I was recently talking about Kwame Alexander’s Newbery-winning book The Crossover with my eighth graders. My students were really into the story and loved the rhythm of the poems.
It was one of my favorite books of 2014, but I waited until April to share it because, as I casually mentioned to one of my classes, it’s Poetry Month. One of my more vocal students retorted, “So in May are we just going to stop talking about poetry?”
I initially laughed off his comment but he would not be dissuaded. He said, “No I’m serious. That’s a legit question.”
His insistence gave me pause.
Have I, in my enthusiasm for all things poetry during the month of April, inadvertently communicated to my students that this genre of writing only deserves attention one month of the year? When May first rolls around, do I pack up the Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Sarah Kay, and Emily Dickinson until next year?
Is this a side effect of other month-long celebrations as well? Black History Month? Women’s History Month?
So this year, Sarah Kay’s beautiful new collection of poetry, No Matter the Wreckage, is not going into hibernation in my classroom on April 30th. I invite you to join me in making an effort to keep poetry alive even though “Poetry Month” is over. On February 28th, let’s not be done exploring African American literature even though the calendar says March is about to begin. And when March ends, let’s not stop reflecting on the role of women in history.
These month-long observations are meant to raise awareness in corners of our literary realm that are too often overlooked, but it would be even better if we found a way to turn that month-long awareness into a curiosity and passion that spans 365 days of the year.
In 1974 the Conference on College Composition and Communication first adopted a statement affirming students’ right to “their own patterns and varieties of language—the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style.”
Since that time this statement has gone through revisions, and related statements have been developed. If students’ right to their own language is challenged where you teach, consider sharing these resources with your colleagues and system leaders.
Teachers need continued support and professional development to enable all their students, including their bilingual students, to succeed. Teaching linguistically diverse students requires a skill set which many teachers may lack. What supports does your school offer to help you build such skills? What supports do you still need?
“Ensure comprehensive literacy education that builds upon the cultural and linguistic experiences students bring to school.”
— 2015 NCTE Education Policy Platform
The African American Read-In has been around for 25 years and over those years more than 5 million participants have taken part in events across the country that celebrate the work of African American authors. But as David Kirkland explains in this video, the Read-In is so much more than a simple celebration of books.
“The Read-In is beginning to add more voices into the conversation. . . . It’s taking the idea of democracy and it’s living it.”
Join over a million readers as part of the Twenty-Sixth National African American Read-In in February 2015! The Read-In is sponsored by the Black Caucus of NCTE and NCTE. Throughout February, schools, churches, libraries, bookstores, community and professional organizations, and interested citizens are urged to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month by hosting and coordinating Read-Ins in their communities. Hosting a Read-In can be as simple as bringing together friends to share a book, or as elaborate as arranging public readings and media presentations that feature professional African American writers
The first event was scheduled for a single Sunday afternoon in February, now it happens across the country all month long. You can learn more about how to start a read in here. And you can find a list of examples of how others have done Read-Ins here. Listen to an interview with AARI founder Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott, NCTE Deputy Executive Director Mila Fuller, and NCTE member Jennifer Watson as they talk about the 25th National African American Read-In: “A Opportunity to Expand Perspectives.”
The following links can get you started and provide resources as your students read and explore the works of these African American writers.
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. The ReadWriteThink.org Text Messages podcast “Celebrating the African American Read-In” by 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.
How will you be celebrating the African American Read-In?