Home > Uncategorized > Spoken Word and Poetry with Kedrick James

Spoken Word and Poetry with Kedrick James

Today started out with an amazing clip of spoken word artist Sarah Kay for a little inspiration.

Next, Kedrick James ,instructor in the Language and Literacy Education Department at UBC and spoken word artist came to do a short workshop on what he calls “Conversation Symphony” 

  • Start with just non-words/sounds
  • Start with just vowels A E I O U, play with pitch – low to high, high to low
  • Make sounds, try to represent them as words on a staff eg. Beat box sound as poosh tse????
  • Have groups perform this
  • Then think of a word, have students just say their one word over a 4/4 beat to create a conversation symphony
This is what the class produced. Have a listen: 

Benefits: nice link to vocabulary, great way to explore voice projection, enunciation, wonderful way to show how words take on “life”

Limitations: I know spoken word does not require a music background yet I was somewhat intimidated with James presentation because I felt like he was using language that people with musical training could understand better than I could. Just the idea of using a staff and different beats made me feel like I couldn’t confidently use this in my classroom!

Adaptations: I might not deliver this quite the way James did, but I would consider playing around with pitch and have students listen and produce low and high pitch sounds, as well as playing around with elongating vowel sounds to help with awareness of enunciation. What James did with the group of volunteers reminded me or a round or canon, and in my experience this is really difficult for children! I would try having the whole class work on the same words just simply keeping a steady beat. I’ve never really liked poetry myself, but I tend to teach it just by going through various genres and styles. I know this can be boring, so perhaps we could add a performance aspect to the poetry unit. It might be fun to have kids share their own original and selected poems from other poets and in a kind of poetry cafe where parents could be invited and there would be goodies and tea. I thought it was really neat how Sarah Kay went to all these venues where spoken word was happening and was inspired, encouraged, and welcomed into this community of poets and artists. What an amazing story.

On a side note, here’s an activity that Amanda used with for discussing the Sharon Grady reading. I don’t usually post about the strategies as other people have done such a great job explaining them thoroughly (see WARM UP ACTIVITIES Page), but I  have never heard or seen this one before and thought it was quite powerful. It is called “Corridor of Voices” or “Alley of Voices”. Start off by numbering off the class into 1’s and 2s. Form two circles, with 1s inside facing the 2s on the outside. (Alternatively, pair up 1s and 2s with their backs to each other; this may be more comfortable for some people and gets them to really use their listening skills. Ask the class to Think-pair-share (might tell them to prepare that they will present one idea their partner said). Next pairs form a  group of four with another pair. Each person shares something their partner said. Then half the class will choose one idea/comment from the discussion that resonated with them. It might be a word or short phrase or sentence.  Then each person whispers their one idea/thought while the other half of the class walks through the alley to hear the ideas. One definite benefit to this exercise is that people can share without being put on the spot. It is a safe way of talking about a highly controversial topic such as the Grady Reading. There will be times that topics come up in class that students feel very heated about and this might be the forum to share their feelings without being confrontational. One limitation, however, is that not everyone gets to hear all the ideas, or the one phrase that is whispered in the alley doesn’t capture the whole meaning of someone’s thought. On the other hand, too long of a phrase or sentence means people don’t hear the whole thing as they’re moving through the alley! Perhaps, this could be the initial activity to a more in-depth discussion. Perhaps students could jot down thoughts/feelings/ reactions in journals then have them re-visit the next day?

The Grady reading was certainly disputable. Grady Chapter 2 How do we ensure stereotypes are not perpetuated in our classrooms? I think this is very very challenging. I think about improv and how we are expected to act immediately with whatever pops into our heads and often those are stereotypical understandings we have of others. We take on characters and use whatever knowledge we have about them, and though it may be unintentional, it’s still very harmful. With students, I always tread lightly when it comes to bringing attention to their racial/ethnic/cultural identity. When we bring explicit or implicit attention to a part of someone’s identity, we walk a very thin line between celebrating identity and imposing identity on others. I suppose there really is no right answer and the best practice is to try and know your students and help them discover and define what it is they value in themselves.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Amanda
    August 11, 2011 at 11:40 PM

    Great reflections today. I really liked how you incorporated the Corridor of Voices into Spoken Word. I would also think about having the students go through the Corridor a few times – what new things do they hear each time? That way they would get a chance to hear everything. Also, you (as a teacher) should make sure to go through the Corridor too. I forgot to and I am so disappointed. I so wish I had.
    Excellent comments on the Grady reading – I know there is no right answer and it is shifty territory, but I think recognizing difference and celebrating it is important (rather than pretending like it isn’t there). At least that is my two cents.

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