Thanks to a unique online poetry forum, grade 7 students in Mark Gelineau’s English class have gone poetically cyber – taking their literary studies to a whole new global, interactive and virtual level.
Using the forum, some 80 students have connected with roughly the same number of peers from the Nazarbayev Intellectual School (NIS) in Kazakhstan to discuss selected poetic works. The poetry exchange program has already generated well over 1,000 posts.
Gelineau created the forum in conjunction with Harker alumna Lauren Gutstein ’06, who currently works at the NIS school in Astana, one of a group of seven existing state funded selective schools for middle and high school aged students spread throughout major cities in Kazakhstan.
The largest of the Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is prosperous and highly literate. Named after the president of the county, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the NIS schools have an international focus.
Through their online postings, students from both Harker and NIS share insights and observations about posted poems up for discussion. Currently, the forum consists of two poems: “Stopping by Woods” by Robert Frost and “Winter” by Kunanbaev Ibragim Abai, a well-known Kazakh poet.
Each poem was given a literature-based question for students to answer, as well as one that was more cultural in nature. Students at both schools used the questions as starting points to initiate their own discussions, now in process.
“This forum is a wonderful example of how well global education can enhance and enrich academic learning,” said Jennifer Walrod, Harker’s director of global education. “It directly ties into Mark’s poetry unit and Lauren taught it through her ESL classes as it gave her students an opportunity to communicate with native speakers.”
Before participating in the online discussions Harker and NIS students had studied both poems, which are themed around winter, in their respective classrooms. While the Frost poem contains very peaceful verses, the Abai poem conveys a much darker mood.
According to Gelineau, the Frost piece is a lovely poem about pausing to watch a patch of forest fill with snow. By contrast, he said the Kazakh poet offers up a much bleaker view, where rather than something to be enjoyed in tranquility, winter is to be struggled against.
Using the contrasting poems as springboards for discussion, Harker and NIS students created and posted their own stanzas, seeking to enhance or alter the established moods depicted by the two poets. The students then discussed their newly written works with one another by regularly logging onto the site and keeping conversations running smoothly.
“I love the fact that the poetry forum is a curriculum-based project that integrates a global perspective. It is also interesting for the kids to be able to communicate with peers from a part of the world that we do not learn much about at all,” observed Walrod.
“This project has been an incredible success!” added Gelineau.