Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

One of my colleagues teaches the novel The Namesake, and many of the students give it rave reviews. One of my students read it over the summer, and she stated that it is the best book that she has ever read. 

Now, this definitely is not my type of book. There really is not a climax or any real drama; it’s a straight forward story about a guy named Nikolai Gogol who is dealing with the conflicts that are involved with assimilation. His parents are also dealing with assimilation and are trying to cling to their  traditional Indian culture. Nikolai pulls away from his family, but we see him make a full circle when he returns to his family. This is a true coming of age story.

There was not much that I could relate to in this story, yet I was able to empathize with the characters. It was great to be able to get a glimpse into what could happen when a person tries to assimilate. After talking to many of my students whose parents have immigrated to the United States, they could definitely identify with Nikolai. However, I saw Nikolai as a very weak character who never followed his own heart. 

My experience with this book and the experiences of many of my students with this book are quite different, and I really believe that it is about relate-ability. I had in-depth conversations with a few of my students who loved this book, and they both had immigrations experiences in their backgrounds and totally got this book; they could relate to it. 

With this in mind, I am offering my students the opportunity to read books that they can relate to. I want them to fall madly in love with reading by first reading books that they love and can relate too, and eventually, I am hoping that they will evolve into readers who read all types of book, about all types of people and cultures, in order to be well-rounded people who have a whole lot of empathy for all types of people and experiences that make up this vast world in which we live.

A student asked me why did I finish a book that I did not particular like, and I told him that I read it in order to be included in conversations about this book. But, after much thought, I realize that I also finished this book, because I value other people’s stories and experiences. 

If you value the experiences of others, read this book!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Today, another Black man was shot and killed by a cop, Terence Crutcher, and I felt the need to write a blog about this book. I hope that there are teachers who will have the courage to share this book with their students in order to have or continue to have the courageous conversations that are needed... I believe that our schools can play a role in healing this land.

This book is about police brutality, race, and courage....

A Black teenager, Rashad, is wrongly accused of stealing and is severely beaten by a cop. A white student, Quinn, who attends the same school as Rashad, witnesses the beating and personally knows the cop who does the beating. Quinn must decide if he will tell or not. The reader is allowed to hear from both Rashad and Quinn and is also allowed to see the complexity of race and racism that is plaguing this country.

Yes, these things need to be discussed in schools, in a safe environment, where students are able to express their thoughts and get their feelings out. Also, schools can be a great place for students to learn to hear others' opinions and respectfully agree and/or disagree.

This book is written in a manner which is engaging, yet accessible, and I am praying that teachers will be courageous enough to share it with students and start the healing that our country needs.

Y’all read this book!

By the way, if you are in DC on Saturday, swing by the National Book Festival to meet one of the writers of this book, Jason Reynolds.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill

I was taking to a well-read and respected friend, Gary, and he was telling me about this revolutionary guy named Napoleon Hill who wrote the book Outwitting the Devil. Many people, like me, may be very familiar with Hill’s more famous book Think and Grow Rich, and be less familiar with his name. So, when Gary stated, Napoleon Hill, I had no concept of who he was talking about. However, when he said the author of Think and Grow Rich, I instantly knew he was talking about. (I find it fascinating how some people’s work supersede their name.)

I ventured into reading this book with high expectations 1) because it was recommended to me by someone whom I truly respect and 2) that friend told me that it was a book with ideas similar to the The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, a book which I live by. 

Napoleon is basically talking about how our thought life and fear, procrastination, anger, and jealousy keep us from living our best lives. He paints this picture of the ‘other self’ that we must surrender to if we want to live our best lives. The ‘other self’ is when we give up the fear, procrastination, anger, and jealousy and follow our instincts to live out our purpose on this earth. 

However, the top three things that the devil uses to entice us are food, sex, and talking to much to impress others or to give unsolicited advice. Food is directly related to fear; people will not control what they eat and are consistently fearful about their health. He talks about the idea that the pursue of sex tends to lead people to procrastination etc. And, he talks about the danger in talking to much which leaves to anger etc., and we learn by listening.

In this book, Napoleon writes as if he is interviewing the devil, and I do not believe that the devil would reveal his secrets of how he deceives us, but....I overlooked the writing style and focused on the content and thoroughly enjoyed this book.

This is one that you may want to put on your list if you are on a growth journey.

Happy Reading!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Book Love by Penny Kittle

Now, I will never be super critical of a person’s writing, because I know the vulnerability that comes with putting thoughts on paper. However, this book captured my attention but did not hold it. It was not the writing style at all, but it was the content.

Penny gives some good reasons why we should give students choice in what they read such as developing stamina for college and beyond. But, the main point of the book seems to get muddled down in a whole lot of information that I could not follow.

I am thinking that this might not be a book that a teacher would read from cover to cover, but it may be a book to use as a reference if a teacher wants to read more about how to do a book talk or how to respond to questions? Or maybe this is for someone who is new to teaching, and the person may want a lot of information on different topics related to choice reading?

Not my favorite book, but I think that it has value.

By the way, I am curious to know what you think about the cover?


Monday, August 8, 2016

Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond

My people, has there ever been a time when you knew something with your whole heart? You tested it, and tried it, and you knew that it worked. However, when you talked about it with people, it sounded like emotional talk, so you just kept it to yourself.

Well, this books confirms what I know to be true. All children, but especially culturally and linguistically diverse students need a little bit more than just the curriculum when it comes to learning. I know that many people, because I am one of those people, who need to be prepped for what I am about to be taught, I need time to process, I need time to share the ideas with others, and then I need to reinforce the ideas with practice. These are the things that Zaretta speaks about in this book, and she has brain research to back it up.

Zaretta gives a definition of culture and it’s not about race, but it's about what people do: “Culture, it turns out, is the way that every brain makes sense of the world. That is why everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, has a culture.”

She also goes into how we have a system that causes some students to be dependent learners, but we can help them to be independent thinkers by using brain research to inform our teaching. For some folks this is going seem like so much, but If we would think about how we treat people who visit our homes: we make them feel welcome, we talk and listen, we cater to their needs etc. right? Well, that’s sort of how we should treat our students; we must go the extra mile to make students, especially those who have been systematically marginalized, feel like they belong and that they can learn.

Zaretta is challenging people who work with children to do the “inside-out work required: developing the right mindset, engaging in self-reflection, checking our implicit biases, practicing social emotional awareness, and holding an inquiry stance regarding the impact of our interactions on students.” And, she offers suggestions on how to do this.

This is a well-written, easy read with suggestions that can be implemented in a classroom right away. Also, each chapter has discussions questions and a list of books that can be read if you want to know more about the particular topics discussed in that chapter.

I totally believe in the ideas presented in this book, because I have tried them, tested them, and they work.  Reading this book, I saw many areas where I need to improve in order to reach more students. Have no doubt about it, I will be reading this book over and over again, taking notes, discussing the ideas, and implementing many more of the ideas in my own classroom.

If you work with just one or many students who are culturally and linguistically diverse, READ THIS BOOK!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

"Readers are made, not born!”
When I was in graduate school, one of my professors talked about the idea that we needed a goal as literature teachers.

After much thought, I decided that I wanted every student to love reading as much as I did. To this end, for the past eighteen years, I have been teaching literature with my whole heart with that goal in mind. I read and read and read always looking for books that I can introduce to my students. However, after reading this book, I have a new goal: to turn students into lifelong readers. People who don’t just read every now and then, but people who read to make sense out of life, to find the best deal on a car, for pleasure, and people who pass this love on to their children.

I can hear that same love that I have for reading in Donalyn’s book: The Book Whisperer. It comes across that Donalyn loves reading and was lucky enough to marry a man who loves reading as much as she does. I just love how Donalyn abandoned the idea of teaching one novel with tons of worksheets to talking to students about book, allowing students to be very honest about where they were as readers, doing authentic assessments, sharing some of her struggles with reading with her students, and basically fostering a classroom where students see the value of reading.

Nothing makes me happier than running into a former student, and she saying to me that she found her Teacake. Of course she is referring to Teacake from the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. With this book, I would talk to the students about ideas such as a woman finding her voice and how the message of this book was revolutionary for the time in which it was written. Oh, the teaching of this novel would make me so happy, and I hope that it made my students happy and want to read.

After reading The Book Whisperer, I wonder how many of my students actually loved Their Eyes Were Watching? I am wondering if this book turned some kids off? What if I had given the students choice in what they read, would I have reached more students? Caught up in my own love for this novel, I never stopped to ponder these ideas. I would give the assessments and move on to the next book that I loved.

This book made me eager to go back to my classroom and share my blog with my students so that they can see how much I love books. I can’t wait to hear about their experiences with reading and hear about the books that they love to read. I am looking forward to working with the school’s librarian to ensure that students know exactly what is available for their pleasure. A whole lot of things will be done differently this coming up school year.

Now, I must admit that while reading this book,  I thought that Donalyn must be a White, middle class teacher who teaches students very similar to her. She never mentions the importance of culturally, diverse books. She also does not mention much about grading, and we all know that those report cards go out four times a year and a teacher is suppose to give grades. Also, she mostly talks about sixth graders, and there may need to be some modifications for a high school classroom. (Look for my book for high school teachers.)

My People, I love this book soooooo much: it made me reflect on my love of reading and how to make sure that I convey my love for reading with my students and hopefully that love will spill all over them.

If you are a teacher, read this book. If you work with children, read this book. If you love to read, read this book. If you have children, read this book.


Monday, August 1, 2016

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Many teachers religiously teach Huckleberry Finn and many other American classics. I couldn't remember if I had ever read it before, and thought that maybe I should read it in order to participate in those scholarly discussions that literature teachers love to have.

My people, I started reading it and was not feeling it at all. However, there have been many books that did not grab my attention right away, but I fell madly in love with them as I continued to read. So, I kept plugging away at Huckleberry Finn. After five weeks and only getting to chapter three or four, I decided to give it up.

First of all it is boring. The storyline nor the language is captivating. The ’N’ word seems to be used unnecessarily. I have no problem with the use of the ’N’ word in literature if it is trying to convey some type of message. However, in Huckleberry Finn, it seems to be used just to be used.

After I finally decided that I would give this book up, I have thought a lot about this book, the literary canon, White superiority, high school students, and culturally relevant text.

I need to ask these rhetorically questions: Why or do folks love Huckleberry Finn? Are there people who pick this book up to read for pleasure, or did people EVER do that? Was it ever relevant?

Who actually decided what books should be in the literary canon? I wonder if it was the same type of folks who wrote The Constitution of the United States and decided that my people and I were not quite human? The Constitution has been amended several times, and I am wondering why we have not amended or abandoned the entire idea of a literary canon?

There are soooooo many awesome books out there; I can not even began to imagine trying to narrow down all the wonderful books to one list that everyone must read or die trying.... But if I had to select a few books that I think everyone should read before he/she dies I would select Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, In Darkness by Rick Lake, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs, Between the World and Me and The Beautiful Struggle by Te-Nehisi Coates. However, if you asked one thousand other people, you would more than likely get one thousand different answers, and who would actually be correct?

Schools have been teaching books like Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and the Great Gatsby as the American Classics. But do you notice what they all have in common? All White main characters, written by White people, and most of these books do not have characters of color. So, if schools have mainly been focusing on these types of books forever, isn’t this placing more value on White folks stories, and basically sending a subliminal message that other folks stories, Native Americans and African American etc. stories, really ain’t part of the American story. And, if we have been sending this message forever, isn’t it about time that schools and the country make a conscious shift to be more inclusive and to give every American story value.

"I, Too, Sing America" 
by Langston Hughes 

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen 
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well, 
And grow strong. 

I'll be at the table 
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,”

They'll see how beautiful I am 
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

Now, I believe that even if a student comes to high school with a love of reading, I think that the high school curriculum turns many students off.... Many stop reading, many read what the teacher assigns and read for pleasure on their free time, and some try and try and try to read those assigned books thinking that they will be let in on some type of secret that will help them to fall in love with the American classics and live happily ever after.

However, I am proposing that high schools give students more choice or complete choice in what they read. That teachers find a way to convey their love for reading by actually talking about books, visiting the school or public libraries, having writers come into the classroom, or even skyping with authors. I know there is a place for rigor, diversity, and a love for reading in the high school classroom.

My people, there are so many culturally relevant text out there.... Text that will make students fall in love with reading, and stories, and cultures, and people. And, I believe that there is a place in today’s classroom for text that actually interest students.

So, My People, I would never deny a student the opportunity to read Huckleberry Finn, but I definitely would never make it a required reading in my classroom.....

One day, if I just can’t find anything else to read, I may try Huckleberry Finn again. It’s been read for years; it must be great right? (Inserts sarcasm!)

Happy Monday!!

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