Citation Information

Jocson, K.M. (2005, Feb 05). Teacher as Learner in DV Poetry: Toward a Praxis of Engaging Literacies in Alternative Spaces for Learning. Current Issues in Education [On-line], 8(5). Available: http://cie.ed.asu.edu/volume8/number5/


Teacher as Learner in DV Poetry: Toward a Praxis of Engaging Literacies in Alternative Spaces for Learning

Korina M. Jocson
Stanford University

 


Abstract

In this article, the author reflects on the uses of multimedia literacy and discusses a unique but replicable process of creating a video poem linking her artistic visions with some personal life experiences. Rethinking notions of teacher as learner, the author draws upon particular learning moments to reconceptualize current teaching practices that have implications on pedagogy and curriculum in many of today’s diverse classrooms.


Table of Contents

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Introduction: Teacher as Learner in DV Poetry: Toward a Praxis of Engaging Literacies in Alternative Spaces for Learning

Researchers in the field of education have argued that students learn best by situating what they are learning in what they know or familiar with. Seeing students as agents, they emphasize the use of students’ cultural knowledge as resources in their learning process (Nieto, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Sleeter & Grant, 1991; Gutiérrez, Baquedano-López, & Turner, 1997; McLaren, 1994). In the field of literacy education, some have examined specific aspects of popular culture in learning (Dyson, 1997; Mahiri, 1998, 2004a; Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002), while others incorporate broader uses of sociocultural approaches in theory and practice (Street, 1984; Barton, 2000; Lee, 2002; Gutiérrez, Baquedano-López, &Alvarez, 2001). Pedagogically, they draw on students’ “funds of knowledge” to understand how tapping into local actors such as students themselves, parents and other community members contribute to classroom learning (Moll, 1994). While these works inform us on how to see and actively engage students, they sparsely illustrate how teachers come to know what they know—that is, the process in which they develop their own skills and knowledge in order to teach others about them. An understanding of this process is important particularly in instances that advance teachers’ abilities to connect with students in the learning process and that offer possibilities for more relevant teaching. As a former high school teacher, I realize the value of a unique experience that demonstrates one of these possibilities. In exploring my own learning processes, I offer suggestions for how teachers and teacher educators may utilize the concept of an “agentive self” as a resource in improving learning and teaching practices—both for themselves and their students.

In the summer of 2002, I participated in a free adult Digital/Visual poetry workshop offered by the Digital Underground StoryTelling for Youth (DUSTY) program in Northern California. Newly implemented as the first adult-driven and adult-centered workshop within DUSTY, DV Poetry provided me the space to construct an “agentive self” (Hull & Katz, 2002). There I learned how to situate my life experiences in and through stories that, consequently, grounded my own teaching approaches in DV Poetry—a class for high school youth—at a later time. In this article, I not only reflect on what I learned to create my own video poem, but also describe the processes that helped to integrate my artistic visions with some personal life experiences. Rethinking notions of teacher as learner, I draw upon such learning moments in re-conceptualizing my current teaching practices. Before I discuss this process, however, I turn to recent research on learning and teaching with respect to literacy.

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Conceptual Framework

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger theorize that learning stems from social circumstances (1991). According to them, all activities occurring in certain places and locations such as in “novice-expert” type relationships, or what they call “apprenticeships,” are situated (see also Rogoff, 1990). Employing a Vygotskyian approach to social learning, they develop a broader perspective that differs from past theories and interpretations of situated learning—one that involves the whole person, the activity of that person in and with the world; and “the view that agent, activity, and the world mutually constitute each other” (p. 33). Furthermore, in viewing learning as integral to everyday “generative social practice(s),” Lave and Wenger propose a complex way of examining how participants actually engage learning in and through social practice where power relationships and social structures are present. To them, the notion behind “legitimate peripheral participation” (LPP) offers specific analytic approaches to understanding learning. They write:

The form that the legitimacy of participation takes is a defining characteristic of ways of belonging, and is therefore not only a crucial condition for learning, but a constitutive element of its content…Peripherality suggests that there are multiple, varied, more- or less-engaged and inclusive ways of being in the fields of participation defined by a community. Peripheral participation is about being located in the social world (p. 36).

In moving across domains of practice (i.e. partial to full participation), Lave and Wenger suggest that participants occupying certain “peripheral” locations within the larger social structure utilize LPP as a way of engaging or acting in the world. LPP becomes a way of gaining access to and control over resources; through LPP, participants position themselves in performing various roles within the very contexts they occupy in world. In this sense which is very much in line with Lev Vygotsky’s (1978) notion of zone proximal development, LPP enables “newcomers” to use “peripherality” as an opening to inherent social positions and structures. Though Lave and Wenger provide a greater explanation for how learning occurs, I question to what degree their conceptualization of LPP can be useful in developing newer literacies in what the New London Group (2002) identifies as a consequence of “post-Fordist” times.

One place to begin is the plethora of research on literacy and the role of literacy practice—cultural ways associated with reading and writing which people draw upon in their lives—in gaining access to newer literacies that take place in new literate spaces. Brian Street, for example, has long argued that literacy is ideological and that literacy practices are inextricably linked to cultural and power structures in society (1984, 1993, 1995). He has articulated how and why certain individuals carry out different literacy practices in different contexts by placing emphasis on the social, often complex, nature of literacy. For Street literacy is a social practice that involves “power, authority and social differentiation” and exists within sites of tension between them (1995, p. 161). Building on Street’s ideological model of literacy theory, David Barton and Mary Hamilton propose literacy as a situated social practice, a “powerful way of conceptualizing the link between the activities of reading and writing and the social structures in which they are embedded and which they shape” (2000, p. 7). Two of their six propositions are key to this discussion, that is, “literacy practices are purposeful and embedded in broader social goals and cultural practices” and also that they “change and new ones are frequently acquired through processes of informal learning and sense-making” [emphasis added].

Grounded in Heath’s notion of literacy events—occasions in which written texts are integral in people’s interactions and “interpretative processes” (1982, 1983), Barton and Hamilton use social theory of literacy to provide a comprehensive framework for understanding the coherence between practices, events, and texts. In particular, they see texts as central to events (observable episodes), which arise from practices (unobservable units of behavior) that, in many ways, are shaped by the very events in which they take place. However, in connecting these three salient components, they fall short of providing a clear definition of text(s). On one hand, they identify written texts as mediating tools in literacy activities as in cooking recipes. Yet, on the other, they also point out that in different contexts, there are different literacies involving different media or symbolic systems in such that non-(written) text and text-based image s are present as in film, television, and computers. In their explanation, nowhere do Barton and Hamilton state what constitutes texts, and more importantly how various types of texts configure into literacy as a social practice.

Norman Denzin, for example, asserts that performance text is a genre that dramatizes written texts—with motion and action—to create “multimedia tales” (1997, p. 180). He recognizes that certain cultural texts such as poems and short stories can be read or performed before audiences, co-constructing new meanings and interpretations. In his examination of performing ethnography, Denzin argues that performance texts take many forms, ranging from dramatic, natural, performance science, ethnodrama, to staged readings (p. 185). He also claims that written texts can be performed or supplemented by other devices such as “pictures, slides, photographs, film, audio, music,” etc. (p. 207). Though his contentions are more specific to methodology, Denzin’s work is relevant in illustrating key distinctions between texts, as well as in conceptualizing the social nature of texts as constructed in various contexts. For him, performance texts are messy and exist in spaces that integrate multiple genres. It is in these spaces where new experiences—or what I advance here as “agentive” new literacies—emerge.

In their most recent work, Glynda Hull and Mira-Lisa Katz (2002) point to a new literate space in DUSTY (Digital Underground StoryTelling for Youth) that combines narrative, identity, performance, and technology for crafting self. They describe how young adults and middle school-aged youth use multiple media literacy of digital storytelling to make sense of their past and present lives, and to reflect on their life’s trajectories. According to them, participants not only acquire new computer skills in the process, but also speak about conceptions of self in forging new “agentive” identities. In other words, the stories participants tell simultaneously portray as well as shape who they are, how they see themselves, and what they plan to do in the future. Hull and Katz also claim that for individuals pushed into the margins of society digital storytelling can serve as one medium for “second chances,” a way to change and direct self into new terrains. Through au/oral, written, and visual text-based analyses of participants’ projects, they demonstrate how DUSTY as a new literate space offers possibilities for change either within an individual, in society, or both. What they make explicit is how literacy is ideological and socially situated in nature, yet implicit in their work are ways in which literacy, or how literacy learning for that matter, is shaped by social factors. Here I extend the concept which Hull and Katz have developed to theorize on a kind of “agentive self” that sees teachers as active learners and as social agents in accessing, valuing, and utilizing digital stories. Moreover, I focus on the subgenre of DV poetry to illuminate the power of poems (with stories embedded in them) as agentive tools that can serve purposes beyond personal “second chances.” Elsewhere, Hull and Zacher (2004) posit the importance of after-school programs and highlight DV Poetry as a way to assist youth in forging in/out-school identities as well as fostering relationships across generations (e.g. between mother and daughter).

Similar to the notion of performance text, digital storytelling and poetry as “new literate” genres give regard to the visual, and often musical, texts to provide authors the space for concrete and symbolic images” that add “layers of meaning” to their written texts (Denzin, 1997, p. 27). Through a variety of structured workshop sessions, participants interact and share current knowledge with one another. As Hull and her colleagues have noted, what begins as a personal project for most participants turns into a highly social activity where language, race, class, gender, and experience merge—in creating an alternative space for learning, acquiring new literacies, and evoking possibilities for social change. It is here where my story, my poetry, begins.


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Situating My Learning and Teaching

Background. For years I have looked to prominent poets such as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, Jessica Hagedorn, and Sandra Cisneros for inspiration. Who knew that what began as an experimental outlet for me as an adolescent would transform my whole perspective on poetry and, thus, outlook on life. My passion for poetry became a resource for the kinds of teaching acts I proceeded to engage in later years. Largely influenced by Paulo Freire’s (1970) concientizaçao, my praxis focused on the needs of “the oppressed.” I pushed myself to actively bring about change in my classroom through pedagogy and social action. Though short of being comprehensive, I used multicultural works by various poets and other writers to form the basis of critical discussion and production of student work. I noticed that in these high school English classes students and I were able to tease apart themes that related to our histories, cultures, and experiences. And soon after my arrival at UC Berkeley as a graduate student, I was easily drawn to Poetry for the People and its mission to serve underprivileged populations—students in urban public schools, the homeless, inmates, among others. Even though poets mentioned above had had previous effects on me, it was another poet who helped me to envision different possibilities of poetry in youth’s lives. Her name was June Jordan.

For many, June Jordan was a walking political act, an air of brilliance to whom Poetry for the People on the university campus is credited. She was a professor in the African American Studies department and a leading force in fighting for human rights. Jordan lived and breathed for the people. She imagined, demanded, and fought for equality like no other petite "slim lady" could. 1 She spoke against hate, censorship, and acts of counter-intelligence in renowned newspapers and journals such as New York Times, Nation, and the Progressive. The phrase "slim lady"; was borne around the time rapper Eminem's "Slim Shady" album went gold in 2001.

Nation and The Progressive. Jordan authored numerous books, from poetry to essays and others far too many to mention. And in 1999, I had the chance to meet her beyond text. Over the course of three years through my involvement with Poetry for the People, I learned from Jordan herself what it meant to write, to use words as a form of action in changing the world. I also learned how to be a more conscious human being by giving back and investing in the fight for social justice. The irony in this story, however, is that never once in my life did I imagine such a warrior to grace mine. In the summer of 2002, Jordan passed away without my acknowledging her as such. I was in Los Angeles visiting my family when I received the devastating phone call. “June left us this morning…she died peacefully.” My body felt numb as I contemplated the unimaginable. “She’s gone? She’s really gone?” For weeks I could not stop thinking about the times I let pass, of not letting “June” know about what and how much she meant in my life. Through this grieving period, I realized that I had to do something. I wanted to have a chance to impress upon her symbolically the kind of woman, “soldier,” revolutionary, and humanitarian she was. In a sense, I wanted to use this moment of vulnerability as a form of motivation to craft a “second chance” (Hull & Zacher, 2002; Greene, 1990; Inbar, 1990). Immediately what came to mind were June’s infectious laughs and proverbial statements. Remembering the “good times” made me smile and enabled me to move on. I recalled one instance in 2000 when Jordan and her students, including myself, were discussing the topic of love poetry in class. Pablo Neruda’s work came up; so did hers and eventually her stance on love, revealing that without it (love) “change in the world” would not be possible. Students joined in the conversation and gave examples of self-less figures to build on her point. It was then that Jordan struck a chord in all of us. She noted the endless “fight” necessary—the continued struggle with and for the people—to gain equal rights and justice. She said, “Love is about a revolution, and that revolution is about love.”

Click here for video clip

14 Reasons Why. To create a poetic homage to June Jordan’s life, work, and legacy, I decided to embark on 5-minute video project entitled “14 Reasons Why I Gallop in the August Rain,” a poem which I had intended to be a love poem in 2001. The video begins with its title imprint, while my voice echoes familiar words, “June Jordan always said, ‘love is about a revolution, and that revolution is about love.’” As it fades in , the next image appears, “A Tribute to June, Love, and Other Things” before Sade’s instrumental melody called “Mermaid” is heard in the background, exuding a melancholy mood. The instrumental is enjoined by a series of photographs, depicting rainy and gloomy days. As noted in Denzin’s notion of performance text (1997), I used pictures and sounds to supplement the meaning of my words. The screen dissolves into black to show the title page, immediately followed by my voice reciting the title and the rest of the poem. The text in voice over reads:

14 Reasons Why I Gallop in the August Rain

1. You enchant me with simple words that form complex actions because actions have meaning, and meaning saves lives like you save mine.

2. You inspire me with your fiery Leo passion to change the world as if you own it and have no intentions of selling out to the highest bidder.

3. You galvanize me to explore every thought of every child every time she asks a question or picks up a pen or reads a book.

4. You paint me self-less visions of a raceless and classless society that Martin devoted his life for, and never got to see.

5. You embrace me with your tattooed arms, so so tight, not ever wanting to let go like the 2 murdered boys and the memory of them you carry so they can live on.

6. You balance me with your sometimes endless days because you are always the first to arrive and the last to leave the battlefield.

7. You ravish me with silky whispers to my ear about the perfect Ralph Waldo Emerson quote or the perfect Maya Angelou poem phenomenal.

8. You bolster me to straighten up, never slouch, and stand tall so fellow sisters understand that they are not alone in their struggle.

9. You incapacitate me with symphonic soundtracks like you incapacitate yourself at night when you lay almost sleepless worrying always worrying about tomorrow’s events.

10. You tickle me without the use of fingers or hands because you lent them to a young man so he forgets to clutch his own hands and fingers, and accidentally squeeze a trigger.

11. You hypnotize me with hazelnut eyes that gaze at the homeless with humility only to reach in your pocket, your wallet, pull out a $20 bill and smile without hesitation.

12. You calibrate me with vicious overtones, like pitbulls barking at strangers just to illustrate how attacks and kills happen to students daily in schools.

13. You fascinate me with every piece of advice you offer to every young person because you know that if you don’t, no one will.

14. You enthrall me with every bit of gesture you make, every word you utter because without you, there is no me and without me, there is no you and without us, there is no love.

To fully explore the aesthetics behind the video, I first describe the poem’s origins and thematic connections. I wrote “14 Reasons Why” as a personal love poem during a time in my life when poetry served as a refuge for self-building. I tried to capture visions of horses running freely in the rain, galloping without pause or direction, to express solitude (and fortitude, for that matter) in more positive ways. What transpired were the beginnings of “14 reasons,” first from jotted notes to stanzas that enlisted modest qualities about an individual(s) who I admired. At the very least, my vulnerabilities at that particular time set off the honesty that was to form the basis of the poem. This honesty was partly what I had learned from Jordan as poetry’s “truth”-telling power. After the first line, “You enchant me,” I soon realized the presence of Poetry for the People’s writing guidelines in my writing, particularly the use of strong active verbs and imagery to create movement and evoke emotion throughout the poem. Each line then became one of the 14 “reasons” for love, lines consisting of pronouns “you” and me” followed by real-life details, which for me are key to any revolutionary act.

Indeed, the video’s purpose was to trace the humanistic contributions of past revolutionaries, as well as to touch upon present day struggles in various communities. These very conditions were the “reasons why” I wrote and produced the video poem in the first place. So weeks after Jordan’s passing, I paid DUSTY a visit and formally met the director and his then small staff. Though I had known about the program’s existence from colleagues who had made digital stories, I did not take interest until an adult workshop specific to poetry opened up in July of 2002.

The Production Process. Approximately seven adults of color participated in the two-weekend workshop that covered various activities during the three phases of production: writing, storyboarding, scanning images, web image searching, voice capturing, selecting music, editing, and exporting (see Table 1). Four of participants, including myself, had been involved with youth on some capacity in California public schools. Though several of us came prepared with previously written poems, the entire production process took much longer than expected. During “open” weeknights and weekends, the director and other digital story experts at the center made themselves available for assistance. For all of us, this situated learning context called for forging new relationships with other participants as well as with the center’s staff. As Lave and Wenger suggests (1991), both novice and expert learners interact through LPP to facilitate the kinds of learning taking place. Together we shared prior knowledge to create new ones. Each of us possessing various skills also served as each other’s apprentices in the three stages of the learning process.

Table 1: Stages and Activities in DV Poetry

 

 

Pre-Production Stage

In-Production Stage

Post-Production Stage

Poetry

 

Write
Workshop

 

 

Storyboarding

Brainstorm
Sketch

 

 

Voice Capture

 

Practice/read poem Record poem
Use Adobe Premiere Save files

 

Image Scanning

or Searching

 

Scan photos
Search Internet. Save files

 

Image (Re)Sizing

 

Use Adobe Photoshop Save files

 

Music Selection

 

Download song(s) Save files

 

Editing

 

Use Adobe Premiere Import files
Create video/audio timeline
Insert effects Insert titles & credits
Save files

 

Export Timeline to Movie

 

 

Save all files
Transfer files to CD Transfer movie to VHS & DV tapes

The “Show”

 

 

Invite friends & family Promote program Premiere of movie

Unlike the other older participants, I quickly grasped terminology used during hands-on demonstrations because of my previous experience with technology and video production. Some of my own knowledge about how to operate the same editing program also transferred in the process. Naïve about media production’s many complex stages and activities, however, I shortcut the initial process and later discovered that this shortcut was, really, just shortcutting me. It became more obvious, for example, how constructing a “project timeline” on Adobe Premiere requires time to first learn some basic technicalities and editing tools. I could not have used “transition” techniques such as motion or zoom effects on still photographs effectively without first learning simple functions such as fade in/out , cut , and dissolve.

To create a video poem, I manipulated over 50 web-based images downloaded from Google and other search engines. I re-sized each of them to fit a 480 x 640 format using Adobe Photoshop, while conceiving a timeline that had been broken up into 14 segments (“reasons”). These segments set up the video’s theme, setting, and plot. The first 8 segments were devoted to past figures or revolutionaries who left behind legacies on the world; the last six were focused on present day conditions that affect “oppressed” populations—women, the poor, urban youth, and people of color, among others. Harking back to June Jordan and her life’s work, I used what I know about certain literate skills (e.g., how to compose a narrative) to develop a sense of past and present history. To understand more clearly, Table 2 illustrates how my literacies as a poet and as a digital storyteller are drawn from personal, social, and historical experiences, each tied to particular representations of people, places, and events.

Table 2: Experiences and Literacies in DV Poetry

 

 

 

 

Personal

Social

Historical

Poem

Response to a personal situation

Constructed as a love poem. Influenced by Pablo Neruda & Poetry for the People’s writing guidelines

Tribute to June Jordan, her poetry, and other works

Image

Jose Rizal, Corazon Aquino.
The Philippines Revolution Social Justice Teaching
Ally to students

June Jordan
Poetry for the People Revolution
Social Justice Teaching Activism

Poets, activists, world leaders
Social Inequalities Revolution
Social Justice Teaching
Activism

Sound

Sade - one of my favorite artists

Sade’s songs are world renown

Sade’s “Mermaid” - an instrumental ballad from 1992

To conceptualize my DV poem the way that I did is to recognize the influences of these experiences because each one served as a resource for my own literacy learning (Gutiérrez et al., 1997). Not only did each of them facilitate my own learning, but also informed the nature of how I represented who, what, and how I saw myself in the DV poem. The initial timeline in the Adobe Premiere program did not take very long to complete. I knew right away that I wanted to begin the video poem with Jordan’s portrait and end with images that related to her legacy. What took the most time during in production was the ordering of other images in ways that not only reflected the words in the written poem, but also flowed with the overall connection between love and revolution. Of course, I created a storyboard, but different from the usual pictorial. My storyboard was the result of the actual written poem being color-coded (on the margins) with multiple Post-It notes. Color-coded were the 14 stanzas, which to me was a reminder of the overall video structure and a guide through the editing process. This odd style of storyboarding also contained sketch notes (arrows and the like) to intertwine stories found in each stanza.

Poetic Representations. As “Mermaid” plays in the background, a portrait of Jordan appears followed by the cover of her second to last book, Soldier (2001), and a distant shot of her on the microphone standing in front of UC Berkeley’s infamous Sproul Hall. The words “…actions have meaning, and meaning saves lives…” are heard amidst the tune, immediately followed by “…like you save mine”, a portrait of Philippine revolutionary hero and poet, José Rizal. This specific image leads to a series of others’ that, to me, represent contributions of past and present “revolutionaries” including Rigoberta Menchú, Pancho Villa, Leonard Peltier, Mother Theresa, Toni Morrison, Assata Shakur, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Ché Guevarra, Fidel Castro, The Black Panthers, Third World Liberation Front, Nelson Mandela, César Chavez, Mahatma Gandhi, Princess Diana, Maya Angelou, and Angela Davis. In order to parallel the strengths of these individual figures, I synchronized each active verb—such as “inspire,” “galvanize,” “paint,” “embrace,” “balance,” and “ravish—with each of their faces. I purposely did this as a conscious effort to create more emotion and movement in the visual poem. For each of the seven reasons in the first half of the poem, I used fade in/out to black to ensure that each figure received its due respect and emphasis. Within each one, I used either dissolve or cut to connect images and have a sense of temporal flow. I also added motion effects to give a sense of physical movement.

After the 7 th reason, the focus turns away from figures and into events and situations that have occurred in the past or are occurring in the present. A cue for this shift in focus is visible in the written poem (italicized “phenomenal”). In the video, this subtle mark is followed by an image of Angela Davis before a series of “visions of a raceless and classless society,” including prostitution, child abuse, hate, terrorism, urban youth homicides, homelessness, poverty, police harassment, and schooling inequalities. For me, these images depict day-to-day struggles and, for greater affect in their representation, are purposefully juxtaposed with verbs in reasons #8 to #13 from “bolster,” “incapacitate,” “tickle,” “hypnotize,” “calibrate,” and “fascinate.” Many are visual displays of the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly Oakland, to illustrate one community’s challenges, needs, and hopes, and certainly for more than its aesthetic value also establish a sense of location. Like the first half of the video, I used fade in/out black as well as dissolve and cut effects to connect one struggle to the next. One dramatic effect occurs in reason #9, when my voice not only echoes undecipheringly, but the photographs also explode to portray New York City’s bombings from 9-11. To the quick eye, this echo effect may seem a mistake. However, I actually used the effect to create confusion and chaos, a symbolic remembrance for the twin towers that killed thousands of people. Nearing the 13 th reason, my voice over remarks come together to connect previous images to who I am. The connections here, then, become an articulation of an identity, or what Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain (1998) call identity in practice, as “one way of naming the dense interconnections” of my personhood, not as “independent from but webbed within historical social worlds” (p. 270).

I demonstrate through the connections I make this very notion of identity in practice as I too believe that people improvise certain responses because of or as constituted by their social landscapes. Upon saying “You fascinate me / with every piece of advice you offer to every young person,” a photograph illustrating a specific interaction I had with two former Poetry for the People students from a local high school appears. It is a photograph that was taken by their teacher during one group outing—culminating in an outdoor poetry reading and, in a momentary but pleasant surprise, an electric slide dance performance with four other students—on a random Saturday afternoon in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ironically, it became and still is a part of their school website, not as advertisement for one particular small learning community, but as a product of a collaborative in-class project facilitated by students themselves in 2001. I had no prior knowledge that such an image existed on the Internet. Because I see myself as an ally to students and other young people, the selection of this particular photograph relates to some degree to Hull and Katz’s (2002) assertion that conceptions of self in digital stories are telling of who we want to be as people and our life trajectories.

Finally, the conclusion of the poem focuses on youth, depicting different age groups from different parts of the world. The last photograph before the 14 th reason, of course, is that of BART, short for the Bay Area Rapid Transit, to give a closing sense of location and time. An unwavering sound similar to that of the train is heard in the background as a symbol of time passing. After a moment of silence, once again, June Jordan’s image appears on the screen. Her black and white portrait is then followed by two more during voice over , “You enthrall me / with every bit of gesture you make, every word you utter, every stride you take.” Similar to the progression of the first reason, I drew upon an iconic Philippine figure to represent who I am, “Because without you / there is no me.” I thought that here it was appropriate to have an image of Corazón Aquino, the first female president of the Philippines and widow of assassinated political leader Benigno Aquino. In the photograph, she has her arms up in the air—gesturing an “L” sign with each hand. Back in the EDSA Revolutions of the mid to late 1980s, Aquino led a mass of young and old Filipinos in ousting then-president/dictator Ferdinand Marcos and (arguably) creating a new democracy. The “L” which many of the Aquino followers held as a symbol for this struggle stood for “laban” or fight.

I closed out the last two lines of the poem with quick cuts to an image of June Jordan laughing, followed by a previously seen image of a group of women including Angela Davis before dissolving back into a portrait of June Jordan in a somber pose. After this last image, I used fade to black , on to a text which says “There is no chance we will fall apart / There is no chance / there are no parts,” a quote from a book of love poems called Haruko ( Jordan, 1994)(2) Like the beginning statement “Love is about a revolution / And revolution is about love,” I made it a point to come full circle with the use of another text reflecting Jordan’s impact on me as a woman, teacher, and poet. By integrating various types of texts (see Table 3), I had created multiple meanings with the potential to be interpreted as biographical, allegorical, paradoxical, or even satirical by different audiences.

Table 3: Types of Texts in DV Poetry

 

Verbal Text

Written Text

Visual Text

Spatial Text

Poetry

Reading poem aloud

Listening to instructions

Writing poem

Performing poem with emphasis on voice, tone, body language

Storyboarding

Sharing with others; asking q’s Listening to instructions

Referring back to written poem

Drawing a sketch

 

Drawing a sketch

 

Voice Capture

Reciting poem

Listening to instructions

Reading written poem

Reciting written text from memory

Image

Searching

Asking q’s Listening to instructions

 

Reading computer functions

 

Browsing & Selecting photographs from the web Browsing through photo albums (aesthetics, purpose)

Browsing & selecting photographs from the web Browsing through photo albums (time, location)

 

 

Image Sizing

 

 

Asking q’s Listening to instructions

Reading computer functions

 

Fixing quality of images to fit format of editing program

Fixing quality of images to fit format of editing program

Music Selection

 

Asking q’s Listening to instructions

Reading computer functions

Hearing sound

 

Identifying sound to fit the tone of poem

Editing

Asking q’s Listening to instructions

Reading computer functions

 

Putting images in order (aesthetics, purpose) Using effects (aesthetics, purpose)

Putting images in order (time, location) -using effects (time, location)

 

 

Exporting movie

Asking q’s Listening to instructions

 

Reading computer functions

 

Identifying quality of edited project Evaluating edited Project Revisiting finished project for improvement

Identifying quality of edited project Evaluating edited project Transferring edited project to other formats

 

The “Show”

Talking to/with guests

 

 

Reading poems on display Reading the Show's program

Watching other DV poems on the big screen

 

Performing poems in public, if stage performance is part of showing

Symbolically and aesthetically, the concluding written text leaves much for contemplation. The screen fades to black and provides audience members a moment to reflect. Soon, the credits roll, first with a dedication “In Memory of June Jordan (1936-2002),” followed by a series of production acknowledgements. The instrumental ballad that is still playing in the background begins to fade out as the screen gradually fades to black . “14 Reasons Why” is conceptually mastered and edited at this point.

From the polished edited timeline, the next step for me was to export the entire project into a digital movie, a post-production step that required just as much attention, if not more. The transfer from one format (i.e. computer program) to another (i.e. digital video tape or compact disc) was a not simple process and, as I experienced several times, could end in disaster (i.e. erasing or distorting a final project). Finally and most importantly, all folders containing various files in the computer needed to be saved, copied, and transferred onto at least two compact discs. These post-production activities were essential for memory on the computers’ hard drives to become available for future DUSTY participants.

In December of 2002, “14 Reasons Why” was one of several video poems featured during the DUSTY/DV Poetry public showing at the Black Box Theater in Oakland. Several of my students, friends, and colleagues attended. Afterwards, a few of them expressed to me their interest in learning how to create a DV poem as one means to tell their own stories, a chance to reveal things that had been unsaid and unrecognized. So I invited them to come and visit my class.

(2) In the video the date in the quote is 1993 rather than 1994. I did not realize until after production that I had erred, but did not make the necessary change. It is an example of one (among many) minor glitches that I would return to and polish had I more time. It is also an example of what I would call imperfections in the in production process that denote the complexities of and call the need for more careful post-production work. It is obvious that the finished product isn’t so finished; as an artist, I (re)visit this work and typically identify places for improvement—similar to (re)reading one’s own writing and having the urge to change things as if still in the revision phase of the work.

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Teaching Self, Teaching Others

I am grateful for the time I spent on this project. Though image searching and editing were grueling, time-consuming steps, I have gained invaluable skills that I now use to do other similar projects, on my own as well as with others. DV Poetry and the processes involved in making a video poem are far from simple, as many might like to think including me in the beginning. It takes plenty of preparation and a high level of commitment. Goodman (2003) who chronicles his work with youth and video production in New York cannot agree more.

Today I am one of the facilitators and instructors of DV Poetry for middle to high school- aged youth. After situating my own experience in my own learning process, I understand further what it means to be a teacher with more insight, depth, and innovative ideas. I not only took the chance to create a personal project in a time of grief, but also gained important lessons about self, identity, and reciprocity. Indeed, the project was a “second chance” opportunity to settle lost moments; yet, on a larger scale it also provided me with a vision that far extends into other moments in time. My use of present day struggles to parallel past ones in the DV poem helped to shape an “agentive self” that was a reflection of my personal experiences, social environment, and knowledge of history. The DV poem itself became an “agentive tool”—one which, I believe, speaks and is critical of existing social inequalities and demands the need for social action. Moreover, in line with Rosenblatt’s (1978) transactional theory between texts and readers, what I attempted to capture was the result of the transaction(s) between the various texts in and of my life and the ways in which I read, interpreted, and, thus, represented them in the DV poem. This transaction with me as the artist and producer at the center has the potential to form the basis of the many other transactions, which I would hope readers (viewers) of my text will have on their own and ultimately create other texts. Simply put, it is what I would call a “transaction of transactions” that with its intertextual propensities could inform and guide the production of other DV poems. Understanding this in the process of creating “14 reasons” has had an impact on the way I view myself as a learner and teacher. At DUSTY, I am a better teacher because I know from first-hand experience what this kind of production calls for. More importantly, I am a hopeful teacher believing that, in spite of corporate media’s commercial appeal, media systems and technologies can still offer endless possibilities for young people. Though seemingly on a rather small scale, DUSTY provides that needed space for participants to situate their vision, creativity, and experience into a personal project while simultaneously tackling macro-level issues.

DV Poetry is no easy task. To produce a written poem, add voice, select music, search for images, edit a video, and export a movie require much preparation. The processes involve a handful of skills including storytelling, storyboarding, multi-tasking, and manipulating computer programs, while requiring creative flexibility, patience, and most of all interactive social exchanges with others. DV Poetry as an activity manifests the conceptualization of literacy practices situated within a very complex and multi-layered literacy event. As a pedagogical “third space,” DV Poetry allows for hybrid literacies to intertwine various types of texts, resources, and experiences (Gutiérrez et al., 1997). Drawing on the personal, social, and historical, what I have illustrated through my own learning is that the likes of DV Poetry offer a way to look within as well as develop an “agentive self.” Though far from exemplary, my experience demonstrates the many possibilities of using this particular medium to invigorate curriculum and further incite students’ interest in their own learning. It is one approach to teaching and learning that other classroom teachers and after-school instructors can and should take advantage of. More importantly, as I have shown, it is one approach that leaves plenty of room for experimentation, that is, the creativity in the context of not only producing texts, but also finding innovative ways for teachers and students to explore together their abilities to think, read, and write (broadly speaking) more critically.

From my own observations and experiences at DUSTY, I admit that the variety of tasks and skills which DV Poetry demands of its students—to access and explore in the production of a quality video poem—can be quite nuanced and jarring at times. And, as I noted earlier, those who have some prior knowledge of technology like myself are not even excused from experiencing this. Clearly, I too along with others had to constantly revisit different computer programs and repeat steps in order to refresh multiple skills and knowledge involved in the process of making a DV poem. As a teacher in the program, I believe that is important to openly share the complexities in my experiences with students and impart onto them that the making of “14 Reasons Why” was made possible by of the collaborative influences of and input from others there. My story as part of my current pedagogy, in turn, has become one way to introduce the sophisticated aesthetics of DV Poetry. It is my hope that within this present story other teachers would see the value of their own participation in the learning, to introduce similar/different complexities and provide students the resources necessary to access various literacies and the skills associated with them. After all, that is the quintessential “third space” that we as progressive educators maintain and often strive to have for learning to take place in our classrooms.

In March of 2003, “14 Reasons Why” was featured at the 8 th Annual Women of Color Film Festival in Berkeley, California. There I told the same story and imparted a similar message in hopes of tapping other “agentive” selves. In April of 2004, I found myself inside 10 th grade English classes comprised mostly of students of color. There I referred to my written and video poem once again as a teaching tool to assist emerging poets in their writing process. Many of the students composed poems and entered them for competition in the inaugural June Jordan Poetry Prize Contest. The second place prized winner announced in May that year was a student in one of those classes. As Mahiri (2004b) puts it, “talking the talk” in research on teaching is one thing, but “walking the walk” is another. Hands-on experience in DV Poetry exposed me to a variety of tasks and complexities in learning and teaching that otherwise would have been missed without reflection and action.

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Author

Korina M. Jocson

Korina M. Jocson is an educator and researcher interested in adolescent
literacy, poetry, youth media, and urban schooling. She completed her
doctorate in Language, Literacy, Society, & Culture from the University of
California, Berkeley in 2004. Currently, she holds an AERA/IES postdoctoral
fellowship at Stanford University¹s School of Education. Email:
kjocson@stanford.edu.

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