Dr. Maya Angelou
I am SO excited to see Scholastic featuring Dr. Angelou on their website. Have you seen these videos? Check this out: Celebrate Diversity with Dream in Color
I always target February for our annual poetry unit because of the many perspectives and cultures I can explore with my students. Maya Angelou is the centerpiece of part of my unit because of what a great example she is for gifted girls. I believe Dr. Angelou has a very high IQ, based on the fact that after some of her trauma early in life she stopped talking because she saw a cause/effect relationship with the power of words. Not many kids would make a connection like that. So, I believe, had she been born in a different time and maybe in a bigger town than Stamps, AR, she would have been included in a GT program.
In spite of her hardships in life, Dr. Angelou has achieved her greatest life goals. She has taken conflict and allowed her spirit to grow from the journey. What a superb example for our gifted girls who struggle with perfectionism on a daily basis! Many gifted girls take their fear of losing control to the extreme of self-inducing issues like eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, underachievement, and more. When I can use Dr. Angelou as an example in the classroom, my students are in awe of all she has accomplished. If you decide to use her in your own classroom, here are a few tips I would like to share based on my years of trial and error:
1. Be sure to show the video of her Inaugural Address for President Clinton, "On the Pulse of the Morning." Especially after our recent Inauguration, it'll give you goosebumps to see how our country has grown - plus, it's not often students get to see a poet read aloud one of his/her own poems. So special! (I found the video on YouTube.)
2. Discuss the title of her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and teach the poem by the same title. Discuss the extended metaphor of the caged bird to any person who has limitations, not just people who were enslaved at some point. Middle school students can also relate if they've ever been grounded. Be sure to include a comparison of this poem to the poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar called "Sympathy," as this poem inspired Angelou's poem.
3. My favorite project of the year is done during this unit. We read "Woman Work" by Angelou, and I read a parody of the poem that I wrote called "Teacher Work." (You can get a copy on Teachers Pay Teachers in my Angelou unit if this project sounds interesting to you.) I have the students write their own parody called "Student Work." These are SO much fun to read!
Most importantly, showing a video of Angelou will help the students relate to her and see her as a person. Sometimes students don't realize writing comes from a person - or the writers seem "dead" to them. Use one of the videos on Scholastic - the "Why Do You Write Poetry?" video is only 2 minutes long. Your students will love studying Maya Angelou, and she is such a great role model for all of us.