Poetry performances and academic identity negotiations in the literacy experiences of seventh grade language arts students.
Junior high school students (Case studies)
Junior high school students (Social aspects)
Teachers (Case studies)
Teachers (Social aspects)
Literacy (New York)
Literacy (Case studies)
Literacy (Social aspects)
Smith, Ann Marie
Pub Date:
Name: Reading Improvement Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0034-0510
Date: Winter, 2010 Source Volume: 47 Source Issue: 4
Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Product Code: E197300 Students, Junior High
Geographic Scope: New York Geographic Code: 1U2NY New York

Accession Number:
Full Text:
This case study explores seventh grade students' experiences with writing and performing poetry. Teacher and student interviews along with class observations provide insight into how the teacher and students viewed spoken word poetry and identity. The researcher recommends practices for the teaching of critical literacy using spoken word and performance poetry based on the students' responses to the writing and performing of poetry.


Spoken word and poetry activities have engaged students in urban public schools, and students' have gained a sense of power over their literacy learning through practice with the language of poetry. (Fisher, 2005). Hip hop poetry, a style of spoken word, places the poet and desire for expression at the center and speaks the language of the marginalized. It is "politically oppositional to an imagined [white] dominant majority" (Pate, 2010, p. 3). When students present original writing orally, their voices speak of their personal experiences and their abilities to create a place for themselves in the academy. Hip hop and spoken word poems that incorporate street language may not be practical in all public school forums; however, inner city school teachers have found success with spoken word poetry activities that allow students to write and perform in a variety of poetic styles (Fisher, 2007; Hill, 2009; Low,2008).

Like Valorie Kinloch (2005), I believe that poetry "serves a political purpose, particularly for public school students struggling to master the conventions of Standard American English and academic writing" (p.96). For students in suburban, multicultural schools, poetry exposes white oppression and incites students to negotiate cultural conflicts. In both urban and suburban public school spaces, African American and other students of color must negotiate academic identities. Standard English and a standard curriculum remain the status quo and Caucasian students are "invisibly normal" (Alim, 2006, p.56). The study of poetry has often been forced into the margins with the current emphasis on high stakes testing (McVee et al, 2008); however, a resurgence of spoken word poetry has appeared in schools as a result of the National Poetry Slam movement and the popularity of hip hop and rap music (Faust & Dressman, 2009; Fisher, 2007; Low, 2008). Case studies of spoken-word poetry practices in suburban and rural schools are not as prevalent as published work detailing poetry activities in urban schools, but performance literacy activities have the potential to engage students of all backgrounds and places.

Purpose of Study

Practices of poetry reading, writing and performance should not be confined to urban schools. Students in multicultural urban and suburban schools can benefit from reading, writing and performing poetry as they learn to write and read for an audience (Jester, 1997). In this case study, I consider the benefits of incorporating spoken word and hip hop poetry in a suburban school. Similar to poetry research conducted in urban classrooms, I consider how students' work with poetry contributes to literacy learning and academic development.

These questions guided this study:

1. What are students' perceptions about how they experienced poetry writing and performance?

2. What do the students' poems seem to reveal about themselves and their beliefs about literacy and school?

To address these questions, I focused on Mrs. Ryan's seventh grade language arts and reading students as they participated in daily classroom activities at Hartford Middle School. Also, students' participation in poetry activities and their perceptions of poetry writing and performances are analyzed. Students' poems, which were eventually published in a class anthology, are interpreted as literary expressions of individual and academic identities.


Participants and Setting

One reading class section and three sections of Mrs. Ryan's language arts classes were observed twice a week for one school year. I interviewed only those students who volunteered (n=23); these students represented a good cross section of student reading abilities, race and economic background (See Table 1 for student information). I interviewed Mrs. Ryan, an experienced middle grades teacher who had taught for about twenty years in grades five through seven. The school principal recommended that I work with Mrs. Ryan because, according to the principal, students, parents, and teachers believed Mrs. Ryan to be an effective teacher.

Hartford Middle School is located in a racially and economically divided town in Virginia; the town of Hartford is located in the outer suburbs of Washington DC. There are approximately 750 students enrolled in grades four through seven. About 50 percent of these students qualified for free or reduced lunches; the remainder of the students were from middle- to upper-middle-class families. In terms of ethnicity, approximately 47 percent of the middle school students are African American, 51 percent are Caucasian, and 2 percent Hispanic and Middle Eastern.

Data Collection

Data collection included observation notes of three sections of Mrs. Ryan's language arts and reading classes. Mrs. Ryan and twenty-three of her students were interviewed, and relevant documents were collected, such as student poetry and classroom handouts. During audio-recorded, individual interviews, the seventh grade students were encouraged to talk about their poetry writing, poetry presentations and the school poetry slam event (Clandinin and Connelly, 1998). Initial interview questions are included in Appendix A. Interviews were taped and transcribed. Observation notes centered on the students' responses to poetry activities and presentations.

Data Analysis

After transcription of the first round of interviews, a coding system was devised using "in-vivo codes," defined by Corbin and Strauss (2008) as "concepts using the actual words of research participants" (p. 65). Before drafting the research report, I analyzed observation notes and classroom artifact data by writing memos and interpretive comments on observation notes (Lareau & Schultz, 1996; Lather, 1991). To manage and analyze interview and memo transcripts, I used NVivo (ver. 2.0), a computer software program for qualitative data analysis. Interviews were transcribed, and these transcriptions and memos were entered into NVivo for coding. Table 2 provides information on each student quoted in the Results section.

Next, I returned to NVivo to refine codes, following Corbin & Strauss' (2008) guidelines for writing theoretical comparisons to produce conceptual themes. Themes reflected the classroom observations, interviews and student poetry as a whole. Triangulation of multiple data sources occurred during data analysis, and Mrs. Ryan was consulted occasionally to help confirm categories and themes that emerged.

In reading and listening to students' poetry, I viewed their texts as performances of literacy and academic identity. Just as Alim (2006) and Pate (2010) read rap and hip hop as literary texts, the oral performances and written poetry of African American and Caucasian youth are recognized in this article for their literary qualities and as examples of emerging writers who continuously negotiate their positions in academic culture.


Teaching and learning are performative in that actions are repeated and values and beliefs about teaching and learning are reproduced in everyday classroom activities (Alexander, Anderson and Gallegos, 2005; Broughton, 2002; Butler, 1990; Denzin, 2003). In this definition of "performance," students do not perform identities out of contexts but are constructed by their culture and communities (Butler, 1990; Denzin, 2003; Lewis, Enciso & Moje, 2007). Meanings of language are embedded in culture (Denzin 2003), and identities are constructed through the repetition of social norms (Butler 1990). Performativity refers to the discursive processes by which identity is constructed and refigured. Spoken word poetry can reveal the underlying processes that construct identities as writers speak their poems to an audience (Somers-Willett 2009) Performing for audiences emerged as central theme throughout conversations with individual students both informally in class and during individual interviews.

Rosenblatt (1994) and Fish (1980) suggest that the act of reading is a performance--readers create texts through processes of reading and discussion, and students participate in performances as readers or nonreaders. Likewise, students write for readers, performing an authorial voice while considering real or imagined audiences. In the language arts classroom, oral performances of written texts can encourage community building, and, may help students (re)define academic identities (Low, 2009). These seventh grade students verbalized concepts of audience, mentioning how writing for their peers motivated them to improve both text and presentation.

Performing for audiences

"Open Mike Fridays" was one of the activities that provided students with a forum for presenting poetry written outside of school requirements. Students who volunteered to read received extra points and verbal feedback from peers. Mrs. Ryan held Open Mike Fridays approximately every third week, and there were always at least two students who volunteered to read poems they had written. These poetry performances prepared students for later participation in the yearly seventh grade poetry slam--students could put their names on the "reading" list or simply be present in the poetry slam audience.

When students presented or performed writing for the class, they learn that writing is a social act and all writing and speech depends on codes and conventions (Bakhtin, 1986). Most students I interviewed believed that writing for oral performances persuaded them to think about their readers or listeners during the writing process. For example, Bryan explained his thoughts on writing for his class:

Bryan thought about how his writing sounded as he spoke to an audience of his peers. Like Bryan, other students in Mrs. Ryan's language arts and reading classes valued the opinions of their peers, thinking about possible responses from listeners and evaluators.

Performing the self and demonstrating literary skills was important to many of the seventh graders. Henry said, "I like writing my poems and reading them out loud so people can understand me.... Its better than just telling them, so I express my writing in poems better than just talking." Henry said he wrote a lot of poetry outside of class. "I got a whole stack of it at home. That's why I don't want the poetry unit to end." Henry had a reputation of being a troublemaker in other classes, and served in-school suspension occasionally. However, in Mrs. Ryan's class, Henry wore the label of poetry expert, taking the lead in poetry activities and helping other students revise their writing. If spoken word poetry performances have the potential, as Somers-Willet (2009) suggests, "to serve as spaces where identity is challenged and refigured through play" (p. 12), then the classroom poetry performances also allowed the students to perform identities and create authorial voices for their peers. The students' beliefs about writing and presenting poetry at the slam and in class revealed much about their emerging interests, academic personas and writing styles. For example, Danielle explained why she read her poetry aloud: "I wrote a lot of stuff that people didn't know about me. When I read it, they understood. A lot of people tell other people about it even though they weren't supposed to, and they make fun of me, but I still don't care." Danielle wanted her classmates to understand her identity as she (re)constructed her history, performing her identity as writer and student. Poetry writing and reading are important for students in constructing literate identities and improving writing skills (Jocson, 2006).

Another student, Ron, described feelings of anxiety about reading his work aloud, even though he volunteered to read for the class. Ron explained, " I know some people are just going to criticize, and I don't want them to hear it but then I want everyone else to hear it. It turns me into a nervous wreck." Hill (2009) cautions educators about the problematic nature of personal storytelling. If the classroom becomes a safe place where students can "risk the self' (p.97), students may need to be reminded about a public audience, as in the case of performing in a poetry slam, and how that audience will respond to their personal poetry and staged identities. Public arenas, such as poetry slams, can be both dangerous and exhilarating for adolescents, whose identity development continues to evolve.

Issues of race and gender become most visible in poetry slams and other poetic presentations where, like confessionalism, the audience is encouraged to connect the writer with the speaker (Wheeler, 2008). Poetry writing and oral presentations of poetry provided students with opportunities to audition individual identities in class, then later, become visible in the community as these students performed in a school poetry slam. Oral language and presentations of poetry reflect New Literacy theorists' conceptions of social practice in the ways these events invite audience participation and rely on teachers' abilities to create a supportive classroom community in which personal and home literacies are invited into the classroom. Featured in the city paper, the Poetry Slam at Hartford Middle School showcased the students' writing, creating positive publicity for the students and school. Students and parents were audience members at the poetry, slam, with students judging the poetry performances. With the audience physically present, the public-ness of writing was reinforced (Wheeler, 2008). Smith et al (2004), referring to competition poetry slams, defines "poetry slam" as a "festival. carnival act, interactive class, town meeting, con game and poetic boxing match, all rolled into one" (p.1). The slam is a revival of the oral tradition of poetry, and is about both text and performance. The ritual of the poetry slam suggests an underlying critique of the intelligentsia who perpetuate the notion of a literary canon just as hip hop is a critique of an oppressive white majority

Tara, a student who volunteered to read in the poetry slam, explained that of all of the activities in language arts, she enjoyed writing poetry the most. She explained, "When you're writing [poetry], you write to express a lot--and poems let you express even more because of the feelings that are in poems." Through both the poetry slam and the middle school's published success on standardized tests, poetry writing and oral presentations of poetry provided students with opportunities to perform for both peers and community.

Poetry, when read aloud in class or in slam formats appeals to adolescents "who see it as a space for explorations of self and society" (Low, 2008, p.104). For these seventh grade students, writing poetry and presenting poetry to their classmates allowed them to experiment with written and spoken poetry. Through poetry, students auditioned academic identities through experimentation with poetic forms that did not necessarily follow traditional definitions of academic writing. The privileging of spoken word over print, capitalizes on students' rich oral heritages, and allows students to critique and transgress the boundaries of academic writing (Faust & Dressman, 2009; Fisher, 2005). In our present age of multi-literacies, English educators must consider how students' identities and experiences are interwoven with academic and out-of-school literacies including writing, computer social networking, music and poetry

The Poems--

"What's Important to me": Signs of identity and home/school literacy negotiations

In examining the text of students' poems closely, it is not surprising that the poems focused predominantly on themes of identity and home/school life. "What's important to me," a title of one student's poem, was also a theme that repeated throughout much of the seventh grade students' poetry. The negotiation of home and school cultures also seemed to resonate throughout the students' poems; messages moved beyond identity and personal struggle to critique society and school. Some students further developed their sound and rhyme skills, capturing both the rhythm and the themes of Hip Hop poetry and reflecting an awareness of the power language has to interrogate poverty, racial discrimination and other social issues (Damon, 1998; Kinloch, 2009; Pate, 2010).

Serena's poem, for example, implies that families make choices, and both past and present family circumstances affect adolescent identity. Serena explained, "I like people to know what happened to me and what life was like when I was a child." One of Serena's poems was about her experiences with a drug-addicted father. The first few lines set the scene for her childhood history:

Serena's imagery calls attention to themes of family and violence. In her comparison of "drugs" to "bullets," she critiques adults who ignore the safety and emotional health of children. Poetry, along with other art forms, has the potential to reach beyond identity and the political. We expect poets to provide us with something meaningful--the poet's "unique truth" (Pate 2010). If students believe they have the power and agency to produce knowledge, perhaps they will not only improve their comprehension skills but also learn to critique and evaluate texts effectively.

In her poem, Just Cause I'm a Girl, Chantel calls her peers and society to question assumptions about gender expectations:

Judith Butler (1990) argued that by using the pronoun "I," women "speak themselves out of their gender" (p. 117). Creating a voice of someone working toward agency, Chantel also uses "you" in her poem to directly address her audience. Ending with a subtle threat, "that you don't make me say this again," incites girls (and boys) to work against gender oppression. Perhaps reflecting an awareness of African American feminist poetry, Chantel uses an "in your face" style that reflects contemporary rap poetry (Pate 2010). Alexs Pate (2010) writes, "Women rap/poets generally write to reclaim aspects of their abused image, restate their power, and assert their voices" (p. 71). Chantel's poem makes a passionate statement of resolve to overcome gender oppression.

Negotiating home and school literacies

For some seventh grade students, school represents a place of contradictions--both safety and anxiety. Although I did not gather complete information on the students' home backgrounds, Mrs. Ryan detailed the economic conditions of the neighborhoods in the city school district. As mentioned earlier, home and 'hood become most important at the end of the school day.

Expressions of fear and self-doubt about school and peer relationships occurred in students' poetry. For example, Isabel and Bryan, two students with different backgrounds and literacy skills demonstrated the competing requirements of home, school and social lives. Bryan, who had recently moved to Hartford Middle School, reveals feelings of loss and anxiety in his poem, "Two Houses Down":

Bryan's last stanza suggests a desire to meet new friends who will "follow behind" or will be part of his identity (re)negotiation into a new academic and social culture. Brian's poem also suggests a conflicted allegiance toward his old neighborhood. Home and neighborhood are familiar places in which adolescents may place greater investments, and changes in place may require a new way of thinking and relating to school (Forman 2002).

Home may not always be a place where homework is monitored or academics success is valued. However, Hartford students wrote poetry outside of school, and other home literacies enhanced these students' lives. Isabel, an African American student who struggled with learning, talked about how she and her brother played with language at home: "I like to rhyme a lot--me and my brother always try to rhyme, but sometimes it doesn't make any sense, and we always joke around about that. I like writing poems at school, too." Isabel connected this language play at home with poetry she wrote at school. In her poem, "I am Isabel," the second stanza was a message of struggle and a desire for successful learning:

Isabel expresses a fear of failure in her poem that is probably shared by other students who struggle to learn. The lines, "cries inside" and "pretend[ing] I am in a college classroom" portray a voice who understand that academic difficulties serve

a future purpose. The poem suggests that the process of constructing an academic identity may be difficult and private.

This "I am" structure encourages students to be bold, authoritative, and sometimes confessional. As students are granted the power of 'T' they are able to assert their identities, and through the process of performing these poems, perhaps redefine literacy as a form of social power. Isabel and the other students' "I am" poems also critique the power of a culture that "produces and reproduces victims" (Denzin, 2003, p. 239). Pedagogically, students' poetic performances taught students to express their feelings of fear and victimization; in turn, students' writing and discussions with peers teach each other not to forego dreams and goals.

Poetry and poetry slams, according to Somers-Willet (2009) "have the potential to reveal disguised systems of desire and power that underlie the performance of identity in culture ..." (p. 76). In Mrs. Ryan's class, writing and reading poetry aloud created possibilities for students to audition academic performances, as well as benefit from their knowledge of Hip Hop music and poetry. For example, Tyrone explained his reasons for writing poetry:

Tyrone seemed to catch himself in his comparison of the class poetry writing with "rapping," interpreting rapping and academic poetry's similarities and differences.

Tyrone frequently wrote hip hop style poetry, mirroring what Pate (2010) refers to as "saturation," which occurs when hip hop includes repeated descriptions of African American, urban neighborhoods, along with the expressed struggles and experiences of African American men. For example, Tyrone's poetry addressed subjects related to Hip Hop culture, such as agency, community and a desire for equality (Pate). One of Tyrone's poems, "Be Me One Day," was published in the 7thgrade poetry anthology. The poem's speaker places himself in a segregated, African American neighborhood known throughout Hartford city for poverty and crime:

After Tyrone read his poem aloud, Mrs. Ryan and other students complimented him on rhyme, sound and images. Then Shameka, a friend of Tyrone's, said, "That's how it is. There's four places like that.... "Shameka listed the names of the low-income African American neighborhoods calling attention to the reality of the poem's content. No one else spoke until Mrs. Ryan called the next student to read.

The 'hood in rap poetry "exists as a 'home' environment. It is enunciated in terms that elevate it as a primary site of significance" (Forman, 2002, p. xix). In calling attention to his 'hood Tyrone gained the authority to speak on the violence and crime in his neighborhood. Shameka shared Tyrone's agency with her response to his poem, reminding students in the class that some people live in neighborhoods that are in opposition to the controlled environment of school. These voiced experiences hopefully worked as a form of pedagogy for students who listened between the silences (Denzin 2003). The language, poetry performance, and student responses presented audience members with a picture of segregated African American neighborhoods; this picture allowed students in the class to consider the experiences of others who lived in neighborhoods of poverty and crime even though these injustices were not voiced.

Once Shamkea and Tyrone leave the relative safety of the classroom, their sense of agency may be redefined along different parameters. The possibility for critique exists as students become aware of the power structures in place that perpetuate defacto segregation in Hartford and other places. This lost opportunity for open discussion reminds us that that even experienced teachers may not be willing or cognizant of how to guide students into critical conversations or controversial areas.

Words of the outsiders--nonwhite people, non-Christians, undocumented US residents, etc--are often ignored until their words are made public through music, literature or other media. The original intent of rap/poetry was to make the private public (Pate 2010). School's monotonous routines, test preparation and tensions is not the "school" that is necessarily visible to the public. In Eric's poem, quoted below, readers/listeners are directly pushed to question the purpose of school, and as teachers, to question the roles we play in the "hidden curriculum."

Eric's poem also suggests the irony of abuse and pain (physical and emotional) that may result from parents who push academic success for their children. Alexs Pate (2010) writes, "The best examples of rap/poetry leave a residue of meaning that continues to occupy our minds after the poem is over" (p. 95). After my first reading of this poem, I just assumed this poem was about a young adolescent complaining about school. However, this poem was written about the time the Virginia state standards and tests had forced teachers into test preparation routines. Classroom instruction began to include practices of teaching rote memorization, study skills and multiple choice unit tests in order to prepare students for the high stakes standardized tests. This poem, published in the seventh grade anthology, may not have been included if teachers did not agree that they worked in a form of "prison." As teachers who are often unwillingly part of the structure that reinforces this system of test-preparation, we must consider how these structures and mandates affect students and parents.

Both the Black Arts movement and National Poetry Slam events have worked against dominant white, upper middle class cultures that control the academy and literary canon (Somers-Willett 2009). Through the seventh grade Poetry Slam, Mrs. Ryan contributed to the subversion of academic text-oriented poetry study in favor of spoken word poetry. At the same time, students acquiesced to the structure of the academy by following the rules and order required of a public middle school culture. Performance poetry as a dialectical art emphasizes communication with the audience and has the potential for political change--or at the very least, recognition of possibilities (Somers-Willett 2009). Even when the poetry slam and in-class performances did not directly critique society and culture, audience members heard these critiques in the language of the students' poems. As the student author of the following poem suggests, poetry can speak to "change," and the 7th-grade poetry slam was a ritual that created a place for self-expression and cultural critique. The possibility of change begins with the individual presenting the poem, according to the interpretation of one Hartford student:

The act of performing one's own writing is transformative for both performer and audience. The students became the teachers for themselves and others who choose to listen.

For many critical race theorists and teachers of African American and/or working class children, opportunities for change are needed in urban schools where poverty and low expectations, among other problems, deter students from academic success (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001; Delpit, 1995; Gay, 2000). Although my research was conducted in a small city, a split among race and class lines created power structures that were reproduced and occasionally contested. The racial and economic make-up of small schools in southern US communities may offer insight into identity negotiations that adolescents and teachers of adolescents may experience in multi-racial schools. Critical pedagogy theorists assert that literacy instruction and curricula must be "culturally responsive" (Gay, 2000), teaching students to question the ideologies that shape the texts they read, write and discuss. Some critical theorists recommend teaching students to improve the cultures and communities where they live and work (Delpit, 1995; Kincheloe, 2004; Lewis, A, 2000). In the context of this study, opportunities for change existed, and cultural and academic boundaries were interrogated in students' discussions and writing. Although teachers in my study supported change, students and teachers did not take necessary steps to enact change nor were they decisive about possible directions for change.

Poetry writing and spoken word poetry allows students' personal and cultural literacies into the school setting, creating a transition from home to school as students learn to embrace and critique their academic and personal experiences (Fisher, 2005; Jocson, 2006). In this case study of Mrs. Ryan's language arts class, disconnections between academic and home literacies challenge English educators to connect personally with their urban and suburban students (Kinloch, 2009; Hull & Schultz, 2002). In considering literacy learning, the students were able to meet the school's expectations for high test scores in language arts and reading. Most importantly, Mrs. Ryan and the students seemed to believe that reading and writing were important for personal and academic success.


Although evidence of these students' engagement in future literacy activities has yet to be observed, perhaps these poetry performances taught students to analyze text, author and purpose more critically from their own experiences as writers and performers for a live audience. Poetry also created safe places for students to express and renegotiate selves, guided by a teacher who believed in their successes as students and as human beings. Finally, poetry writing and identity performances by some students suggest that the processes of creating and performing literature provides opportunities for students to interrogate school-sanctioned "intelligences" and challenge beliefs about literacies and the purpose of literacy learning in the academy.

The students poetic texts and performances remind literacy educators that literacy is more than reading or writing words; literacy learning is tied up with identities, cultural expectations and rhetorical situations. Further research that considers how oral presentations help students think about writing for specific audiences is needed. Also, how might students writing processes and products change (if at all) when required to write for public audiences? Both oral and written literacies were valued in Mrs. Ryan's classes as she taught students how multiple literacies can effectively work together.

Poetry writing encouraged students to critique cultural constructions that affected their personal identities. Although some students attempted critiques in poetry, Mrs. Ryan did not appear to guide students toward critiques of cultural constructions of race, gender and class. Although successful programs and critical instructional methods have been documented, current literacy researchers have infrequently reported on teacher interest or concern with critical literacy instruction. If critical literacy methods and curricula are valued by educators, further descriptive research is needed on how educators have implemented critical literacy instruction in school settings where community support for these teaching theories and practices may or may not exist.

At the end of his book on Black youth and Hip Hop, Dimitriadis (2005), writes, "If texts and practices are always in performance, they are open to re-articulation by interested educators" (p. 127). Without extensive knowledge of Hip Hop, Mrs. Ryan found ways to engage students in poetry performances in which student identities and poetic voices could coexist within the culture of the academy. Mrs. Ryan taught canonized texts from a school anthology; however, these were not the only texts read and discussed. The literary canon is constantly reinvented, and students and teachers must continue to contest any perceived canon or school-sanctioned texts by producing their own "texts." Beyond society, culture and school-sanctioned literacy curricula, it is the individual student that matters the most. As educators, we need to provide the opportunity for each student to develop academic literacy skills along with a sense of personal, creative, academic and public agency.

Appendix A. Sample Interview Questions

Guiding Questions for Teacher Interview

1. If you were asked to describe your school community at a national conference, what would you say?

2. In your opinion, what obstacles to effective poetry writing, discussions and activities have you experienced? What adjustments have you made? Why?

4. What are your beliefs about how poetry writing should be taught and how have they changed since you began teaching?

5. One day I observed... Why did this occur?

Guiding Questions for Student Interviews

1. If a relative or friend from another school district asked you to describe your school, what would you say?

2. How do you feel about your writing and presenting poetry?

3. Which poems are you proud of? Why? Did you volunteer to read in the poetry slam? Why or why not?

4.. Describe the differences between your reading class (or Gifted and Talented class) and your Language Arts class?

5. What activities in language arts did you enjoy the most? Why?


Alim, H. S. (2006). Roc the mic right: The Language of hip hop culture. New York: Routledge.

Apple, M. (2004) Ideology and curriculum, 3rd ed. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Bakhtin, M. (1986). The Problem of speech genres. In. C. Emerson and M. Holquist (eds). Trans. V. McGee. In Speech genres and other late essays. (pp. 60-102). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble. New York: Routledge.

Damon, M. (1998). Was that "different," "dissident" or "dissonant?" Poetry (n) the public Spear: Slams, open readings and dissident traditions. In C. Bernstein (Ed.). Close Listening: Poetry and the performed word (pp. 324-342). New York: Oxford University Press.

Delgado, R. & Stefancic, J. (2001). Critical race theory. New York: University Press.

Delpit, L. (1995). Other People's Children. New York: The New Press.

Denzin, N. (2003). Performance ethnography: Critical pedagogy and the politics of culture. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Denzin, N. (1996). Interpretive ethnography: Ethnographic practices for the twenty-first century. New York: Sage.

Dimitriadis, G. (2005). Performing identity/performing culture. New York: Peter Lang.

Faust, M. & Dressman, M. (2009). The other tradition: Populist perspectives on teaching Poetry, as published in English Journal, 1912-2005. English Education, 41, 114-34.

Fish, S. (1980). Is there a text in this class?: The authority of interpretive communities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Fisher, M. (2005). From the coffee house to the school house: The Promise and potential of Spoken word poetry in school contexts. English Education, 37, 115-31.

Forman, M. (2002). The Hood comes first: Race, space, and place in rap and hip-hop. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching. New York: Teachers College Press.

Hull, G., & Schultz, K. (Eds.). (2002). School's out: Bridging out-of-school literacies with Classroom practice. New York: Teachers College.

Jester, J. (1997). Audience and revision: Middle schoolers slam poetry. Voices from the Middle, 4. 43-46.

Jocson, K. (2006). "There's a better world": Urban youth rewriting their social worlds through Poetry. Journal of adolescent and adult literacy, 49, 700-707.

Johnson, E. (2003). Appropriating blackness: Performance and the politics of authenticity. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kincheloe, J. (2004). Critical pedagogy. New York: Peter Lang.

Kinloch, V. (2009). Literacy, community and youth acts of place-making. English Education, 41,316-335.

Kinloch, V. (2005). Poetry, literacy, and creativity: Fostering effective learning strategies in an Urban classroom. English Education, 37, 96-114.

Lareau, A. & Schultz, J. (1996). Introduction. In A. Lareau & J. Schultz (Eds), Journeys through ethnography (pp 1-7). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. The Dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lather, P. (1991). Getting smart: Feminist research and pedagogy with/in the postmodern. New York: Routledge.

Lewis, A. (2001). There is no "race" in the schoolyard: Color-blind ideology in an (almost) all-white school. American Educational Research Journal, 387,81-811.

Lewis, C. (2000). Critical issues: Limits of identification: The personal, pleasurable, and critical in reader response. Journal of Literacy Research, 32,253-66.

Low, B. (2008). Slammin school: performance poetry and the urban school. In M. Hoechsmann & B. Low. Reading youth Writing:

"New" literacies, cultural studies and education (pp. 99-127). New York: Peter Lang.

Moje, E. (2000). 'To be part of the story': The literacy practices of gangsta adolescents. Teachers College Record, 102, 651-691.

Pate, A. (2010). In the Heart of the beat. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.

Rosenblatt, L. (1994). The reader, the text, the poem: The transactional theory of the literary work. Carbondale, IL.: Southern Illinois Press.

Smith, M. & Kraynak, (2004). The Complete idot's guide to slam poetry. New York: Alpha

Smitherman, G. (2006). Words from the mother. New York: Routledge.

Somers-Willett, S. (2009). The Cultural politics of slam poetry. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan press.

Wheeler, L. (2008). Voicing American poetry: Sound and performance from 1920s to the Present. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


Department of Middle, Secondary and Reading Education

Valdosta State University
Well, it really makes you put your
   heart into it because you don't want
   to stand up there and look like a fool.
   And just that you can be proud of
   what you wrote. All the other
   classes--this is the first one that we
   read out loud. We would write, but
   we would never read out loud. We
   would write, turn it in, get a grade,
   then it was over. I never used to
   be proud of my work--I got bored
   of it. It's good speaking practice
   when I get to read it as well.

Drugs are bullets
   That shoot
   Your family down
   They could turn everything you love
   upside down
   They feel like holes through your
   heart (Seventh grade poetry,

What's important to me,
   Is when you say I can't
   Just because Iain 't a man
   Believe me I most definitely can.

   You say I'm nothin,
   And ain't worth a cent
   I'll change what you think,
   So you better not blink.

   Just because I'm a girl,
   You think I am weak,
   But I am stronger than steel,
   Someday you'll change how you

   What's important to me,
   Is that you give me respect,
   And that you treat me as a friend,
   And that you don't make me say this

I would walk to the pool or park
   They are only a mile away
   But as hard as I try
   I can only find
   Peace and quiet two houses away

   But now it's too late
   I have moved nine miles away
   And there are no friends following
   behind. (Seventh grade poetry,

I pretend that I am in a college classroom
   I feel butterflies in my stomach
   I touch my pencil, I shake
   I worry that I won't pass
   I cry inside when I struggle
   I am Isabel (Seventh grade poetry,

It's a better way to--not rapping,
   but like poems, you can write about
   anything. Like this paper--you
   could make a poem about this paper
   sitting on the table. It's easy to do.
   You don't have to rhyme or nothing
   to do it.

Be me one day.
   You think it's easy
   No way!
   If you was me for one day!
   You would not last
   In my hood your life will be taken
   away 2 fast (Seventh grade poetry,

   School is prison
   You can't get out
   It is so boring
   That is what it's about

   It's a boring thing
   To keep us all busy
   When you make the teachers mad
   They get all hissy

   When you get a bad grade
   You get a migraine
   When you show it to your morn
   She goes insane

   Then when you show your Dad
   You get a beat'n
   Then he tell you
   You won't be eat'n

   You lay in bed
   You rest and stay
   And think about prison
   The very next day.

Poetry Slam
   I'm standing here today
   Reading you a poem
   I'm scared I'm nervous
   But it doesn't show

   I take my time
   I read it slow
   If I don't
   You won't know

   Thoughts are racing
   Through my head
   My face is flush
   My hands are sweating

   I'm scared, I'm nervous
   But it doesn't show
   I'm standing up here today reading
   you a poem

   Reading you a poem that just may
   change the day.

   (Seventh grade poetry, 2004-05)

Table 1. Profiles of students interviewed

                                       * Literacy
Gender    N    Race               N    level        N

Male      9    African American   13   1            3

Female    14   Caucasian          8    2            13
               Hispanic           1    3            7


* Level 1-Students in Mrs. Ryan's language arts classes who were
also in low- level reading classes.

Level 2-Students in Mrs. Ryan's language arts classes but NOT in
GT or low- level reading classes.

Level 3-Students in GT (Gifted and Talented) AND in Mrs. Ryan's
language arts classes

Table 2. Profiles of students quoted in

           Gender   Race   level

Bryan      M        C      3
Hen        M        A      2
Danielle   F        A      2
Ron        M        A      2
Tara       F        C      2
Chantel    F        A      3
Serena     F        A      2
Isabel     F        A      1
Tyrone     M        A      2
Shameka    F        A      2
Eric       M        C      2
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.