LEARN Marginal Syllabus (February)—Praisesongs of Place: Youth Envisioning Space and Place in a Literacy and Songwriting Initiative

February 03, 2020
By Christina Cantrill

Our February reading for the 2019-20 Literacy, Equity + Remarkable Notes = LEARN Marginal Syllabus explores the multiliteracies among youth of color who constructed tributes to the city of Detroit and envisioned strengths in their communities. Researchers Vaughn W. M. Watson and Alecia Beymer write about the after-school Verses Project at Detroit’s Community Music School. This article describes the multimodal processes of young writers as they compose in a genre the authors describe as “praisesongs of place.”

This is the fourth month of LEARN 2019-20, a Marginal Syllabus co-developed with the National Writing Project (NWP) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Each month of the 2019-2020 academic year, we’ll collaboratively read and discuss an article, published in four different NCTE journals, that investigates the intersection of literacy and equity. Refer to the the 2019-20 syllabus for information on all the annotatable readings, which will go “live” on the first Monday of each month, along with related events hosted by the National Writing Project.

February topic: Praisesongs of Place as Genre and Stance

In their writing journals, participants envisioned possibilities of greatness in their city, propelled by their own future contributions of words and music to Detroit and also through ways those artistic endeavors might spur and inspire their community to create civic and political change.

“Praisesongs of Place: Youth Envisioning Space and Place in a Literacy and Songwriting Initiative”

As part of our close study of this text, Vaughn W. M. Watson and Alecia Beymer joined the Marginal Syllabus team to talk about their article.

In February, we read about youth composition practices that imagine possibilities for Detroit, a place where vacant neighborhoods and revitalization initiatives tell many different stories about economic decline and renewal, love of community amidst change and uncertainty, as well as belonging and strength. Watson and Beymer’s article studies the literacy practices of youth engaged in a soulful form of composition enacted through their participation in the Community Music School’s Verses Project. In that program, youth moved between classrooms and recording studios, studying the music of the past in order to write instrumental performances, songs, and speech about envisioned futures and views of hope. The authors describe how the praisesongs youth authored in their journals have the potential to inspire civic and political change.

This article testifies to the ways in which place-based, community-focused writing can support youth as they enact constructive stances toward contemporary problems and possibilities. Youth participation in multimodal artistic design and expression is a means of engaging with, coming to understand, and envisioning new opportunities for space and place. Watson and Beymer’s research article details the conceptual, methodological, and facilitative moves necessary to support youth in constructing identities and new educational possibilities through activities that evoke both critique and praise of their city.

Join the Annotated Conversation

We invite you to read “Praisesongs of Place: Youth Envisioning Space and Place in a Literacy and Songwriting Initiative,” and annotate the text with your own thoughts, reactions, and questions. Annotations may be added using the web annotation tool Hypothesis. To add your own annotations, as well as to respond to others, sign up for your free account.

Share your annotations as you read or any time throughout the month of February. We also encourage you to use this reading and the opportunity to annotate however the Marginal Syllabus best suits your interests — organize a study group among colleagues, bring a class you are teaching to participate in this online discussion either publicly or privately, engage as an individual, or connect this text and conversation to other interest-driven activities.

Image Source: VERSES: Exploring Literacy through Lyrics and Song, Community Music School-Detroit