Speaking the Spoken: Not Your Typical Poetry Class – Part 2 of 3

July 27, 2011 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

At Southwest Key’s Travis County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program (JJAEP), students learn how to express their thoughts and feelings through poetry in the innovative Speaking the Spoken program, taught by Zell Miller and Da’Shade as a project of the Xenogia collective.  (Revisit the first part of the Speaking the Spoken blog series here)

In class, Miller has students go through various exercises designed to enhance their poetic writing skills, get them to open up to new modes of thinking, and give them an opportunity to speak about issues they would not have a chance to elsewhere.  In one such exercise, students are given prompters such as “Power is…” or “I am…” and are asked to free-form write in response to each prompt.  Students are asked to consider their life experiences and inner thoughts and feelings when addressing each prompt.  The focus of these exercises is expression, and as such, the only rules are that their writing cannot be disrespectful and it cannot contain any punctuation.  By taking away the traditional enforcement of spelling and grammar rules, this class gives students the freedom to express themselves however they see fit.

After their writing exercises, Miller helps students take their poetry from the page to spoken word.  In addition, he facilitates collaboration between the students in order to weave their poems together for group pieces.  These group pieces tend to revolve around a common theme that is present in the students’ individual poems.  By tweaking here and there, the students are able to create a multi-voice poetry performance that feels coherent but contains elements of each collaborator’s work.

In order to encourage his students to open up, write, and speak their poetry aloud, Miller insists on being completely authentic and creating a relationship with his students.  These two things, he feels, are the keys to success as a teacher.  If he doesn’t have a positive relationship with his students, he cannot expect them to trust him or put their best efforts into their poetry.

While most JJAEP students hardly consider themselves burgeoning poets, many are drawn to the class based on their interest in hip hop, which has strong ties to spoken word poetry.  The class introduces students to more socially conscious hip hop and thought-provoking rhymes, and over time students generally become much more comfortable and confident in their work.  In fact, some JJAEP Speaking the Spoken alums have gone on to join under-21 poetry slam teams and have taken on spoken word as a serious hobby.

The Speaking the Spoken program at the JJAEP concludes with a performance of the students’ work, with parents and Southwest Key staff in attendance.  To Miller, this is the most rewarding part of his job: seeing his students progress from never having written a poem to proudly performing their work in front of others.  The performance highlights that the choices and experiences that led to the students’ referral to JJAEP can be expressed through poetry that they can celebrate and be proud of.  Performing in front of an audience also helps students gain confidence and a sense of self, which can benefit their future relationships and job prospects.

Integral to the mission of the JJAEP is changing students’ attitudes and perspectives on education, adult role models, and life in general.  To learn about the unique role that Speaking the Spoken and Xenogia plays in this process, subscribe or visit the blog on July 29th to read the final installment in this three-part series.

– Kelle Kampa
Communications Intern

Entry filed under: Juvenile Justice, Southwest Key Programs.

Speaking the Spoken: How Poetry Can Help Rebuild Lives – Part 1 of 3 Speaking the Spoken: Personal Growth through the Power of Poetry – Part 3 of 3

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