Henze wins dissertation award from AERA

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Adam Henze, who earned his doctorate in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education last summer, has won a dissertation award from the Arts & Inquiry special interest group (SIG) of the American Education Research Association.

Henze said he was earnestly surprised to receive the award, adding he was feeling a little burned out when he learned the news. With the COVID-19 pandemic changing plans of defending his dissertation, much less celebrating with AERA at their annual conference, Henze is extremely grateful that his dissertation is being recognized.

Henze’s dissertation explores various learning communities that use spoken word poetry and hip hop in literacy education within different spaces, including secondary classrooms, elementary classrooms, higher education lecture halls, arts festivals, pop culture conventions, hip hop shows, spoken word open mics, poetry slams, academic summer camps and even a prison chapel, noting the commonality between all these learning spaces is that participants used poetry to explore critical issues like systemic racism, gender inequity, environmentalism and school reform. A focus of his dissertation is on how spoken word serves as a “culturally relevant pedagogy,” meaning that it is a way for educators to include the worldview of their students in their lesson plans. Henze took a creative approach to the research methodology of his dissertation and adopted the same playful tools that poets use such as metaphor, meter and line breaks.

Many educators who recognize why poetry matters have realized that it is a way for students and teachers to get to know about one another better. Poetry is all about identity expression and visualizing an ideal world, so reading and writing poetry can be a powerful exercise for classroom communities who approach the craft thoughtfully.

Adam Henze

“I called my practice ‘(re)mixed methods,’ and I staged my dissertation in a similar way that I stage my other poetry performances. My creative method of mixing poetry and ethnographic writing is the reason I won the award,” he said.

Henze’s primary research interest is studying youth literacies like hip hop, comic books, video games and other pop culture “texts,” because he think it is important that classrooms include the literature that kids love. With the rise of platforms for art on social media, Henze says it’s important to study spoken word and hip hop because they are methods of expression that a lot of young learners love.

“Right now we are seeing the highest number of poetry readership in decades, mostly because teenagers are finding new platforms for art on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. Spoken word is something that literacy researchers call a ‘youth literacy,’ which is any multimedia that students enjoy reading on their own, outside of school walls,” he said.

Henze found his love of studying spoken word and hip hop because he felt very disenfranchised as a grade school student when studying poetry: “All the poems we read in school felt so drab and inaccessible, yet I would go home and endlessly listen to hip hop and spoken word albums. I decided to become an educator and a researcher because I want to be an ambassador for poetry, and this award is encouragement that I created a dissertation on poetry that can engage people.”

“Poetry is vital because it is both the most basic avenue for expression, and yet, the depths you can explore with the artform are endless,” he added. “When I was a teenager I discovered that poetry is a way to be playful with language and hold power over it. I learned that poetry could be an avenue to share my frustrations with the world and use wordplay and jest to subvert figures of authority. When I realized I can be both direct and indirect with poetry, I learned that I can practically do anything with language. In my dissertation I explore the possibility that the elusive quality of poetry is also what scares people about it. A lot of teachers struggle to execute engaging poetry units even though it is the oldest known form of literature. Many educators who recognize why poetry matters have realized that it is a way for students and teachers to get to know about one another better. Poetry is all about identity expression and visualizing an ideal world, so reading and writing poetry can be a powerful exercise for classroom communities who approach the craft thoughtfully.”

Henze hopes this news encourages professors and graduate students to consider using fun, experimental methods in their research, saying he wanted to do something bold and different with his dissertation and is grateful the research committee saw the value of letting him create something that is one of a kind.

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