Word-slam was used with our high school urban students as instrument and method to elicit engagement with learning and develop agency through personal storytelling. The word-slam text (as it appears on YouTube and in hard-copy format as well) was chosen due to its being a personal story (of which we are all experts), an alternative, artistic and critical form of text that our students could relate to directly as the format and content were relevant to their lives and experiences. By using the text as a mentor text and studying the author’s craft together, students were able to write, rewrite and develop their own word-slam stories, carving out a space for themselves to be seen and heard.
Keywords: Word-Slam, Urban Youth, High School, Engaged Learning, Personal Stories, Agency
This paper describes the experiences and reflections of two scholars as they began an ethnographic research project attempting to rethink and re-imagine possibilities of learning/teaching with highly vulnerable students in an inner city high school. The work is rooted in critical theory and presents ongoing reflection and action regarding the students’ as well as the researchers’ mindsets, practices and interactions. Analysis of the data promoted the realization that voice in underrepresented groups resides in counter-narratives that must become part of the educational discourse in order for disenfranchised students to embrace school learning.
When we (those who can do school well) negatively label our students (to ‘their’ benefit for special services, we say), they become that label and often cannot shake it from their own consciousness or from the eyes of society for the rest of their lives.
Can we possibly find a better way to serve our students through practices of positive acknowledgment, respect and inclusion?
In E.L. Brown & P. Gibbons (eds.) International Advances in Education: Global Initiatives for Equity and Social Justice, Vol. 2: Ethnicity and Race, pg 285-308. Information Age Publishing, 2011.
Under the prevailing deficit approach, students who are different from mainstream in terms of race, ethnicity, language, appearance, sexual orientation, children who come from low income families, from the wrong side of the tracks, or those labeled with any kind of ‘dis’ability, are considered less able to succeed in school. But the diversity of students can be used to enhance teaching and learning if we allow voices, experiences, lives, interests and strengths from outside of school to be brought into the school discourse. A pedagogy of abilities acknowledges and makes use of the myriad colors in every classroom to paint possibilities of meaningful education for all students.
It sounded too good to be true when I first heard about the Tel-Aviv School in a short televised report: inner-city children from all over the world are thriving within an inclusive, accepting pedagogy, respectful to all and lead by empowered teachers? Long term research documented the processes and products of the school and the children and proved that by rethinking schooling and its traditional mechanisms, we can find a better way to reach and teach all students. No excuses.