Today is the grand finale of National Library Week and as part of the closing ceremonies, we had a presentation by Dr. Yolanda Y. Smith.  This is one of the few events I was able to attend this week and I’m glad I was able to make it.  Dr. Smith’s presentation, “Diversity in the Church:  The African American Spiriturals as a Source for Teaching Faith and Heritage”, took a look at how the tradition of African American spirituals can be re-interpreted into a model for classroom learning.

She began by having us listen to a spiritual and reflect on the meaning of the words and the symbols and imagery that come to mind when we hear these songs.  Of course, the usual images sprung to mind:  sorrow, slavery, sadness, hope, escape, Heaven, redemption, etc.  This is, I believe, precisely what Dr. Smith wanted us to think about because it fed into her thesis that these ideals can be used to teach pride, self-esteem and a love for the African American cultural heritage.

Most vividly, Dr. Smith demonstrated how the call and response tradition of spirtiual singing can be used in the classroom setting.  For example, the classroom can be set in a circular fashion with the instructor sitting with the class rather than standing over the class.  With this setting, everyone is seen as equal with the ability to contribute to the dialogue, encouraging students and instructors to switch roles and learn from each other.  With call and response there is room for interpretation, re-interpretation and changing of words to suit diverse situations.  This encourages critical thinking on the parts of the participants as well as the use of creative thinking and active participation.

This presentation was a nice conclusion to this year’s theme “Join the Circle of Knowledge.”

Dr. Smith’s model can be further discovered in her book Reclaiming the Spirituals:  New Possibilities for African American Education