Tag Archives: books

Unpacking Race in To Kill a Mockingbird and A Raisin in the Sun in Response to Ferguson and Baltimore

This week I presented at the annual Critical Questions in Education Conference in Baltimore, MD. I presented with my esteemed colleagues, Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle, authors of Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird (2013) and Using Informational Text to Teach A Raisin in the Sun (2015). 

Texts like To Kill a Mockingbird and A Raisin in the Sun are widely taught in language arts classrooms throughout the United States.

But how are these texts being taught? What kinds of questions are students being asked to think about in relation to these texts? How can we use these seminal literary works to unpack and uncover the difficult “hidden history” of race in the United States? How, using text pairings with informational and other literary texts, can we support our students in engaging in difficult but informed conversations about race in our classrooms? This panel will offer specific strategies and assignments developed in relation to best practices, research, and classroom experience.

With Raisin, for example, we offer strategies to incorporate readings on the violence associated with housing desegregation and on restrictive covenants and duplicitous housing practices like redlining and contract selling to underscore the kinds of obstacles families like the Youngers faced. We also offer strategies to incorporate readings about the current state of housing discrimination and research about the inequalities of opportunity in order to underscore for students the ways in which the issues in Raisin continue to resonate and impact society today.

With Mockingbird, we suggest ways to think through the troubled racial politics of Harper Lee’s 1959 novel, allowing students to explore the ways in which Atticus is not a hero and the blindspots in young Scout’s unreliable and incomplete narration of the events in the novel. Working with material about lynching and about African-American maids and nannies, for example, students can unpack Mockingbird’s complex racial politics. Sections from the new Go Set a Watchman can be used to further complicate our understanding of and the continuing relevance of both works.

In addition to these two iconic texts, we will share contemporary titles like The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (2010) and Jason Reynold’s When I Was the Greatest (2014) that offer poignant glimpses into urban America. Participants will walk away with a list of more than a dozen contemporary Young Adult texts to expand classrooms libraries and build text sets that support units on race, ethnicity, and identity.

Events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere demand critical conversations in our classrooms about race and ethnicity in the United States. Teachers need to expose young people to diverse texts that help them understand the troubled history that produced the segregation, the urban blight, the hopelessness, and the abuses of power that characterize these troubling events. Our students need to have conversations about these issues that are grounded in historical facts and texts. Literary masterpieces, like Mockingbird and Raisin, are the ideal places to begin these difficult conversations, but only when these texts are thoughtfully conjoined with other contemporary and classic, fictional and informational texts and resources that allow our students to be informed thinkers.

Below are the slides for my presentation and a link to the valuable information from Audrey & Susan’s power point.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/dasdiouypyp0twe/Baltimore%20presentation2015%2010-31.pptx?dl=0

How are you using these texts or others to engage in critical conversations with your students?

I would love to know. Post your comments below.

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Promoting Democracy and a Culture of Caring Through Literature

“They cannot shoot my dreams, they cannot kill my beliefs, and they cannot stop my campaign to see every girl and every boy in school.” — Malala Yousafzai

In light of what has happened in Paris, France this week, the freedom of expression, the power of literature, and promoting empathy among my students is key. This week didn’t spark this objective, it has been my objective teaching middle school English these past two years. The books that I have decided to teach all focus on the central idea of peace, acceptance, and the power of words.

My eighth grade students began the school year reading To Kill a Mockingbird and are now reading the memoir Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals about her experiences as one of the Little Rock Nine integrating into an all white Central High School in Arkansas in 1957. Many of my students are also reading the young readers edition of I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick and participating in weekly twitter chats to discuss the book all month long for one of the “Going for the A” assignments. [Students contract for an A or a B for 40% of their quarterly grade. The assignments are for students interested in taking English honors in high school next year.]

While watching on the news and reading news feeds about the tragic events that happened in Paris, There are many parallels with Malala Yousafzai’s experiences as a target of the Taliban in Pakistan and Charlie Hebdo. Malala’s interest, passion, and mission is in the education of all children, girls and boys. From the time Malala was little she learned that words are powerful. Melba Patillo Beals also shows in her memoir that words can hurt and words can help change the world.

Steven Wolk writes in Caring Hearts & Caring Minds: Literature, Inquiry, and Social Responsibility (2013), “After reading a good book we can be changed.” Reading both fiction and non fiction with students allows students to question, think, and analyze. As much as teachers are teaching reading skills these days, teachers need to address and explore topics relevant to what is going on in our world today and social responsibility with the texts utilized in the classroom.

Introducing diverse texts into your classroom is the first step in promoting democracy and a culture of caring. It is also what you do with the literature once you have students read these texts. We want students to read critically and question the texts that they are reading. Make connections with larger world issues and inspire students to want to help make the world a better place.  Let students research and report on topics that are important to them with project based learning opportunities and Genius Hour. At the end of the school year I not only want students to be better readers and writers, but my hope is that hey never lose sight of their dreams and know they have the potential to make a difference in the world.

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Summer Reading Recommendations for Middle School

This upcoming fall I plan to teach eighth grade English and summer reading requirements have sent me researching book titles for my incoming students.

All students entering Grade 8 at the schools where I teach are required to read: Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals. In 1957, Melba Pattillo turned sixteen. Little did she know that same year she would become a warrior at the core of the fight for civil rights. Following the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, Melba was one of nine teenagers chosen to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. Warriors Don’t Cry is her story.

My students will be required to read another book, plus a third for extra credit.  Here are some recommended titles:

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal

Equally detested and revered–often by the same people–Steve Jobs, the man who operated from his own “reality distortion field,” moved beyond the visionary to perfect the simple and transform the world as we know it. Blumenthal’s accessible biography presents an intimate and well-rounded portrait of a complex American icon and the technological contributions that define his enduring legacy.

Michael Vey by Richard Paul Evans

Michael Vey is an ordinary fourteen-year-old. In fact, the only thing that seems to set him apart is the fact that he has Tourette’s syndrome. But Michael is anything but ordinary; he has special electric powers. Michael thinks he’s unique until he discovers that a cheerleader named Taylor also has special powers. With the help of another, they investigate their conditions. Their investigation brings them to the attention of a powerful group who wants to control the electric children – and through them the world.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Growing up in Texas in 1899, Calpurnia is more interested in science than cooking and needlepoint. Her grandfather, a naturalist, sparks Calpurnia’s curiosity and they explore the rivers, observe animals, and possibly discover a new species of plant. Conflicted by societal expectations for girls in the 1900s, Callie desires to be a scientist rather than a mother and a wife.

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of WWII by Robert Kurson

John Chatterton and Rich Kohler, two divers, take on a wreck, a WWII U-boat, at 230 feet, off the coast of New Jersey. The two divers embark on a seven-year search for the U-boat’s identity, jarring people’s memories and researching archives. Along the way, Chatterton’s diving had serious repercussions for his personal life, while Kohler’s commitment to the cause resulted in his becoming a U-boat scholar. The completion of their quest answers one of the few remaining questions about WWII. Adventure enthusiasts will love the story of these divers and history buffs will revel in the descriptions of WWII and the Third Reich.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Sixteen-year-old Jacob receives a letter that sends him on a journey to a remote island, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar, possibly dangerous. The story includes vintage photographs that help unravel the plot and Jacob’s findings on the island. Read the story to find out why these children were quarantined on this island long ago.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

This book comes recommended to me by one of my students.  Sixteen year old Hazel is living with cancer and clinically depressed.  She is sent my her doctor to a support group where she meets Augustus, a fellow cancer survivor.  They fall in love and so the novel continues.  If you have read Wonder, by RJ Palacio, this might be a book you would like.

If you have a great recommended read for middle school students, please share book titles in the comment section below.  Happy reading!

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Children’s Books that Help Manage Anxiety & Anger and Promote Calm

As a parent and a teacher I am aware of the varying levels of stress and anxiety among young people today. Sometimes, I have even been caught in the storm of anger and anxiety over a homework assignment or things not going your way. Helping young people calm down when they are having a melt down can be challenging. I have to remind myself during these times, “Be the calm, not the storm.”

For my son and daughter, books have become a great tool to help teach and communicate all different messages from making friends to showing compassion. As a gift this past holiday season my sister, a yoga enthusiast, thoughtfully gave us three books about yoga and meditation which have become family favorites. All of the books compiled below have taught us to stay calm, and breathe. Some of these books offer addition strategies to help us during stressful moments.

Below is a list of the top ten children’s books that have helped our family manage anxiety and anger, and at the same time, promote peace.

Peaceful Piggy Meditation

 

 

 

 

Peaceful Piggy Mediation by Kerry Lee MacClean is a book for young people about meditation. The pictures and words teach readers the beginnings of meditation. The book offers meditation as a vehicle to have a positive outlook on life, even when things aren’t going your way.

 

Babar

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who doesn’t love Babar? This books tells the story of a yogi visiting Babar and teaching yoga to all the elephants in Celesteville. The books offers an illustrated step-by-step guide of fifteen different yoga poses.

YOU ARE A LION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taeeun Yoo writes and illustrates this fun book showing young people how to mimic animals in all different yoga poses from snakes to butterflies. A good introduction to yoga for young ones.

when_sophie_gets_angry

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Sophie’s sister grabs her stuffed gorilla and Sophie accidently knocks over her blocks, she get really, really angry. Molly Bang’s story acknowledges feelings of anger with vivid pictures and thoughtful text to help young people work through angry thoughts.

 

 

Talk and Work It Out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheri Meiners has created a great series of books for pre-school age children (we have them all). This book in particular focuses on using our words to talk through our feelings when we are frustrated or angry.

Steps and Stones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anger is personified in Gail Silver’s book as a red, hairy creature. This book teaches about not getting carried away by our feelings of anger and strong emotions.

Kali Song

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kali’s Song celebrates differences in all of us and the power of music and art over violence. This books celebrates the natural world and honors art as an amazing form of expression.

 

Filled Your Bucket

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that most elementary schools use How Full is Your Bucket and Have You Filled Your Bucket Today? to promote positive behavior and kindness. A great book that teaches character education.

 

0-439-63425-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zen Ties plays on words. The main story is about compassion and friendship. Stillwater, a panda bear and main character, teaches children to be kind to others and has a calming presence throughout the story.

Peac Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Todd Parr is a wonderful author and illustrator with direct stories and every one can relate to. In The Peace Book offers a simple message for readers young and old.

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