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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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?
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DR. ANN MARIE SMITH
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
Your family down
They could turn everything you love
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
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.
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
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