It's my job as a literature professor to arm my students with the tools of literary analysis. Clearly stated on the syllabus is the course goal that they will hone their ability to identify elements such as plot, character, setting, style, tone, and point of view.
Early in the semester I usually assign small groups of students one literary element each. Guided by some explanation of the element, along with questions attuned to a particular story, the groups work privately before reporting to the whole class. When this activity works well, it demonstrates both the particularity of each element--its capacity to serve as an analytic lens--and the interconnection of all elements in forming an artistic whole (as when a discussion of character segues into a consideration of point of view, which in turn raises questions of style, and so on).
After my first approach to spoken word performances left me feeling a bit "flummoxed" (see previous post), I decided to pose the question to my students: What are the elements of spoken word? What kinds of choices does an author/performer make, and how can we, the audience, classify those choices to aid our understanding?
We'd yet to work with a story, play, or poem, so I knew I was taking a risk; presenting the Elements of Fiction and Drama (in the slide above) could seem hopelessly abstract. After a bit of explanation and discussion, I asked the students to compose lists of Elements of Spoken Word, drawing on their experience listening to five assigned pieces and creating one of their own.
I mapped their responses on the board, and snapped a photo, as we we out of time. I also collected the lists individual groups had worked on. Before our next class, I compiled their answers into the following:
At the start of the next class, I presented students with their collective Elements of Spoken Word, and assigned each group an element, as I had in other courses with the Elements of Fiction.
Working with the students' elements worked even better than I'd expected! I felt grounded in familiar literary territory, but also stretched to think about what sound and performance add. Moreover, working from the students' lists showed that their opinions matter, and have real consequences in shaping the class.
Next stop: Bedford/St.Martin's?