Abstract 7-Volume 8-Number 1, Spring 2013

I Just Want to be Heard: Developing Civic Identity through Performance Poetry

Anthony M. Pellegrino

Kristien Zenkov

Geroge Mason University

Nicholas Calamito

Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools


This paper describes an integrated unit of study conducted with middle school students who—after being asked to consider the profound and potentially nebulous question, “What does it mean to be an American citizen?”—were directed to respond by developing performance poetry and highlighting themes with visual images they created, found, or manipulated. The goal of our project was to engage youth in what might be understood as a noncontroversial exploration of their conceptual considerations of citizenship. But we hoped to engage them in considering the topic more deeply and in new ways. We appealed to the tools of today’s visual culture, which resulted in creative outputs attentive to contentious early 21st century notions of national identity. We present findings and outline the steps taken to develop and deliver this unit to these students and thus aid other practitioners interested in helping young people to cultivate richer concepts of citizenship.

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