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.

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. 

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

Besides,
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!!






Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


So, I was going on a trip and would be away for about four days, and I took Brown Girl Dreaming with me, because I knew that a book as thick as Brown Girl Dreaming would definitely be enough to keep me entertained during my down time while out of town. However, I started reading this book that is written in verse, and by the time my three to four hour flight landed, I was finished and madly in love with Brown Girl Dreaming

Woodson tells her story of growing up during the 60s and 70s, and she beautifully mingles the importance of the Civil Rights Movement into the telling of her story. However, what I found most intriguing is that Jacqueline, according to her teachers, “was not as smart as her sister.” But, she discovered that she loved to write, and a teacher confirmed that she could write, and now we have the 2015 Newbery Medal earning Brown Girl Dreaming.

I could not stop thinking about the teaching possibilities of this novel with children of all ages. In this book, Jacqueline mentions many of our African American heroes, and I am imagining a teacher reading this book aloud to her students and teaching mini lessons on the African American heroes that are mentioned in this book. Also, Jacqueline learned differently, and I can also imagine a teacher engaging students in talking about their learning styles.

This book was uplifting, beautifully crafted, relatable.... and I know that any person who gets his hands on this book will appreciate the story and the beauty of the writing. But, our little brown children will really appreciate this wonderful book that tells many of our stories in the most beautiful manner.

Jacqueline Woodson.... I appreciate you for telling this brown girl story!




Brown Folks, we got to continue to tell our stories.......



Monday, July 4, 2016

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff


A while back, President Obama read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, and he loved the book so much, it inspired him to invite Franzen to The White House. Well, I can go on and on about Freedom. I love that book so much. It is completely character driven, and the reader gets to know the most intimate parts of each character; we learn why each character does what he/she does. (I just love those stories where the author shows the complexity of being human.)

So, President Obama picked Fates and Furies as one of his favorite books of 2015. Being that I loved his selection of Freedom a while back, I had to give Fates and Furies a try, and it did not disappoint.

I LOVE THIS BOOK!!

The fates part is all about this guy named Lotto whose life takes an unexpected turn, and we learn all about him and his life and what makes him who he is. He marries this girl named Mathilda after college, and in the furies part we learn all about Mathilda.

Through character development, we are able to fully understand each character and have full empathy for both of them. While I was reading this novel, I was wondering if we would have more fulfilling relationships with everyone in our lives if we knew why he/she did the things that he/she did. For instance, what makes a person shy away from the tough stuff, or what causes a person to blow up, or what causes a person to be completely driven.... If we knew these things, wouldn’t this solve a whole bunch of misunderstandings that are caused by many of us assuming why someone does what he does and acting on our assumptions. (However, life typically does not afford us to know many of the things that we would love to know.)

For instance, it appeared that Mathilda just happened to see Lotto and fall in love with him. However, we learn that there is much more to that meeting, and Lotto was never privy to those details. If he had known, would that had made a difference to him and maybe even impacted their relationship?

Based on President Obama’s love for Fates and Furies and Freedom, I would wager that he is a man who is concerned with human nature and what makes people tick. I am betting that in dealing with people, he is a person who seeks to understand before he jumps to a conclusion.... (I believe that the kind of books that we love can reveal a lot about us.)

My people, if you love human stories as much as I do and President Obama, then this is the book for you...

LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS BOOK!

It is good to have a President who reads.....

HAPPY 4TH OF JULY! 



Sunday, July 3, 2016

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher


My people, life has been happening... Happening in a way where there are so many good and exciting yet scary things going on with my life until I have not had the time to get the books that are running around in my brain out on paper! However, I am not complaining, but I am actually trying to enjoy the ride!

So, here is the first book that has been dying to get out!

About a month or so before school ended, I did my choice novel unit with my students, and being that they all have their own computers, they were able to do a great, group project that I will share with you soon.

Anyway, many of the teachers in my school are giving students choice in what they read, and many of the students are reading and loving Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Even in my classroom, many students had read or wanted to read this book. After all of the hype about Thirteen Reasons Why, I decided to give it a try so that I could it discuss it with the students who were reading it.

One of the protagonist, Hannah Baker, has actually committed suicide, and she leaves behind a series of tapes explaining why she committed suicide. It took me a minute to get into this story, because the plot sort of moves slowly with the mixing of Hannah’s story with Clay Jenson’s story, the guy who is in possession of the tapes. However, Jay builds the suspense and makes this book one that makes the reader want to read to find out why Hannah killed herself.

My first thoughts were “Do we really want to expose students to a book that seems to be glorifying suicide?”

At first Hannah came across as a hero to me; the girl who is making her friends and foes feel bad about causing her to commit suicide. However, my students thought that this book was not about Hannah at all but was about the people who caused Hannah to commit suicide. They saw this as an anti-bullying book that can cause a person to think about how his action may effect another person. (I love discussing books with my students.) This was one of those ‘aha conversations’ that caused a shift in my thoughts, and because of that shift, I am highly recommending this book to middle and high school students; it is easy to read, deals with teenager issues, and just may cause a young adult to think about how his actions may impact the life of another person.

Adults, I am also encouraging you to read this book, because Hannah did reach out to a few adults, but the adults seemed to miss or just did not quite understand how to help her.

Heavy, easy read that students seem to love, and any book that gets students to read is a good book!

Happy Summer, My People!!



Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell



My current county introduced the idea of giving high school students choice in what they read. For most of us, this idea seemed quite foreign; however, the Professional Learning Community (PLC) that I am part of decided to give this a try. We worked and worked and created some things, and last school year we gave this idea a try with much success.

This year, I have working to tweak what we did last year by doing some reading on choice novels. While researching, I stumbled upon this intriguing blog. The author of that blog, Pernille Ripp, is arguing the point that students should be given more choice in what they read. The blog was thought-provoking, but the comments about the blog were just as intriguing. People were totally agreeing with Ripp and others were on the opposite side of the fence. And, I must say that I am somewhere in the middle; I value whole class novels and choice novels equally, and right now, I incorporate both into my classroom. Several of the people who commented on the blog were highly recommending the book, The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell, and I felt that I must give it a try.

This book, The Reading Zone is a must read! Yep, I absolutely love this book.

Before I tell my thoughts about this book, let me tell you about a conversation that I had with someone whom I respect in education. He stated "We've been doing this for years." He was referring to the idea of allowing students choice. So, if you have been giving students choice for years, please share your ideas in the comment section. But, for me, the idea of choice in high school is still very, very new.

Nancie proposes that we turn students into readers by allowing them to read whatever they want to, and she gives suggestions on meaningful activities that can accompany the reading. She goes on to say that tons of high schools are doing the opposite; we are turning students off when it comes to reading. She notes that what we call rigor which often includes tons of note taking, essays in MLA format, and lots of questions to answer, turn students completely off.

Nancie proposes that teachers build in time to read in the classroom, that we have book talks about the books that students are reading, that we give students choice, and basically remember why most of us wanted to be English teachers in first place. And for most of us, that was to get students to love literature as much as we do.

After reading this book, I went to the other teacher who teaches Advanced Placement and proposed that we change our summer reading assignment from asking students to read one book that we selected, to giving students a list of books that we absolutely love and giving them the choice to read books from our list or selecting other books, as long as they read during the summer. Now, we will have no way of knowing if students read at all over the summer, but we also do not know if they ever really read the book that we assign.

My fellow elementary, middle and high school educators, please consider reading The Reading Zone!






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