Transforming schools through poetry
Testimonials and Statements of Support
Partner Statements of Support:
I’ve been delighted to welcome Peter Kahn and his team into Holy Family. It is exciting for us to be able to develop students’ literacy through spoken word activities. The team have brought something different to our school and the students have enjoyed working with them and many have joined the Spoken Word club, which is great to see.
-Dr. Andy Stone, Head Teacher, Holy Family Catholic School
I’d like to confirm that Spread the Word is supporting your Spoken Word Educators programme. We see this as an important fit with our strategy of supporting the development of writers’ careers, as well as engaging young people with creative writing. The calibre of the first cohort is excellent and we look forward to working with them and with you during the project and beyond. We have committed a £1200 contribution to the project, as well as discussing further opportunities to support in-kind.
Spread the Word
I wanted to write in support of your application to Arts Council, England for support with the writer teacher programme. Eastside Educational Trust fully supports the programme as we believe it is an important step in transforming the way young people think about both the spoken and written word. Eastside is excited to be a part of this programme as we think that it will encourage young people to broaden their horizons and to express themselves in ways they may never have dared before. It is a brave cohort of writers you are working with who are true pioneers and I would like to endorse your work with these inspiring educators.
Arts Development Director
Eastside Educational Trust
The Poetry Society is delighted to be working to support the development of spoken word artists in education through the new MA programme at Goldsmiths. It will support the programme by finding placements for the students, leading workshops as a part of its national youth slam championships SLAMbassadors UK. It will also offer additional training and shadowing opportunities, and support the students work via its website -for example, hosting workshop plans on Poetryclass, that may lead to further work offers for them.
We are keen to support the Spoken Word Initiative in any way that we can – to offer workshop space, to programme some of the trainees as part of our literature seasons or the London Literature Festival and to offer ongoing support and advice. The Spoken Word Initiative is shaping up to be a long-term project that could potentially have a life-changing effect on the pupils that take part, as well as supporting and developing the careers of up and coming spoken word artists, and Southbank Centre is keen to watch the project grow from strength to strength.
-Bea Colley, Participation Producer (Literature), Learning & Participation, Southbank Centre
I support spoken word education as a way in which young people can find their voice by accessing feeling through poetry creation and performance. It is a truly artistic endeavour because it involves the discovery and expression of a personal viewpoint through the discipline and exhilaration of poetry. Is also a highly social activity: young people work together in creating, rehearsing and performing their pieces, while giving each other the respect and attention each needs in order to create and perform with authenticity. Spoken Word Education has done a great deal to support young people in Chicago and elsewhere in the USA, not least by helping them make the most of the educational opportunities they have. I am convinced that it can be of equal benefit in the UK and that the strong beginning that Peter Kahn has made in London deserves both financial support and wide publicity.
Research Officer, National Association for the Teaching of English (UK)
Spoken Word trainees have brought enthusiasm, verve, energy and excitement to the creative writing workshop. They are keen to be intellectually stretched, learn new things, exchange ideas, challenge accepted notions of what poetry is, both their own and those of other members of the group. Our sessions, often spilling over allotted time, are full of intensity, focus and commitment.
-Ardu Vakil, Lecturer in Creative Writing, 1st term convener of the MA Writer/Teacher, Goldsmiths
The Spoken Word trainees brought a keen edge of lateral thinking to our MA education: School based Explorations modules. Working alongside established subject teachers who were also students on the degree, they generated a fresh, thoughtful point of view on schooling. Their presence helped all participants on the module to think beyond their regular professional frameworks, and their passion for learning underpinned the whole class’s enthusiasm. I don’t think I’ll ever have such an involved, interesting class again!
-Anna Carlile, Lecturer, Department of Educational Studies, convener of intensive seminar, Goldsmiths
*See additional PDF attachments from Becky Swain (Arvon), Lisa Mead (Apples and Snakes) and Paul Amuzie (London Citizens)
Spoken Word Education Training Programme Trainees’ Insights
Before starting this programme I had received haphazard poetry training and delivered sporadic poetry workshops in schools and other settings. Already I feel the programme has taken my writing and workshop facilitation skills to the next level. Previously, I had focused on performance and my writing had got into a rut. Peter’s guidance has propelled my poetry, challenging me to identify my weaknesses and work on them.
The written and oral feedback that we receive from Peter is invaluable as a young writer. I am learning skills that are difficult to master without support, such as drafting and editing. I decided to become a professional artist when I was over 25, which has meant there are fewer funding opportunities available to me. I see this programme as an essential development, creating viable careers for establishing artists, in a challenging economic climate.
I have always thrived when working with young people, however it has always been a one of workshops or a short series of sessions. The spoken word educator course is a phenomenal opportunity to develop a long term relationship with a school and pupils, to truly embed poetry throughout school life.
Observing Peter teaching poetry and receiving instruction from him has illuminated poetry education for me. Benefiting from his two decades of experience as a Spoken Word educator on both sides of the Atlantic is a real privilege.
One of the key reasons I wanted to participate in this programe was the unrivaled opportunity to intensively study the craft of what I do while learning not just from Peter Kahn but also my peers. There are very few spaces of collaboration and sharing in British poetry and this is by far the most educational and enthralling in my opinion. The open debates about craft and the feedback given on our work has challenged me to question what type of artist I want to be and has enabled me to find my voice. I studied poetry as part of my creative writing and Journalism degree and I can honestly say that I have learnt more in the few months of seminars than the entire 3 years I was at university.
The quality and standard of teaching that Peter Kahn has to offer is hard to find. He teaches with enthusiasm and passion, and it is clear that he is deeply committed to bringing the best out of those he works with. As an educator these seminars have given me confidence in knowing how to communicate effectively with young people. The seminar has focused on key components every educator needs in order to deliver and run successful lessons. I have learnt how to design a lesson plan and cater it reflectively on the needs of my pupils.
Before the seminars I facilitated my freelance workshops but the knowledge I have gained from the seminars have given me better skills in communication, professionalism and a wider repertoire of lesson plans to work from. The seminars have taught me that being an educator isn’t just about distilling information it is also about giving young people a space where their voices and feelings are validated and valued. The work we do is desperately needed in schools and there is no better programme to receive the quality of training we need to do it than with Peter Kahn.
Being selected as a future Spoken Word Educator gives me a great sense of fulfilment. My training will equip me with the skills necessary to make a strong, positive impact in the lives of young people whilst simultaneously sharpening my writing expertise.
For the first time, I feel I will able to fully consolidate my experience as a Spoken Word artist with my passion for working with young people. In my previous experience, I have worked with children at risk of exclusion from schools, as well as pupils with English as an Additional Language. In both cases, I can see how Spoken Word can generate positive outcomes for pupils, and I am strongly committed to working in both of these areas.
Over the past few weeks, I have observed and assisted Peter Kahn in the classroom. I have already seen exciting breakthrough moments with pupils undergoing disciplinary procedures – including those on report books, in isolation and on Fixed-Term Exclusion. In all cases, these children, who have shown evidence of Emotional and Behavioural Disorders, have participated and responded well to poetry lessons and have produced well-written poems which they have used to express their emotions. The use of poetry as an emotional literacy tool is something that particularly resonates with me and I feel that, as it develops, this programme will be a positive influence on even more pupils who have difficulties engaging with the school system.
As a writer, the Spoken Word programme has already influenced the quality and quantity of the poems I produce. Peter Kahn’s seminars are structured in a way that allows me to reflect on my writing styles. They focus on the key elements of poetry and have allowed me to develop what I learn into a portfolio of work which I, and the rest of the cohort, will be able to use in the classroom when we are teaching. We are also reflecting on approaches to teaching and learning and allow us to think critically. All of these elements will enable me and the rest of the group to have a powerful impact on the lives of the young people we work with.
Spoken Word Club is already promising to be the most exciting part of this project. Simply based on an assembly led by us, the enthusiasm generated in the first week meant that (80?) children attended – and many more approached me through the school day to express their disappointment that they were unable to go. Since the first week, at least 45 pupils have attended each subsequent week and this number remains consistent. Pupils from different age groups, who have never previously interacted, are now working together – with no disciplinary issues – and they are beginning to develop their confidence in writing. Here they are able to work on their performance and express themselves more fully than they are normally able to during the school day. Here they are developing their literacy skills, their emotional responses, their natural talent for performing and their team skills. I have been touched by some of the poetry that has come from the first few sessions and am excited by the prospect of eventually leading my own Spoken Word Club as I complete this programme.
In summing up, the Spoken Word Education project is a powerful tool for young people and something that I feel privileged to be a part of. I hope to develop further both as a writer and an educator and this project has opened up a new opportunity for me in both respects. I know it will have a hugely positive impact for many more people too.
The things I’ve learned being in a classroom environment – Observing an experienced and accomplished teacher like Peter Kahn has been one of the best things that could happen to me in the developmental stage as an educator of Spoken Word. As well as being a man of great knowledge, Peter is a man of inspiration and motivation, watching how quickly he has developed a relationship with the kids in his classes at Holy Family has been invaluable in showing what is possible to get out of some otherwise disengaged students. Peter also helped me edit my first collection of poetry which is being published in December 2012 by Burning Eye. His seminars have been insightful and again, invaluable as two of the poems in my collection came directly out of his class. Having Peter talk on his experience as a social worker has also been rewarding as he’s been able to handle difficult kids and we’re able to observe what he does and how we can be effective ourselves.
Working alongside Peter Kahn has been an immense privilege for me as a spoken word educator and as a writer. It has been a period of rapid growth to be part of something I strongly believe will revolutionise the way my art form is taught. It has generated a great deal of excitement – not only from our host school but also from other poets, teachers and poetry organisations. Education work has traditionally been an infrequent activity for me as a professional practitioner but the skills and relationships being built now could embed live literature firmly within schools.
As an educator, Peter has taught me how to engage classes with a wide variety of skills and techniques in a fun and engaging way. He is also teaching me great deal about class management, discipline, the exigencies of NEET and SECA students and other aspects about working in a school environment. The take up amongst students has been phenomenal and we are learning the potential for building a unique rapport with students in a role of teaching that is proving to be valuable as well as novel to Holy Family School. The classes have been transformative for many of the students with problems.
Aware that the impact of the project – if successful – will be widely felt, we have been working hard to improve our craft as writers as well as educators. I have gained a much deeper awareness of producing high quality material for the page. I look forward to imparting this to students so that the vision of the programme can be fully realised.
I was first put in touch with Peter Kahn by one of my mentors Charlie Dark, who only recommends people of the highest caliber. What struck me immediately was Peter’s charm, charisma and can-do attitude. Hearing about his experience as a full time spoken word educator in Chicago was inspiring to say the least.
Once I had met Peter his name started to pop up everywhere and his impact and legacy in the British spoken word education became more and more evident. I realised I had already worked on a programme Peter had set up called the London Teenage Poetry Slam, an inter school poetry project that ran across London from 2003-2009. I worked on this one of the years as a Shadow to Poet-Coach Mailika Booker. I learnt so much from Malika’s caring style of teaching and her attention to detail when critiquing the children’s poems.
I have been be learning even more shadowing Peter in Holy Family as he has broken down us specific elements of what he believes make a good teacher, so we can obverse each class looking for the Control, the Expectations and the element of Care that he and the English teachers at Holy Family bring into their lessons. I have seen that the best work to be done in a poetry workshop is not just about the poems produced. It is also about building community in the classroom and confidence in the child.
Beyond the classroom, the after school spoken word club is where I have seen the real revolutionary work being done, with children from year 7 up to year 11 working together to produce group poems and finding a new way of belonging at Holy Family.
In his evening seminars with the 6 of us trainee spoken word educators, Peter has been sharing his years of experience though practical exercises, anecdotal evidence, videos and poems of other poets, critical writings about what makes good poetry and reflection on our own writing/performing styles and our previous teaching experience. In a way this is am advanced and extended version of what he teaches in the school to the children because we are looking at our writing first and then but how we can create lessons that will draw on our strengths and interests. I cannot wait to get into the classroom and put all that we are learning into action.
Chicago Student and Alumni Emails and Testimonials:
September 11, 2012
I was really upset that I couldn’t say good bye, I was out of town. But your close not straight A’s. Some, but no C’s, D’s, or F’s. I took online classes plus summer school to get myself together. But since moving down here with my mom its been hell as you know of our relationship already. So I’ve burried myself in my school work… for once. I raised my gpa and I only have 8 classes for the whole year! But that’s not all the great news, I wanted to do something that help me vent, so I started A POETRY CLUB!! I had to run it by the school staff and all that and they approved it! I wanna inspire people like you inspired me PK. I wanna make you and MYSELF proud for once. I think I’m on the right track . Finally.
-Breanne Wheat, high school senior, in an unsolicited, unedited email
I wanted to share some news with you…I AM OFFICIALLY FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF THE NEW SPOKEN WORD ORGANIZATION AT NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY THAT WAS ESTABLISHED THIS PAST SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 18TH!!!!!! It was a long, difficult journey from being rejected last year and returning to NIU to create my very own S.W. org. I just wanted to inform you and thank you so much for how you completely turn me around from hating poetry and how I said “I would never join Spoken Word” to finally creating my own S.W. at a university. This is just an additional chapter to such an amazing story I have, all thanks to you. I am forever in debt for the inspiration and influence you have had over me, but I will try to repay it by making the Spoken Word at NIU change lives of many students just like you did with me and other OPRF graduates. I will not disappoint you and expect many big accomplishments from this establishment. I finally have myself going in the right direction and I am excited for what the future holds for Spoken Word.
–Jamael Clark, OPRFHS Class of 2009, junior at Northern Illinois University, from an unsolicited email.
Before Spoken Word I didn’t even think of going to college or doing anything with my life, but because of it I’m going to be not only the first girl to go to college but the first person in my family to go to college.
-Maria Villeda, OPRFHS Class of 2007, enrolled in Pharmacy Program, Butler University.
Mr. Kahn has certainly filled the void of my father in my life. Without Spoken Word or Mr. Kahn’s influence, I would have become another stereotype or statistic of the African American race…. Mr. Kahn has not only taught me how to write, but he has taught me how to value myself and my future.
-Nova Venerable, OPRFHS Class of 2008, three-time winner of all-class high school poetry slams, BA in Psychology and in Spanish May of 2012, Smith College (on a full scholarship). Featured in the documentary, Louder Than a Bomb. Was a TED presenter in October with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
By the time I graduated, poetry was an imbedded compass to navigate my way across the commencement threshold into adulthood.
-Michael Pogue, OPRFHS Class of 2000, BA in Theater, Columbia College, Professional stage actor (including Victory Gardens, the Court Theater and the world-renowned Steppenwolf and Goodman Theatres).
[Spoken Word Club’s] a family…. It’s a chance to know your potential as a student. It’s a safe haven for you to develop a talent in a brutally honest and comforting way….The editing process that I went through in Spoken Word Club and Slam Team was way harder than the one I go through with the [Boston] Globe.
-Tabitha Watson, OPRFHS Class of 2007, BA in Journalism and in Spanish from Boston University, May of 2012. An intern with the Boston Globe.
I went from being a shy, highly underachieving teen, to a well- rounded, socially and academically engaged teen.
-David Gilmer, OPRFHS Class of 2006, BA in Creative Writing from Knox University (partial Spoken Word scholarship). Spoken Word Assistant at OPRFHS.
In high school, I was in a spoken word club, and it helped me to be better in music. The teacher, Mr. Kahn, was great at getting us to make something positive with our words as well as address issues and problems.—New York Post, Nov., 2011.
-Iman Shumpert, OPRFHS Class of 2008, Georgia Tech University, rapper and New York Knick NBA basketball player (a starter as a rookie).
Mr. Kahn’s Spoken Word Club had the single greatest influence on my adolescent intellectual, social and emotional development. My graduating GPA was .5 higher than my GPA prior to joining the club. I was more driven, focused and ambitious. I was also more motivated to discover and understand concepts and ideas outside the classroom.
-Will Walden, OPRFHS Class of 2001, BA in English from the University of Illinois, JD from Northwestern Law School, May of 2012.
When a young person is given the opportunity to stand up in front of their parents, teachers, peers, friends and tell their story in a safe space it is a powerful thing. Through spoken word I found a new, accepting, creative and exciting community. I found a sense of confidence entirely new to me. I found myself and felt like I was worth something. I found my voice. I found a home in the word. I found myself with a community, a pen and a stage.
-Dan Sullivan, OPRFHS class of 2000. Spoken Word poet who has performed in five countries, been featured on HBO, and was the opening act at the largest poetry slam in history in Hamburg, Germany for a crowd of 5,000.
Teacher, Parent and Other Testimonials:
The four days you spent with my five classes…opened my eyes to talents that I might otherwise have never known or nurtured…. I feel strongly that your presence, passion, and teaching have influenced us profoundly. Our classroom felt more and more like a community each day, and I will do my best to foster this new spirit. You have…helped uncover hidden talents that already seem to have boosted the self-esteem of several students….
–Kathyrn Gargiulo, 20+ year veteran English teacher Dec., 2011.
[It was a] powerful and cathartic week many of my students realized during the residency poetry workshop. It was heart wrenching to hear the traumatic experiences and turbulent lives our students have lived during onset of their teenage years. As a result of the workshops Peter facilitated in my classes last week, the climate… changed dramatically. The respect, support, and community among students was palpable.
–Marsha Blackwell, 12-year veteran English teacher, Oct., 2011.
“We just see a totally different person,” Marilyn James said about her daughter, Melissa, who barely passed grammar school, but is now making Bs and Cs. “She’s found something that’s her niche, a place where she can shine all by herself.”
—The Chicago Sun-Times
I’ve never seen Akeelah so happy! I’m very grateful that this program! exists for kids that need a creative outlet, especially if they are having difficulties in other aspects of their lives. Akeelah made me so proud. *Parent of a sophomore, February, 2012
Your students’ poems were among the best I have ever read…. What a teacher you must be to create an environment for students to write such poetry!
-Comments by the judge of the Sarah Mook Poetry contest (over 600 high school entries from around the United States) in which Peter Kahn’s students placed 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
It’s an amazing program Mr. Kahn provides for you.
-National Book Award Winner, Terrance Hayes.
Young kids need encouragement and role models. You are making a difference.
-Tony Hunter, Chief Executive Officer, Tribune Publishing; Publisher and CEO, Chicago Tribune.