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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Poems for Two Voices: Sitting Bull and Plenty Coups

Earlier in March, I shared some of the video resources I learned about at OPI's always amazing Best Practices in Indian Education for All workshop. Today I want to focus on a lesson plan that Billings school librarians Ruth Ferris and Kathi Hoyt presented on writing poems for two voices to contrast the perspectives of Plenty Coups (Crow) and Sitting Bull (Hunkpapa Lakota), two well-known Indian leaders.

The lesson uses excerpts from Plenty Coups' and Sitting Bull's speeches that Bozeman teacher Derek Strahn collected for a lesson he created for us several years ago: "Hearing Native Voices: Analyzing Differing Tribal Perspectives in the Oratory of Sitting Bull and Plenty Coups."

I love this lesson for so many reasons--but here are two:

1. It emphasizes the great diversity among individual American Indian leaders and their tribes' responses to Euro-American incursion into their territory. The temptation to lump all Indians and all tribes together is strong, an issue two of the seven  Essential Understandings regarding Montana Indians address:
Essential Understanding 1: There is great diversity among the twelve tribal nations of Montana in their languages, cultures, histories and governments. Each Nation has a distinct and unique cultural heritage that contributes to modern Montana.

Essential Understanding 2: There is great diversity among individual American Indians as identity is developed, defined and redefined by entities, organizations and people. A continuum of Indian identity, unique to each individual, ranges from assimilated to traditional. There is no generic American Indian.  
2. Kathi and Ruth provide so much scaffolding:

  • A brief handout explaining how Poems for Two Voices work,
  • A Word Sort activity that has students read the quotes Derek provided on pages 5 and 6 of his lesson, and then sort keywords into three categories (Sitting Bull, Plenty Coups, and Both) to help teach difficult vocabulary and get students comparing and contrasting,
  • A Graphic Organizer to aid students comparing the two leaders' points of view, and
  • A template created by FOI Oklahoma for students to use to create their poem (see page 2).
When you try this lesson in your classroom, send me one of your students' poems. I'd love to read it.

P.S. We still have spaces in our upcoming northwestern Montana workshops: Libby, Pablo, and Kalispell. Please register and/or help us spread the word (I can't justify offering on-the-road workshops if they don't fill.) And speaking of professional development: We're still accepting applications for our Middle School Teacher Leader in History program.

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