How 400 Paterson Students Were Virtually Inspired to Write Haiku

The Initial Challenge

With remote learning in Paterson and around the country dragging on into the new year—longer than any of us expected—how can we continue to engage and inspire students virtually? Poetry presented in a relevant way may just be the antidote to too-much-screen-time fatigue.

Enter reg e gaines, Tony and Grammy award-nominated teaching artist.  In five weeks, reg presented 26 poetry workshops to over 400 International High School students, capturing their imaginations with his “Low IQ Haiku” virtual series.

With shorter, 30-minute class periods and reports of disengaged students, it was unclear how virtual workshops would go over. But reg worked his magic. 

"Pick up the pen, write down a sin, it's cleanse
Lay that **** down, play it for friends 
Make a few M's, then do it again" 

- Lyrics from Family and Loyalty by JCole and Gangstarr

reg opened the workshops by reciting these lyrics at a tongue twisting rate, expletive not included. Many students were elated by the fact that someone who was beyond their generation was name dropping an artist

Making Use of Limited Time

Now that he had their attention, reg emphatically encouraged students to come up with their own rhymes by writing what he calls “Low IQ Haiku”. The idea is to have students conjure up words they use every day, while focusing on the phonetics behind them. 

To the average person, there is nothing challenging nor unique about a haiku. It’s just a collection of 17 syllables.  Most of us think we can do that in our sleep. Yet, when close attention is paid to the mechanics of syllables—how they change when we stress consonants, the pattern-like beats we unintentionally speak in our everyday ordinary lives—it’s hard not to get lost in the sauce.

And let’s face it, not all students, know what a haiku is. Not all students are familiar with the literary techniques associated with poetry and fewer have the confidence to unleash their creative potential. It’s up to us to present these opportunities to them, so that they can learn, engage, and grow.

“Don’t’ ask me, tell me.”
“Don’t answer the question with a question”
“Tell me your name, unmute yourself”. These are a few of the mantras that reg stressed over and over again to help boost the confidence of these unheard students.

What Came of the Series

reg’s improvisational teachings about haikus, couplets, and the scholarly techniques behind some of the most popular modern-day hip-hop songs fostered an environment in which students felt understood.

Students bounced off of reg and each other, sharing their personal thoughts and feelings, and learning from someone who came from a place just like them. Words like “incorrect” were not allowed, mistakes were merely acknowledged as lack of knowledge, and thoughtful explanations followed.

These workshops could not have happened if not for open-minded teachers, who invited reg into their virtual classrooms. They believed in their student’s creative potential, and were willing to turn already time-constrained classes into contemporary Shakespearian workshops, Paterson style. 

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