Category Archives: Diversity

Text Options for the African American Read-In

Quote from Jerri Cobb Scott: It is important for all of us to see ourselves in books.When selecting texts to have as part of African American Read-Ins, many people first think of books or poems. What about using plays or dramas?

The works of playwright August Wilson are a good place to start. His play, Fences, won him critical acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. It is currently a Major Motion Picture directed by Denzel Washington, and starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Students can read Fences, then watch the film and compare the two.

Sticking with August Wilson and looking at his play, The Piano Lesson, readily invites students to ask a number of questions—big and small—about the characters, setting, conflict, and symbols in the work. After reading the first act, students learn how to create effective discussion questions and then put them to use in student-led seminar discussions after Act 1 and again at the end of the play. Read more in the ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan, “Facilitating Student-Led Seminar Discussions with The Piano Lesson.”

This lesson from ReadWriteThink.org invites students to explore the things relevant to a character from Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, such as Mama’s plant, to unlock the drama’s underlying symbolism and themes. Students explore character traits and participate in active learning as they work with the play. Students use an interactive drama map to explore character and conflict, and then write and share character-item poems.

If the genre of plays or dramas is too much of a challenge, what if students use both their analytical and creative skills to adapt passages from a novel into a ten-minute play? This lesson plan invites students to read Beloved or another suitable novel. Students then review some of the critical elements of drama, focusing on differences between narrative and dramatic texts, including point of view. They discuss the role of conflict in the novel, and work in small groups to search the novel for a passage they can adapt into a ten-minute play. Students write their play adaptation in writer’s workshop sessions, focusing on character, setting, conflict, and resolution. When the play draft is complete, students review and revise it, then rehearse and present their play to the class. As the plays are performed, students use a rubric to peer-review each group’s work. Because students are responding to a novel with significant internal dialogue and conflict, they are called on to use both analytical and creative skills as they create the adaptation, rather than simply cutting and pasting dialogue.

What dramas or plays written by African Americans have you used?

Cultivating New Voices: A Model of True Academic Fellowship

This post is written by member Joanna Wong. 

joannawongAs a daughter of Chinese immigrants growing up in a working-class Oakland neighborhood in California, I learned to value cultural and linguistic diversity early in life. I also grew up keenly aware of racial and socioeconomic injustices and how these impacted my own and my peers’ schooling opportunities. This consciousness fueled in me a desire to positively affect educational opportunities and academic achievement for historically underserved communities. I began teaching elementary students and participating in educational reform efforts. Feeling as though I held too many unanswered questions, I pursued a PhD in language, literacy, and culture. My research addresses the writing opportunities and experiences of bilingual elementary students as well as teacher preparation to serve culturally and linguistically diverse students.

Days before walking across the University of California, Davis stage in my doctoral regalia, I received notification that I would be joining the 2014–2016 NCTE Cultivating New Voices among Scholars of Color cohort. While completion of my doctoral degree felt like a monumental achievement, the journey forward remained daunting. However, knowing that I would have the NCTE CNV program to support me over two critical years in my transition from newly minted PhD to (potentially) a new academic faculty member filled me with elation and eased many fears.

Over my fellowship years, this generous community of literacy scholars acted as a vital anchor for me. We convened twice each year, at the NCTE Annual Convention in the fall and on a university campus for the Spring Institute. Our meetings included forums for fellows’ research presentations as well as special topics presentations by mentors and other established scholars. These presentations helped to advance my understanding of research and theories in the field. I valued fellows’ and mentors’ advice, openness in sharing experiences and insights, and constructive feedback to advance fellows’ scholarship.

Another keystone of the CNV program is the partnering of a fellow with an established scholar in the field. Working with Dr. Sarah Warshauer Freedman was a dream come true. I had long admired her scholarship in the field of writing research and writing pedagogy. While I was on the job market during my first fellowship year, Dr. Freedman provided support at all phases of the job search, from reviewing teaching and research statements to helping me to prepare for campus interviews. By fellowship year 2, I had joined the Department of Education and Leadership at California State University, Monterey Bay. During that year, I turned to Dr. Freedman for advice on navigating professional relationships and balancing responsibilities within the university. She also supported me in developing a manuscript from my dissertation that examines the relationship between teacher expectations and fourth-grade bilingual Latinx students’ writing development.

CNV is a family of early and established scholars who actively manifest compassion and cultivate humanizing practices in teaching and learning, in scholarship, and within our academic lives. CNV is a model of true fellowship in the academy. I am so grateful to be part of the CNV family.

Dr. Joanna Wong, assistant professor in the CSUMB Elementary Education Program, is committed to preparing teachers to provide culturally and linguistically responsive language and literacy education to diverse students. She grounds her teaching and research in more than 14 years of experience working as an educator in the Oakland Unified School District. 

NCTE Citizenship Campaign, February Focus: Black History Month

handsonglobeThe following post was written by members of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

February—Black History Month—offers an opportunity to encourage good citizenship when it comes to issues surrounding race while still meeting your content standards. To encourage personal citizenship1, discuss with students how they can be friends with and support peers from backgrounds different from their own. Their everyday interactions with people are a way of being a good citizen.

To help students be participatory citizens, have them look at the history of laws and/or current laws and policies that may be unfair to people of color or of different faiths. When it comes to justice-oriented citizenship, students could be asked to analyze and think critically about the laws and policies they looked at before and come up with a variety of solutions.

Grades K–5

For students at this younger age, we think it’s important to encourage them to maintain friendships with children outside their race or religion. Have class discussions about what it means to be a good friend and why it can be a good thing to have friends who are different from you.

Books to consider: The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson or Across the Alley by Richard Michelson

Grades 6–8

Middle school is an age where friendships can be complicated. It’s a great time to discuss with students how they choose friends. At this age they can start to think critically about whether or not their friend group is diverse and why. In addition to thinking about friendship you can have students conduct a mini research project. They can look through their curriculum and see how many black or nonwhite authors they have read in class, or people they have learned about in history, science, or math. This is a great way to look at your own curriculum and see who is represented and to consider why. Students can continue with the research project from the participatory citizen activity above and discuss and analyze their findings. They can determine whether or not they think there is an issue and write an argumentative paper as to why there is or isn’t. Perhaps if they all think there is an issue, they can come up with ways to fix it.

Book to consider: Romiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper

Grades 9–12

In high school students are being asked to do more critical thinking and analysis. Consider having your students examine your school’s dress code. Is it fair to people of all races? Genders? Why or why not? Can they write a proposal for a revised dress code if it isn’t? A research project looking at a person of color would be a great project too. You can use a nonfiction anchor text to help students write the paper while still working on reading skills.

Books to consider:

Other Ideas from ReadWriteThink.org

Note

  1. As in our previous post, we draw on the three types of citizens proposed by Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne in their article “What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy” (American Educational Research Journal, Summer 2004, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 237-269): personally responsible citizens, participatory citizens, and justice-oriented citizens.

 

The 2017 African American Read-In!

“The African American Read-In (AARI) . . . is built on an ambitious yet confident premise: that a school and community reading event can be an effective way to promote diversity in children’s literature, encourage young people to read, and shine a spotlight on African American authors.”

Join over a million readers as part of the Twenty-Eighth National African American Read-In in February 2017! Learn more about what happens at a Read-In in the English Journal article “The African American Read-In: Celebrating Black Writers and Supporting Youth“. This month, look for posts marked with #AARI17.

The ReadWriteThink.org Text Messages podcast “Celebrating the African American Read-In” provides recommendations of both old and new titles by distinguished African American authors who write for teens. Featured books range from historical novels to contemporary explorations of African American life in both urban and suburban settings.

In the ReadWriteThink.org lesson “Analyzing First-Person Narration in Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind” students explore the different facets of complexity in the compelling first-person narrator in Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind.

The lesson plan “I Have a Dream: Exploring Nonviolence in Young Adult Texts” has students identify how Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of nonviolent conflict-resolution is reinterpreted in modern texts, including a text by Walter Dean Myers and rapper Common.

Childhood Remembrances: Life and Art Intersect in Nikki Giovanni’s ‘Nikki-Rosa’“, invites students to read Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “Nikki-Rosa,” and then writing about childhood memories of their own.

This lesson from ReadWriteThink.org this lesson gives students an introduction to Jacqueline Woodson’s verse memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.

Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 is the focus of the lesson plan “Graphing Plot and Character in a Novel“, which invites students to graph the journey of the family while exploring the plot and character development in the novel.

Nikki Giovanni’s poem “The Funeral of Martin Luther King Jr.” is paired with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, taking students on a quest through time to the civil rights movement in the lesson “Entering History: Nikki Giovanni and Martin Luther King Jr.

Listen as Myers shared how his own experiences as a reader shaped his approach to storytelling.

Tune in to a podcast interview with Nikki Grimes where her writing process and what inspires the characters in her books is shared. Also shared is her philosophy about writing for children and how her life has influenced her writing.

For more ideas, see the ReadWriteThink.org Calendar entry for the African American Read-In which includes more lesson plans, classroom activities, and online resources.

Frederick Douglass

Why I Think It’s Important to Know Frederick Douglass

The following post is written by NCTE member Scott Filkins. 

As I prepared to read Frederick Douglass’s autobiography with my 11th-grade students this fall, I thought through what I value about his work, both to frame how I would teach it and to make these ideas part of the conversation about why we read certain texts in a class called “American Literature.”

  • First, it’s an important historical document. Most of my students have not read a first-hand account of slavery, and they have much to learn from the writing of someone who lived under America’s most depraved institution.
  • Second, it’s a memoir of a key American figure. Deeply entwined with the historical significance of the work is its value as the story of a particular man who survived slavery and went on to devote his life to work for its abolition.
  • Third, his autobiography is a literary work rich with potential for discussion of the power of language. Even students who are reluctant to talk about an author’s word choice or sentence structure are easily convinced of the value of this work with a text as beautifully and carefully written as Douglass’s.

These reasons are more than sufficient, both to justify the work’s inclusion in the textual dialogue we call American literature and to give our specific conversations of his autobiography focus and meaning. But the past few times I’ve taught the book (thanks to my endlessly smart colleagues) I’ve been focusing on Douglass’s work as an example of political activism, writing for change. I feel foolish that this isn’t the approach I took in the past, given that ending massive human injustice was in fact Douglass’s goal in writing it.

It turns out that it’s not easy to make this focus central to our study, though. Students have trouble imagining what a historical audience reading the work would have had to feel, think, and believe in order to be convinced that slavery is antithetical to American values.

“How is it not completely obvious that slavery is inhumane?” they wonder. “Why would you have to do all this to persuade someone that this kind of inequality is unethical?” The enormity of these questions energizes students’ study of the text and brings them to appreciate the complex and disturbing significance of the very fact that it had to be written.

Knowing Frederick Douglass as a political activist who used his considerable literate gifts–as a writer, as a reader of other texts, and most importantly, as a reader of his fellow human beings–to make change in the world for the benefit of others is, it turns out, the most important outcome of our shared reading experience with his autobiography.

I only hope that everyone gets the chance to know him this way.


filkins

Scott Filkins teaches in the Champaign Unit 4 Schools. He co-directs the University of Illinois Writing Project and is a doctoral student at Illinois in curriculum and instruction.  Scott is the author of the NCTE publication Beyond Standardized Truth: Improving Teaching and Learning through Inquiry-Based Reading Assessment (2012).