Too often, classroom English instruction is removed from the concerns and activities of the adolescents we are trying to teach. We know that many of our students are carrying baggage right below the surface. Byron Stringer, the director of the Toe Tag Monologues would symbolically call this baggage a toe tag. Some toe tags can be removed, but others are the real markers that police, EMTs, and coroners place on the toes of those adolescents who die from shooting, bully, drunk drive, abuse, and suicide.
The classic texts are rife with the very issues that modern students face: racism, broken homes, betrayal, substance abuse, and greed. Name a vice in a piece of classic literature, and it exists today. Many of use believe that culturally responsive pedagogy is important in the classroom. Equally important are activities that are empathetic, that break down the emotional barriers that might keep us from really connecting with students who needs us to support them through the actual life threatening challenges of their lives.
R. Byron Stringer theatrical troupe address through Toe Tag Monologues. Through assemblies at schools these young performers bring awareness to the issues that effect the lives of students. In most cases, after a school performance students approach the actors and share with them that one of the stories they just heard is their stories. Byron hears reports for teachers, school counselors, and administrators indicate an increased number of students who open up to them and their friends.
Our goal is to promote the idea that students in classroom settings can write and perform their own monologues. In addition, we promote the ideas that the topics of these monologues exist in young adult literature as well as in the classics. If the issue of body image is to close to a student, then perhaps reading a YA novel that centers on the issue might help them write a monologue in the voice of the character.
This is, of course, not new; however it seems that in the age of constant testing we have neglected drama as way to let students practice speaking and listening through performance. Come watch and listen to these performers as we explore strategies to include more writing that moves to performance in the classroom.