Goldman Prize winner explores poetry with local students

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by Sarah Guenther, CAS Communications Intern 

The 2017 recipient of the Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Prize, Quentin Russell, is using his prize as an opportunity to teach after school poetry sessions to students at Talawanda High School, McGuffey Montessori, and Mariemont High School during the 2017-2018 academic year.

Quentin Russell

Russell graduated from Miami University in December 2016 with a degree in English language arts education for Grades 7-12, with a focus in creative writing.

His main goal is teaching knowledgeability about reading and writing poetry, rather than teaching poems as things to be learned.

“I want to teach students the ways that poets and good readers learn, so that they can direct their own learning. I want to teach them learning skills and allow them to direct the exploration of the content, rather than just teach them content to fill their heads.”

During his project Russell has noticed that students love control and when they are given the reins for their learning, they dive in. Keeping that in mind, he created student-centered curriculum.

“It has been fun to put student engagement at the center of my teaching, because it has guaranteed that I can teach the students where they are rather than trying to guess,” Russell said. “They are actually leading which poems, authors and techniques we explore and when.” Quentin Russell, 2017 Goldman Prize recipient.

Initially Russell planned to work for nine weeks at each school as an artist-in-residence, but after the project began he realized that in order to maximize his time with students the length of the sessions needed to be reevaluated. If he spends the first three weeks recruiting students then he might only get a month and a half to work with students, which makes it even harder to get them to commit their own time.

“I’m making up for it by stretching my spring schools into full-semester plans so I don’t shortchange the students who want to write, or the schedules of the schools for being inherently inflexible.”

Russell said the students have been consistently surprised and even nervous, but enjoy experiencing poetry in a new way.

He hopes this project will help him develop the skills needed to practically apply the theories of constructivism and connectivism in the classroom. “By developing these skills I will then be able to help educate other teachers on how to pragmatically use these ideas, rather than just talk about them or think about them,” he said.

As he continues teaching students and writing a book of poetry, Russell offered some advice to Miami students: “The most important thing is to never stop learning. If you’re always learning, then you’ll get to focus on something more important than just your career,” he said. “It’s just a more fulfilled life to be constantly growing."