All Depends On the Skin Your Living In: Building Text Sets & World Knowledge

This past March I attended the Long Island Language Arts Council Spring Conference and was able to sit in a great session on Writing About Reading. Kate Gerson, a senior Regents Research Fellow for Educator Engagement and the Common Core of NYSED,  presented the shifts in writing demanded by the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts/Literacy; specifically how the Common Core writing connects to volume of text read, knowledge about the world and knowledge of words.  She mentioned that writing equals expertise and expertise is informed by language (vocabulary) and knowledge. Vocabulary is built through a person’s knowledge of the world. The more a person knows about something, they can read about it, begin to make sense of it, and acquire knowledge and vocabulary about it.

Not knowing words on a page is debilitating and slows a reader down. For ELLs and students with disabilities this can be a even harder challenge. Thus, if we want students to be strong readers with world knowledge and robust vocabulary, teachers need to expose students to information about the world and have the language to discuss it that is accessible to our students diverse needs. Consuming information about the world works best in chunks. Language and vocabulary is acquired over time. A steady growth of knowledge comes with daily reading, writing, and speaking. Teachers can use text sets and build their own text sets that are accessible and consumable for their students. These text sets can also help build student knowledge about the world and expose them to rich information.

Here is a text set that I have started to compile on race and racism in connection with all the racially driven police brutality present in the news. The text set includes a music video, poetry, and a short film that can then be paired with current newspaper articles and young adult novels. The key is that I am continually build text sets around the literature my students are reading and additional domain knowledge.

Poem “BLINK YOUR EYES” by Sekou Sundiata

I was on my way to see my woman
but the Law said I was on my way
thru a red light red light red light
and if you saw my woman
you could understand,
I was just being a man.
It wasn’t about no light
it was about my ride
and if you saw my ride
you could dig that too, you dig?
Sunroof stereo radio black leather
bucket seats sit low you know,
the body’s cool, but the tires are worn.
Ride when the hard time come, ride
when they’re gone, in other words
the light was green.

I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in

Up to the window comes the Law
with his hand on his gun
what’s up? what’s happening?
I said I guess
that’s when I really broke the law.
He said a routine, step out the car
a routine, assume the position.
Put your hands up in the air
you know the routine, like you just don’t care.
License and registration.
Deep was the night and the light
from the North Star on the car door, deja vu
we’ve been through this before,
why did you stop me?
Somebody had to stop you.
I watch the news, you always lose.
You’re unreliable, that’s undeniable.
This is serious, you could be dangerous.

I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in

New York City, they got laws
can’t no bruthas drive outdoors,
in certain neighborhoods, on particular streets
near and around certain types of people.
They got laws.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in.

French Rapper Stromae’s Music Video “Papaoutai”

KWA HERI MANDIMA – Short French Film/Memoir (Can Connect with other texts related to Violence in Sudan & Rwanda such as Linda Sue Park’s Long Walk to Water)

New York Times Articles “Thoughts on Race in American, a Backdrop to Ferguson” by Nicholas Kristof 11/25/2014

“Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist” by Nicholas Kristof 8/27/2014

To find out more about the National Text Set Project or attend one of their training programs, check out their website.

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