Morgan Freeman, Memorization, and My Mutt

29 May

Vintage Simon SaysSometimes, I am a crazy person walking the street. I have a reactive dog, and recently I’ve been trying something new. When another dog is near us, and Finn is about to turn into a whirling dervish of spastic barking, I recite poetry from memory. This week I’ve memorized the prologue to Romeo & Juliet. Next up is “Ocean” by Mary Oliver.

I am sure my neighbors think I am a nutter (especially the German ones), but the dog seems to like this practice. She’s getting calmer every month, and I am archiving some wonderful verse. Memorizing poetry is an utterly “old school” act, but it has real value. I am asking my grade 7 students to memorize a poem of at least ten lines as one of the closing activities of the year.

I proposed the idea after discussing Nelson Mandela and his recitation of “Invictus” during his darkest hours of imprisonment. I was describing the poem to my students, and then I thought, why don’t I just look for a recitation online? It turns out, Morgan Freeman explains the power of memorized verse much more powerfully than I do:

My grade 7 students and I have been talking about why one should bother memorizing a cherished poem. Here’s what we’ve come up with:

  • Memorizing poems makes them more personal. We get to lock these words away, and nobody can take them. It’s the “most secure download.”
  • Robert Pinsky visited one of my classes in the past, and he preached that poetry must be read aloud. Poetry is not poetry if it exists only on the page, so memorizing a poem helps us breathe life into it.
  • Memorizing the poem helps us hear the rhythm of the language. We can better understand meter, rhyme, and syllabic pattern when we work to master the exact words in the exact order.
  • Knowing at least one poem by heart makes us more interesting.
  • Memorizing can be fun.

My students are enjoying the exercise of memorization. I rarely ask them to memorize, so they find novelty in the act. This classroom work has sparked some informal research on my part. Here’s what I’ve been reading recently on the topic of memorization:

In Praise of Memorization: 10 Proven Brain Benefits

 

The New Yorker: Why We Should Memorize

 

www.poetryoutloud.org wonderfully polished, artistic, and entertaining recitations to be found here.

How to Win the U.S. Memory Championship

One Response to “Morgan Freeman, Memorization, and My Mutt”

  1. Kathleen R May 29, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    Hmm. I wonder if it is the words that calm Finn, or you that becomes calmer and then Finn calms as well. My grandmother had so many verses memorized. She was a walking book of ballads. At some point though, I got tired of hearing the Cremation of Sam McGee.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Popsicles for Dinner

The adventures of Liza and Felix

Evan Scherr

Just Thinking Out Loud

couponbomb

A year long quest of doing stuff...

Lehrer Werkstatt

Reflections on Living and Teaching in Germany

Student Observation

every day observations from a student's perspective

Empathic Teacher

The Mindful High School Classroom

Expat Educator

Leadership and Educational Practice from Around the World

Ideas Out There

Ideas on Life, Learning & the Things That Matter

So, will this be graded?

Stories from a middle school English teacher.

History Tech

History, technology, and probably some other stuff

I'm Teaching English

And trying to get better each day. Thanks for your comments!

thefreshmanexperience

Life's lessons learned from students at school...

TED Blog

The TED Blog shares interesting news about TED, TED Talks video, the TED Prize and more.

WordPress.com News

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

analyfe

the subjective perspective of an analytical optimist

Classroom as Microcosm

Siobhan Curious Says: Teachers are People Too

Sharing Our Blessings

Because For Educators and Parents, Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

Education On The Plate

A passionate look at learning, teaching, eating & drinking

Barely Managed Chaos

thoughts of a concrete random

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 69 other followers

%d bloggers like this: