Doing Research and The 2016 NCTE Conference

If you’re interested in research, HGSE has an abundance of resources and grants to help you make conducing and presenting research a reality. First, there plenty of ways to present research within the Harvard community, including at the Alumni of Color Conference in the spring and the Student Research Conference. Additionally, there are ways for students to get involved in faculty research or to do their own research. If you have a conference in mind that is off campus, or even in a different state, don’t let that discourage you. This year, I continued my work with a professor from my undergraduate institution and presented at the National Council of Teachers of English conference with the help of grants. Below is my NCTE experience; I highly recommend getting involved with research and attending a conference.

At the end of November, I presented at the annual NCTE Conference in Atlanta, Georgia alongside Dr. Susan Weinstein of Louisiana State University. Our presentation discussed the value of implementing spoken word poetry as central pedagogy in the classroom—not simply throwing some in on the side, or excluding it altogether. The premise of our work is that youth spoken word poetry presents rich material from which students can study culture, current events, personal identity formation, and attributes and functions of text. Additionally, spoken word can be studied in its written format via transcripts, as well as in the traditional oral format.

Our research pulled from modern-day examples, including “Kaona” performed by Jamaica Osorio and Ittai Wong in Hawai’i, which incorporate traditional language, historical references, and the passage of and importance of holding onto language. Performed by youth poets, this poem allows students to discuss connections to culture and language, and it gives them an example of literature created by youth. As articulated by Dr. Susan Weinstein, this piece is “carefully crafted to educate and affect the audience on intellectual, emotional, sensory, and even kinesthetic levels.” The other two featured poems discussed were “Columbusing” and “Knock-Off Native,” which dive into cultural appropriation and who defines identity, respectively. As in traditional canonical literature, all three are rich with allusions, metaphors, and imagery that assists in conveying their important messages. As a passionate supporter of culturally responsive pedagogy and youth authors, this presentation reflected my ideas (as well as Dr. Weinstein’s) about reimagining what is positioned at the center of classroom curriculum, and who has cultural capital.

In addition to presenting at the conference, I was able to reflect on my own teaching and leadership practices, and to immerse myself in learning about how to make education better for the students that I serve. One of the sessions I attended reimagined memoirs in the classroom, and sought to honor Native traditions of storytelling in classrooms serving a predominantly Native American student body. As a Native American student, I was ecstatic to see the many ways that this conference moved beyond the binary to include cultures and student experiences that defied the traditional Black/White lens. Other sessions I attended discussed adolescent literature with LGBTQ characters, instruction for ELLs (English Language Learners) and differentiation, being an advocate for students, and rethinking traditional grading practices. All of the conference sessions built on my work and the learning that I’ve done at HGSE, including ideas about reading development and instruction and lenses from CRT (Critical Race Theory). Overall, I was able to share in my commitment to honoring cultures and histories outside of the dominant narrative, accumulate valuable tools for working in education, and meet several influential and inspiring people from across the education sector.

Kaci McClure is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Language and Literacy program. Her primary passions are increasing literacy skills among high school students; addressing inequity in low-income, largely minority schools; and culturally responsive teaching. A transplant out of Louisiana who originally hails from Texas, Kaci has an affinity for sweet tea, spicy food, and the word “y’all.” She’s also an avid supporter of conscious rap and frybread, neither correlated to the other but both very powerful.