Language and Literature Inquiry Cycle

I first read For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood, and the Rest of Ya’ll Too by Dr. Christopher Emdin two years ago, and I was just enamored with the #HipHopEd approach to intentionally creating empowering learning experiences that draw on the intersection of youth culture and education. This book has been a constant reference and has shaped much of my pedagogical musings.

I began to play with how I can draw together this idea of youth culture and education meeting within the inquiry-based framework of our College. At the start of the academic year, I simply spent time connecting with my Year 9 students, as we all do with a new class, and I intentionally focussed on building on from my observations of how they learn, to include observing the youth culture represented in my classroom.

My observations focussed on the following questions:

  • What are my students engaged in beyond the classroom?
  • What piques their interest?
  • What motivates them?

As I observed, listened to their conversations, engaged in conversations about music, shows, books, games, etc. that interest them – not only did I learn a wealth of contemporary pop culture knowledge (and also really feel my age) – distinct groupings began to emerge. Note: although these are grouped into three main groups, however, there is much crossover. Teacher as researcher is truly an adventure in complexity.

Three distinct groupings:

  1. Anime / Gaming Group. This group thoroughly enjoy anime, online gaming (Fortnite, Fortnite, Fortnite), comic books, gameplay theories, and they enjoy playing with alternative theories about the content of these texts. This group also are keen collaborators and deep thinkers. Leveraging on how they collaborate in the online gaming world is truly essential for them to be successful learners.
  2. Hip-Hop, Social Media, and Relationship-Focussed Group. This group create remarkably diverse and downright awesome Spotify Playlists, they have multiple context-based identity projections through various social media platforms, and they are beginning to experiment with the High School Boyfriend-Girlfriend experience. This group loves to share. They regularly are sharing headphones, listening to each other’s music, and debating the reasons why so-and-so said this or that, and collaboratively getting to the nuts and bolts of issues. Leveraging on this love of dialogue and deep thinking about the “why” is so important for their success in learning.
  3. Adventurous and Artistic Group. This group quietly produce insightful, out-of-the-box ideas. They tinker with artistic styles, various text types, and are open-minded to risk-taking. This group continuously push themselves to experiment with new art forms, try new moves at the off-road and single-lap BMX tracks, and push themselves in hobbies to refine their craft. They have albums full of videos analyzing their moves and considering how to improve, images of their developing craft, and folders and folders of their creative work. Leveraging on their ability to watch carefully and quietly, provide time for reflection, internal goal setting, and openness to express frustration and gather feedback when they are ready is crucial for this group of learners.

What appeared to unify these groupings in how they learn is as follows:

  • They need to know why they are learning what they are learning, contrary to popular thought, teenagers think quite deeply about the world and their place in it
  • They need time to consume and analyze the work of others, all the while listening to their playlists – plugged in and focussed,
  • Time needs to be given to ask questions and consider alternative theories, to really get to the nuts and bolts of a text,
  • And, they enjoy creating original work that draws on these ideas with time to draft, gather feedback, collaborate and socially construct their ideas. In the business of learning, creating is of utmost importance as it truly reflects the human quality of creativity and is an opportunity for genuine pride in one’s accomplishments.

In terms of what they are interested in, the scope is so diverse, and the genres so multilayered in terms of possibilities of texts and text types. It is a great time to be a teacher – so much access to diverse resources and so many possibilities for our units of work. I intentionally created a voting approach to choose what key texts we will analyze as a class and then from there, students can transfer these skills to explore connected texts and text types of their choice.

Employing these observations I developed a cyclical, interactive approach to our Language and Literature learning experiences. I created this in order to be really intentional about the skills and ways of thinking necessary at the various stages of our inquiry with the focus on supporting students become increasingly independent as they are aware of the skills and attitudes required at the various stages of our inquiry.

The Year 9 Inspired Cycle and Elaborations:


  • Metacognition

“If you are happy and you know it, metacognition …” – @AcademicsSay

At the center of our cycle is metacognition. Developing self-actualization. Knowing and understanding our very own thought processes. Gaining confidence in our own abilities. Metacognitive reflective thinking processes are drawn upon in each stage of the inquiry cycle. The more we can make this visible, the more effective student learning can become.

  • Engage

Connecting our hearts and minds with the big ideas of our inquiry. Knowing why we are learning what we are learning. Exploring how we can connect with the knowledge, understanding, and skills we acquire on a personal level. Grasping the relevance and the purpose of learning.

  • Consume

Consuming and analyzing the work of others that connect with our big idea. Acquiring and employing analysis skills. Broadening perspectives. Reading, listening to, and viewing a variety of texts and text types. Ask questions. Answer questions. Ask more questions.

  • Remix

Plan and draft an original and unique response to the inquiry and analysis that has occurred through consuming the work of others. Play with new ideas and take time to reflect on these new ideas. Head back to engage and consume, and employ these skills to gather more inspiration for one’s response. Gather feedback. Tinker. Experiment. Play. Think deeply. Consider, how can I create in order to empower and support others? How can what I create extend beyond myself?

  • Create

Settle on an idea and create a unique and original response employing the planning and drafting carried out within remixing a response. Through the creating process remain open-minded to continuous ideation and remixing.

  • Empower

Daily reflection: Have we left people and places better than we found them? All we do, we do for others. Share ones unique and original creations in order to serve and empower others. Consider how one can engage others and transfer the meaning one has made through learning to another.

Although early days, the language of this cyclical approach with diverse aspects of skills required at the various stages is becoming the language of the classroom. The thinking of students is deep and connected to their world. The transfer of what we are learning beyond the classroom and vice versa is simply becoming normal practice. I am becoming increasingly convinced that intentionally pausing and reflecting on the intersectional crossing of youth culture and education is a key to student success and empowerment.

On the last day of term I was able to sit with the class and we reflected on this approach to learning and building on from this reflection, we co-designed a Language and Literature unit that drew together the Language and Literature skills, objectives, and a variety of texts and text types that we can consume and use as a launchpad for remixing and creating original works inspired by the work of others. Students are clear and confident with how they are learning and several have begun to create lessons for our class that will equip their peers with skills to consume, remix, and create. The cycles of empowerment, with metacognition as the constant skill, are beginning in earnest. I’m looking forward to a student-led learning experience of comparisons between Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Channel Orange by Frank Ocean. The key learning I’m told will be focussed on their peers making decisions about how class and status influence how individuals and groups can live and love. I’ll be sure to have my camera, a notepad, and pencils ready.

Featured Image: Record by Heiko Maiwand from the Noun Project.

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