presentation, Taylor Mali. Taylor came in and did a two hour session with my students focusing on the presentation aspect of a poem when slammed.

David gestures for David & Goliath (New York City, USA)

Taylor had many valuable hints that we will all take with us for life including how to stand, how to approach a microphone, what to do with your hands, and how to end a poem.

Following this workshop, it was time for our student’s final presentations. With Taylor as host and two of his friends, Thuli Zuma and Olivia Gatwood, to help pump up the crowd by presenting some of their own poems, students presented in front of a live audience at the Gotham Comedy Club.  A review of the performance by our headmaster, Alun Cooper, can be read here, and the entire performance can be seen here. 

image from slam


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Memory, Making Meaning, and Appositive Phrases with Borges

Borges 1“To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions.” – Jorge Luis Borges

It is with this quote, and this particular lens on memory, that we began our first major assignment in English class. The quote comes from the short story, “Funes the Memorious,” by Jorge Luis Borges. Bores, a staple of Argentine culture, is famous for being a pioneer of magical realism, a truly South American genre of literature, where he explored the themes of memory, dreams, and infinity.

The goal of this lesson had two parts. The first was to help students truly understand Borges complex theme where the thought process of a character with a perfect memory is explored through conversation. The character, whose memory is so perfect, he can create new symbols for every number, learn languages perfectly from simply reading a book, and reconstruct entire days perfectly in his mind. However, after much conversation, it becomes apparent that, according to our narrator, “he [was] not very capable of thought. To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions.”



Borges 2In true Borges fashion, the perfection, memory, becomes an infinite perfection, leading the reader to ponder the many possibilities and tragedies associated with an infinite memory. In doing so, Borges leads readers to consider how we should remember our pasts, with what type of lens and with what level of perfection. This question is one that we will constantly reconsider as we learn about Argentine culture and past through literature.

“My memory, sir, is like a garbage heap.”

The second goal was to help students become better readers and writers of complex sentences. Borges used very complex sentence structures throughout his work to emphasize his themes and create tone, and although these sentences make his work difficult to read, they created a perfect learning opportunity for us.

To achieve these learning goals we set about to write our own Borges style stories, stories where a narrator comes into contact with a character with an ironically tragic perfection. Additionally, to prove their mastery of complex sentence structures, students were required to include examples of sentences using appositive phrases.


Borges 3Lucky for us, the actual café where Borges used to write is only four blocks from our school! How could we pass up an opportunity to write our stories in the same setting as the famous author himself. The café, La Biella, even has a life-size statue of Borges himself sitting in the café.

We began our first day at the café with a conversation on why Borges may have used so many long sentences in his work. Students were able to determine that it must have something to do with his theme. They worked through the first paragraph noticing that he uses repetition of the word “memory,” a work that he states, he “has to right to utter.” Why would he repeat this? After throwing around some ideas and gaining to input from me, they were able to conclude that he does it to reveal that the narrator has been affected in some way by his meeting with Funes, the character with perfect memory. The narrator is attempting to capture Funes’ style of memory within his own narration of this meeting. Also, the narrator uses long sentences with appositive phrases as a structure to include as many details as possible, similarly to the way in which Funes may have remembered events. Additionally, students noted that Borges creates a “dramatic” tone with his constant use of punctuation to break the sentences’ flow.

Borges 4After some practice with appositive phrases, we set about to work on our own stories, stories that began, as Borges did with, “I                                    him (I have no right to utter this sacred verb, only one man on earth had that right and he is dead),” and ending by revealing the tragedy of this perfection by stating, “I suspect though, he was not very capable of               .”

Below you will find links to the original in addition to the student voted, best stories form the 9th and 10th grade classes. In their own way, the students themselves are doing as Borges suggests, by forgetting his original story and molding their own stories to fit his format, they are thinking. They are forgetting the original and making a new meaning from the memory of his work.  I hope you like them as much as I did.

“Funes the Memorious” by Jorge Luis Borges

10th Grade:

Yuan Yuan – “The Dreamer; The Invention of Heaven”

Alejandro – “Listen”

Hannah – “Maurice the Imaginary”

9th Grade: 

       Paul – “Guillermo the Calculator”

       Cameron – “Caleb”

       Sydney  – “Plato the Brave”


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