Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Spoken word performance is a powerful way for students to publish their work and build a variety of language arts skills. As a strategy connected to critical pedagogy, it provides students with a creative way to address a political issue important to them and advocate for change. Dale Allender, Associate Executive Director of NCTE, suggests, "To engage students in spoken word instruction, teachers can explore the West African griot tradition, participate in language study and language play, read widely in the political arena, and work on dramatic readings and analysis." Teachers should ask students to read books, articles, or short stories in which the griot is invoked or present in the text. For example, students might read the introduction of the Malian epic Sundiata and note the humorous, sometimes grandiose expressions from the griot as he begins to tell the tale of Sundiata, the legendary Malian king.
The experience of listening to, creating, and performing spoken word pieces involves an appreciation of dialect and semantics. Teachers should encourage students to analyze the different ways in which people use language on a regular basis. As an assignment, teachers can divide students into groups and send them to a variety of settings -- for example, a mall, an auction house, a barbershop or salon, and a courthouse. Students should record how people use language in these settings. They can note levels of formality, turn-taking, pitch, speed, figurative language, bilingualism, multilingualism, and code-switching. When they return to class, students then can compare notes. Students can also try out the expressions they heard through role play. Contrastive analysis is another, more formal and focused language study activity, through which students contrast various dialects of English in a given verbal expression.
To help students take on roles and perform effectively, teachers can engage students in language play activities such as reading Doctor Seuss stories aloud. Students should read in character, varying speeds and/or emphasis. They can do the same with nursery rhymes, jump-rope chants, or proverbs.
The spoken word tradition requires the performer to inform, enlighten,
or entertain an audience with a political message. In order to do this, students should read a variety of perspectives on contemporary and historic issues. For example, students should read a story in mainstream media outlet such as The New York Times. Then they should then look for information on the topic in alternative or ethnic publications such as The Nation, Exxtra, or Africana (http://africana.com). This kind of wide, comparative reading should be ongoing, but it can be focused for a specific assignment.
Spoken word in performance is a creative way for students to extend their work beyond the classroom and express their ideas to their community. Teachers can organize poetry slams or spoken word performances in their classroom, school, community centers, libraries, or bookstores. They can also videotape or audio-record student performances and stream them on a Web site or send them to another class, their school's Parent Teacher Organization, or the school board.