Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Show and Tell!

After the Advanced Placement Exam (AP), I suggested to my students that we spend the last two weeks of school with them sharing whatever inspires them, and that would be their parting gift to us. I wasn’t exactly thinking show and tell, but that’s what they called this experience, and I went with it.

They shared many TED talks on things such as dispelling the myths about GMO’s, honoring cafeteria workers, how schools are killing creativity, suicide, and on and on and on... However, I had several students who played the guitar, one who shared a map of a city that he developed, one who showed us her talent of being on the school’s color guard, one who shared a painting that she did in the school's art class, and she is going to leave the painting to the school, and one student even showed a YOUTUBE video of her band that she is going to travel with instead of going to college right way; she deferred her entry into a performing arts school.

Well, after the two weeks of show and tell, I’ve been reflecting a lot on myself, my teaching, schools etc.

Me, like so many other teachers, get caught up in our subject matter, and sometimes don’t make the time to get to know our students. I am lucky that I teach literature where they are encouraged to share their ideas and thoughts, and this helps me to get to know them a little more. But, I never seem to have enough time for show and tell.

One of my students, who is an introvert, showed a TED talk on introverts that was quite eye-opening. After the video, he explained how the video pertained to him. Another student showed a video on how love can save the world, and I had no idea until we discussed this video that she was into this love thing. I learned so much about my students during their last two weeks of school, and I only wish that I had taken the time to allow them to share more throughout the school year, and I may have been able to individualize the instruction just a little bit more.

However, not sure about other teachers, but I am always feel like I need to cover so much in such a short amount time until it slips my mind to get to know the multi-dimensions of my students. The whole child is important....

Also, I have been thinking a lot about our education systems that seem to pour tons of interest in the core subjects, and we leave out many students when we don’t put the same emphasis on the arts. Many students are not going to take the traditional route and should be encouraged to explore their creative side while at school. I am envisioning a school that encourages and fosters the idea of students trying different things and discovering what moves them and going in that direction.

Recently, I was at a jazz concert in DC that featured a bass player who was from inner city Baltimore. He talked about how his father was a musician, and jazz was always playing in his house. He hated jazz, and didn’t want anything to do with it. However, jazz continued to play in his house. He toyed around with different instruments, but was not interested until his Dad put the bass in his hand, and the rest is history.

Now, hearing his story made me think about how fortunate this guy was to have the experience of being able to toy around with different instruments until he found the one that spoke to his heart. I just wonder what would have happened to this guy if he was forced to chose engineering, business, computer science or any other field that may have stolen his creativity. I want to believe that he would have found his way to the arts, but we just never know. Exposure, Exposure, Exposure!

This world is so rich because we have so many people with different talents: writes, musicians, painters, designers, engineers, teachers, social workers, city developers etc., and shouldn’t all of these talents be equally cultivated?

Those two weeks of show and tell got me thinking about a lot of things, and I am soooo grateful for these students who taught me a whole lot and gave me much to think about....

Show and Tell does have its place in High Schools!

Sigh... So much to learn!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Reading Families Rock!

Mom is the biggest winner!

My friend Marcia and her kids made a bet that whomever finished forty book first, many off of a school’s reading list, would get $300......

So, they have been reading for about a year, and of course Marcia was determined that she would beat her kids. I tried to convince her that maybe she should let one of her kids win, but Marcia was determined to win this competition.

Marcia talked about the joy of talking about literature over the course of the year with her children; however, Marcia explained that the reading competition seem to drag on so she offered her kids a deal with each taking $100 dollars, and she would be named the winner. The kids would not take the deal so in her own words: “ I had to beat them outright!” (Really Mom!)

Just look at the look on their faces when they received this text from their Mom: “The reading competition is over and guess who won MOM."

Now, I am not sure about you, but I think that this is an awesome way to get kids to read.....

Marcia shared that this competition created good, clean fun in her family, and she and her kids read forty books that they may or may not have read without the competition!

Reading Families Rock...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Forgotten Fifth by Gary B. Nash

This morning I finished one of many books that is on my summer reading list....

As I was reading this book, The Forgotten Fifth, I had almost every emotion that a person could experience: powerful, proud, and anger just to name a few.

Being a lover of history but not a historian, Nash made me rethink many of the ideas that I had formed about slavery, the emancipation of slaves, if the Civil War could have been prevented and on and on and on....

Nash starts this short book by explaining that "the American Revolution was the first mass slave rebellion in American history, initiated the first civil rights movement, produced the first reconstruction of Black life, brought forth the first written testimonies from African Americans who wanted the world to hear of their strivings and their claims to freesom, and involved the first budding of what W.E.B. DuBois would call the talented tenth." (The First Page of the book!)

Powerful right?????

In the first part of this book Nash tells of:

Barzillai Lew, "a Black man who was born free who served in the Seven Years' War, enlisted in the Massachusettes 27th Regiment, he was one of one hundred fifty African Americans who fought at Bunker Hill, and he enlisted to march to Fort Ticonderoga." (This man wanted his freedom!)

Jenny Slew, a Black woman of Salem, Massachusetts who sued for and won her freedom.

Mum Bett , a black woman who sued for her freedom, won, and changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman.

Richard Allen, a slave who bought his freedom. He became a preacher and was sent to preach in Philadelphia. He was "instigator of the Free African Society, which ministered to the needs of the people coming out of slavery, the creator of one of the first independent black churches, the co-author of one of the first published black texts opposing slavery and white racism, the organizer of Philadelphia's first Black school, and the founder of the African American Episcopal Church."

And, Nash also tells of countless other African Americans, in the 1700s, who were fighting for their freedom mostly along with the British who promised them freedom. (You can read an awesome fictitious account of African American's working for the British to gain freedom in The Book Of Negroes.)

Now, I thought I was over the anger, and I am over the anger of slavery, but evidently I am not over the fact that it is not common knowledge that Blacks have always actively participated in the struggle for their freedom and were not just sitting around waiting for their free papers.

In the second part of The Forgotten Fifth, Nash poses the question of whether or not slavery could have been abolished, and he gives the reader different perspectives?

Now sure about you, but I was told over and over and over again that the main reason why slavery was not abolished is because the ending of slavery would weaken "The Union." And, for some reason, I believed this. However, I am grateful for Nash who gave me something new to think about.

He proposes that Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and many more could have made different decisions. And, in contrast, he gave examples of people like Robert Carter III who did make a different decision.

Carter was from a huge slaveowning family in Virginia, and he felt that it was 'his duty' to free his slaves. Carter freed all 509 of his slaves and many other slaveowners followed in his footsteps.

In the last section of this book, Nash goes on to explain that the mixing of the races was a huge issue for people who were against abolishing slavery; Black blood would corrupt White Blood. The idea was thrown around that freed Blacks should consider going back to Africa. However, African American were very clear that they would stay in the States and fight for their rights, and the fight continues......

I finished this book feeling even more liberated and empowered knowing that 'my people' were not passively waiting to be freed but were actively participating in gaining their freedom.

On the other hand, I am still grappling with my feelings toward quite a few of the forefathers, including Thomas Jefferson, who felt that Blacks were innately inferior yet he had a long-term relationship and fathered children with an African American: Sally Hemings.

This book was quite enlightening and left me wanting to know more.......

So, to that end, I'll be reading David Ruggles: A Radical Black Abolitionist and the Underground Railroad in New York City. 

This book was written by Graham Russell Gao Hodges who will be my fearless leader this summer as I study Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad at Colgate University.

Reading can be liberating, My People!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace

Me and Earl Lovelace

I met Earl at the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad, and I was not familiar with him nor his writings before the festival; however, after seeing him at the lit fest, I developed totally respect for him and even a little schoolgirl crush.

While at the lit fest, I attended a tribute for the writer Eric Roach, and Earl was one of the readers who paid tribute to Eric.

Eric Roach

I was sitting behind Earl, and I got the chance to get a good look at him. He is an older man with a very strong presence, and he looks like he is not afraid of a little hard work. (I love a man who is strong yet soft!)

He got up to speak, his presence was felt, and his reading and talk were quite captivating; I had to find out more about Earl Lovelace.

Earl during his talk!

I had quite a pleasant conversation with Earl and my schoolgirl crush continued to grow...

I finally decided that I must read something by Earl Lovelace. I asked him which one of his books would he suggest that I read, and he suggested The Dragon Can’t Dance, and he even signed it for me.

My people, I love this book.

Earl has a way with words that completely pulled me to Port of Spain. As I was reading The Dragon Can’t Dance, I was trying to figure out what literary technique was Earl using to make me feel and vividly see Port of Spain, and I came to the conclusion that it was the descriptive language:
“But to Miss Olive’s daughter, Sylvia, at seventeen, ripening like a mango rose, watching from one corner of the yard, snapping her fingers, tapping her feet to calypso music prancing in her brain, Miss Cleothilda’s performance done on her verandah in her shimmering bodice of black and gold brought the full excitement and panic of the approaching Carnival."
He brought the carnival atmosphere to life, and he left me wanting to go back to Trinidad for the carnival.

Earl tells the story of Aldrick who spends most of the year designing his dragon costume for the carnival. Through several characters, we are able to see the development of Aldrick and is told of his journey to self discovery which seems to mimic the changing Port of Spain.

This books looks at what happens to people who are trying to find themselves in a society where they may be invisible, but they are trying to carve out their own space and identity.

Earl carefully develop this story and leaves the reader feeling quite satisfied.....

As I was standing to pay for this book at the Bocas Lit Festival, a woman said to me “This is a very important book,” and after reading it, I totally agree. This is one of those books with underlining meanings that I will try to digest for quite awhile.

I wish that I had read this novel before I went to Trinidad for the lit fest, but I am hoping that my path will cross Earl’s path again so that I can ask the many questions that are floating around in my mind.

Consider adding this book to your reading list....

Next I’ll be reading The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution by Gary B. Nash which is on my summer 2015 reading list.

Summer 2015 Reading List.....

Books for the Summer!

In July I would be traveling to Colgate University, through the National Endowment for the Humanities, to study Abolitionism and The Underground Railroad.

Well, most of the books that will be discussed this summer came in the mail today, and I am sooooooo excited!

I know that many of my friends will call me to crack jokes. Yes, many of my friends tease me about being a nerd and studying during the summer, but I am who I am, so let the jokes began.....

Readers Are Leaders!

Anyway, starting tonight, I am going to start reading The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution by Gary B. Nash.

Check back often for the blog posts for my summer reads.

I just love purposeful reading......

Happy Thursday, My People!!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Choice Novels

I believe that most teachers teach one novel at a time, or at least I do.....

If a teacher fully teaches one novel at a time, then that means that most teachers will teach approximately four novels during a school year.  A mere four books a year???

At the beginning of the school year, the language arts supervisor introduced the idea of choice novels. Her theory is that there are so many books in the world, and why would we limit students to four books a school year that are normally teacher selected? She proposed that we allow students choice in what they read, meaning that there may be lots of different novels being read at the same time in the same class.

At first I just could not wrap my mind around this idea. I was wondering, how would a teacher monitor if students are reading, how would I teach reading skills and concepts, how would I control this???

However, I started to grapple with this idea, and I know that I am madly in love with teaching literature, because I am always trying new things and trying new things helps to keep me relevant and intensifies my love for teaching literature.

With three other teachers who make up a Professional Learning Team, we decided to give this choice novel idea a try. We met to discuss the different possibilities, we created new things, and one by one we started to implement the idea of choice novels into our classrooms.

I decide that I would start with choice short stories with my tenth grade students. So, I selected five short stories and put students into groups. The groups decided which short story they would read, and they read the stories, worked on literary activities and vocabulary, and they also completed a visual that portrayed the theme and their likes and dislikes of their selected story. My people, this worked better than I could have ever imagined. The class was alive with students discussing literature and literature concepts. Their final visual depictions of their short stories blew me away:

After this success, I talked to one of the librarians, and I did something that I have not done in eighteen years of teaching; I took students to the library to actually browse around and find books that they would like to read. They asked questions like “Can I read a book about somebody?” Can I read any book in this library?” You should have felt their joy when they realized that the library was their playground.

I gave the guidelines for reading their choice novels, and we are reading in class, working on activities, and discussing literature. I am no longer having to beg students to read; they are reading and reading and reading, and the added bonus is that I get to read in class every single time that they read.

My people, change can be scary, but it can definitely be liberating. I would rather try something new and fail then to do the same thing over and over and over again......

The one thing that is consistent is change, and those who refuse to change become obsolete!

Loving Choice Novels Today!

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Little Things.....

I do not do my job well for accolades; I do it, because I love it......

This week was teacher appreciation week, and a parent came to my room to drop off these flowers:

A student brought in these flowers:

And a parent wrote this note and left this gift and card:

As parents of a sophomore student we have had many years and quite a bit of variety of teachers.  This year by far has been the best academic year in Jxxxxxx's academic career thus far and you have played a significant role in this years success.

The level of understanding with regards to Jxxxxxxxx's academic needs as well as the open willingness to communicate with us as active parents in regards to Jxxxxxx’s academics is invaluable.  We can only hope that we are as fortunate in the upcoming years to have educators who are equally as vested in our sons future as you all have been.

Thank you for caring enough to give 150% of yourself to your  students. 

People do notice the little things, or at least I do.......

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

Love is in the details.....

Have you every had an experience with a person who paid very close attention to the details?

Someone who brings Aspirins for you when you go out just in case you get a headache. Or, someone who remembers that you are vegetarian and always invites you over when he cooks fish. There is love all over the details.

Toni writes with love in the details. I can feel her love for details oozing off of the pages when I read her books. God Bless the Child is no different than Toni’s other novels with close attention paid to the details which reads how love feels: simple yet complex.

Since Sunday, I have read God Bless the Child two times. I read it the first time for the enjoyment of the story, and I read it the second time to play close attention to the details.

This novel is written from the first person point of view mixed with some third person point of view. The first person point of view allowed me to hear from each character personally, and the third person point of view allowed me to gain a little more perspective. Lots of details were given to character development, and the character development drove the plot.

In the novel there is:

Sweetness: The mother of Bride who withheld love from her child because of her dark skin. “Here color is a cross that she will always carry. But it’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s Not."

Bride: The daughter of Sweetness who came out of the womb “Midnight Black, Sudanese Black.” However Bride turns her cross into her glory. “She capitalized on her dark skin, stressing it, glamorizing it.”

Brooklyn: Bride’s best friend who seemed slightly jealous of Bride. She refers to Bride as "Beautiful dumb bitch."

Sofia: A woman who was locked up for fifteen years for child molestation. Once freed from jail, she reminded herself that “freedom is never free. You have to fight for it. Work for it and make sure you are able to handle it.”

Steve and Evelyn: A White Hippie couple who took good care of Bride when she needed it. “Here she was among people living the barest life, putting themselves out for her without hesitation, asking nothing return.”

Rain: The daughter of Steve and Evelyn who fell in love with Bride. “I miss my black lady.”

Booker: He was in love with Bride. “Bride was knock-out beautiful, easy, had something to do everyday and didn’t need his presence every minute. Her self-love was consistent with her cosmetic company milieu and mirrored his obsession with her.”

Queen: She was Booker’s aunt who “comforted him, strengthened him and validated the unfairness of the censure he was feeling from his family."

Now, you may be wondering how did Toni fully develop these characters and discuss child molestation, skin color, life and its up and downs, the horrors of prison, love, family, college, with a hint of mysticism and so much more in only one hundred thirty something pages?

Well, My People, she did it by paying very close attention to the details......

There is love in the details.

Read this novel over and over again!


I hate to let this book go, but I must.

Next, I’ll be reading The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace, a very intriguing man whom I met at the Bocas Lit Fest... Just wait until you read about my encounter with him.

This is the day.......

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bocas Lit Festival 2015

So, you know that the entire month of April I was purposefully reading and planning for the Bocas Lit Fest. I read five novels by authors who would be in attendance.

As soon as I landed in Trinidad, I had my driver take me straight to the lit fest in order to see Shani Mootoo, the author of Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab which is one of the books that I read in preparation for the festival.

Shani Mootoo
Shani Mootoo

It was so thrilling to hear Shani reading from her book and to be familiar with the reading.

Someone asked her why did she name the book Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, and she stated something like isn’t that the way life happens; it does not move forward in a straight line? I just loved that answer. One of the many reasons why I love her book is because it is true to life.

Well, you know that I normally read digitally, but I just happened to read Shani’s novel in book form, and I brought it with me so that she could sign it.....

Perfect beginning to the Lit Fest!

Later that same day, I was waiting in the lobby of the hotel to go out for dinner, and guess who walked through the door?

Fred A’guiar, author of Children of Paradise.

Fred and Me

Right there in the lobby, Fred was gracious enough to answer questions and talk about his book. I even asked if he would come to work with my students since he teaches not far away at Virginia Tech. He informed me that he would be moving to teach at UCLA but would more than happy to Skype with my students and me. (Heavy Favor!)

What warmed my heart is that Fred did not seem to mind answering questions, and he even allowed me to take several pictures until I got one that we both liked.

I ran into Fred quite often over the course of my stay in Trinidad, and every single time he was pleasant and nice.

On his assigned day, he read from his book, answered questions, and signed books with complete grace.

What a joy when you meet someone whom you respect, and they don’t seem to take the admiration for granted!

Fred on the panel!

Ok, Do you remember me telling you in a previous post that I was staying in the host hotel for the authors?

Yes, I was staying in the hotel with the authors, and on the second day I got up early to have breakfast and guess who was also having breakfast: Karen Lord, author of The Galaxy Game along with other speculative writers and Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning? The Galaxy Game and Land of Love and Drowning are also two books that I read in preparation for the lit fest.

Of course, I didn't want to be pushy, but the authors delighted me by allowing me to take pictures some pictures.

Authors: Karen Lord, Nalo Hopkinson, Tobias S. Buckell, and Tiphanie Yanique

TiphanieYanique and me


After breakfast, I saw Karen in the lobby, and she encouraged me to ask questions about her book.

I asked Karen how did she take her sci-fi ideas and write them in a manner that was accessible to her readers, and where did she get the ideas for her books?

Karen explained that she is a social economic researcher, and she gets a lot of practice taking complicated ideas and making them plain. She also went on to explain that she gets the ideas for her books from the things that are going on in the world....

I just loved Karen’s intense, warm personality.

Brave New World Panel discussion which included Karen Lord!

Finally, it was time to hear Tiphanie read from Land of Love and Drowning.  However, I was running late after attending another session, and I only got to hear Tiphanie answer questions.

Author Naomi Jackson, Moderator Stephen Narain,  Author Tiphanie Yanique

This session with Tiphanie was very upbeat and lively. Naomi and Tiphanie both live in Brooklyn, NY, and they had a good vibe going with each other.

Tiphanie talked about the title of her book. She was not sure if she should name the book Land of Love and Drowning, because she thought that being a woman writer and including love in the title, would cause the reader to think that her novel was just another love story. However, if you read this book, you will quickly find out that this novel is a love story and soooo much more.

Tiphanie’s personality was just as warm as her book!

Now, the last and final book that I read in preparation for the Lit Fest was A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon Jones, and he was not on schedule for the lit fest until the last day, and I would be on the way home. However, I was on a mad hunt to find Marlon Jones only to find out that he did not make it to the festival.

I was a little disappointed, but I did meet four of the five authors that I wanted to meet so, I decided to focus on the positive....

If I had to come up with a theme for this festival, it would be Community. There seemed to be a strong sense of community amongst the writers. It was apparent, through their interactions, that they were working together and supporting each other. This festival was confirmation that Community is imperative for so many different reasons.

My people, this is a literary festival that you should definitely add to your list. It was not crowded; therefore, the authors were accessible. Also, Trinidad is such a delightful place and a literary festival is a good reason to travel there. (Not that you would need a reason to travel to the lovely Trinidad)

Here are a few other highlights from the lit fest:

Author Earl Lovelace
Carolyn Cooper: columnist, broadcaster, and professor of literary
and culture studies at the UWI, Mona, Jamaica
Edward Baugh: Professor Emeritus of English, UWI, Mona
Author: Naomi Jackson

I had no preconceived thoughts about Trinidad before I got there; however, I was not expecting to fall completely in love with the land and the culture.

View from a hill
One of the hills that I climbed.
Maracas Beach
Hanging with the locals
Enjoying the view with Shannon from Reading Has Purpose
With our driver, Prince, who escorted us on our trip to the beach.
Had to get a picture of the bike lane sign. Trinidad has bike lanes.

If you made it to the end of this long post, know that I ‘preciate you, and I am happy that you came along for the journey!

In the meantime, I will be frantically searching for another Literary Festival.....

“Seize the Day."

God Uses People.....

Me and Robert

On my second day in Trinidad for The Bocas Lit Fest, I got up early, had breakfast, and heard people mention the zoo and arboretum. With a few hours to kill before I headed over to the lit festival with Shannon, I decided to ask the concierge if the zoo and the arboretum was close. Well, you know how favor is always knocking me down, the zoo and the arboretum just happened to be next to the hotel.

I decided to skip the zoo and walk to the arboretum. The arboretum was not like the national arboretum in DC, but it served it purpose. It had trees and flowers and lots of land, and I couldn’t help but to decide to sit and thank God for the opportunity to be in Trinidad.

As I was sitting, a guy, Robert, passed by and pleasantly asked if I was enjoying the arboretum, and we went on to have a small conversation.

He went to sit on the ground and stretch, and he came back and asked if I wanted to see the Island from the top of a mountain.

Now, my readers, don’t think that I just go to other countries and trample all over the place with random people. I don’t, but I do believe in intuition, and I would never do anything that did not feel right with my soul. I really believe that when we commune with God regularly, he gives us signs when there is danger and when things are all right. I got the feeling that things were all right, and we hiked some huge hills for a great reward: a breathe taking view of Trinidad.

God used Robert!

I met Robert on Thursday, and on Saturday he sent me an email to ask if I wanted to see some sites. Now, let me tell you, I was tired from a full day of thoroughly enjoying the lit fest, and I had just laid down by the pool to take a nap. However, I thought to myself, "I am in Trinidad, someone is offering to take me to see some sites, and how could I possibly pass up this opportunity?" I sent Shannon a text to see if she wanted to go, and approximately twenty minutes later, Shannon, Robert, I were off to explore Trinidad; the beauty of Trinidad is indescribable.

After many adventures, we were all like old friends and ended the night sitting in a bar enjoying good conversations, cocktails, and the big Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight.

The next morning Robert was gracious enough to take us on a scenic drive before he dropped us off at the airport.

What a great ending to perfect trip!!!

I believe that when we are open, God uses people to take care of his children. My Dad use to say that God is not going to come down here to help us; he is going to use people, and I believe this statement with my whole heart.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea that whatever we put into the universe is exactly what we get back. If you show yourself to be friendly, I believe that the universe responses and returns that friendliness.

Not the best picture, but you get the point.

God Uses People.....
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