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Tools of the Trade: Resources to Stage a Read-In

Are you thinking of hosting an African American Read-In in your classroom or school this month? Consider incorporating some of the activities my librarian and I have planned.African-American-Read-banner2018.jpg

Author Readings: Start with a reading by one or more African American authors in order to expose students to the rich and varied voices behind the texts. If you don’t have the funding or ability to host a live reading, use the next best thing – video. These are the resources I plan to tap in order to share readings with my students this month:

National Book Awards Readings – Each year the night before the National Book Awards Ceremony the finalists gather to read from their nominated books. This site contains video footage of these readings for the past six years and is a great resource to use in order to expose your students to many great books and authors. Some of the African American readers over the past few years include Jesmyn Ward reading Sing Unburied Sing and Salvage the Bones, Jason Reynolds reading Ghost, Angela Johnson reading Brown Girl Dreaming, and John Lewis discussing March Book 3. Read more

Books on the Blog: YA Books to Spark Real Discussions about American Race Relations

by Kelly Virgindear martinIn the first chapter of Dear Martin by Nic Stone Justyce McAllister, an Ivy League bound, black teenager, is handcuffed and detained by the police when they mistakenly assume he is up to something as he attempts to keep his drunk and slightly belligerent ex-girlfriend from driving herself home. This incident is understandably jarring for the teen and he thinks to himself:

Yeah, there are no more “colored” water fountains, and it’s supposed to be illegal to discriminate, but if I can be forced to sit on the concrete in too-tight cuffs when I’ve done nothing wrong, it’s clear there’s an issue. That things aren’t as equal as folks say they are.

In an attempt to come to terms with the experience and to deal with the pressures he feels from the neighborhood he managed to escape and the prep school he doesn’t entirely fit into, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, tragedy strikes his life and he starts to question whether Dr. King’s teachings still apply to the world we live in today.  Read more

Teacher to Teacher: Calling on Our Wisdom

By Lynne R. Dorfman

When the end of the school day comes, we often see teachers dragging themselves to the parking lot with bookbags and laptops and papers galore. They are tired – they’ve worked hard from the moment they stepped into their classrooms until beyond the final bell. They love their profession – the students, their peers, the challenges. But what about the students?  They burst through the doors, running and jumping and calling to friends. They still abound with energy. “It’s a question of age,” you say. “They are youthful – this is to be expected.”  But is this the reason for their energy?

Are students putting as much effort into the learning day as their teachers?  If we take a closer look into classrooms, we often see the teacher explaining, modeling, offering solutions, taking the lead, and providing resources. Students are capable of all these things and more. Instead of teachers pulling kids up the mountain, sometimes carrying them on their back, students can work together (sometimes, with a little guidance of gentle nudges from the teacher) and have conversations on many levels. These conversations can be about interesting areas of inquiry, books that serve as mentor texts, and making the classroom environment more efficient and user friendly – anything that will help move the entire learning community forward. Conversations focus on solving problems, and students, together with the teacher as facilitator, can arrive at a new level of learning.

Our goal of education is to produce students with the ability to evaluate, discuss, and apply what they know. If we expand from our traditional model, we can create classrooms where everyone is a teacher and a learner.  Wisdom is at the heart of this framework, and knowledge is at the head. Our job is calling on our wisdom to apply what we know to be true and what we value as educators and learners.

Teaching is as much about watching as it is about instructing and assessing. Remember Ken and Yetta Goodman’s focus on “kidwatching” and all that it implied? In fact, a large part of our job is to watch, to listen closely, to notice and note!  What kidwatching meant was asking ourselves a set of questions such as the following:

  • What do I notice?
  • What could the student(s) work on?
  • Where do I go next?
  • How can I get there?

Read more

Books on the Blog: Books for Young Activists

By Jen Greene

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford

So many biographies are available to learn about Martin Luther King Jr., but this one tasks us to learn from him. What did he stand for and how can you be a King like Martin?  From simple starts such as, “Admit that you’ve done wrong. Just say, “I’m sorry,” and mean it,” to more activist calls to action like, “Beat the drum for justice. March to your own conscience,” Weatherford employs readers to take Martin’s philosophies and values and apply them to their own lives.  James E. Ransome’s detailed illustrations help to imagine what life could be like if you were to be a King.

A Little Radical:  The ABC’s of Activism by Danica & Jason Russell

This is an excellent book for younger students or those wanting to get more involved in advocacy and social justice.  Each letter of the alphabet reveals a part of activism and asks readers to consider how they might get involved, even in the smallest of ways.  For instance:  “S is for spark. The start of a fire. How one little life can ignite and inspire. Strike when you’re hot, even if you burn out. You may never know what your glow brings about. Most people are afraid of the dark. For the world to light up, we just need your spark.”

When Rubrics Reign is it Time for a Coup?

By Mary Buckelew

41G46TubLhL._SS500_“Rubrics make powerful promises. They promise to save time. They promise to boil a messy process down to four to six rows of nice neat, organized little boxes. Who can resist their wiles? They seduce us with their appearance of simplicity and objectivity and then secure their place in our repertoire of assessment techniques with their claim to help us to clarify our goals and guide students through the difficult and complex task of writing” (2). Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (2007), by Maja Wilson

How many points is this assignment worth? How many lines do I need to write? How many pages? Where’s the rubric? Why did I get a 3 in organization? Why didn’t I get full credit? How do I get an A?

Students enter my college freshman writing classes with the above litany of questions, sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken, but ever present. These questions are as natural as breathing and begin early in students’ K-12 school careers. Read more

From the Classroom: Using Listicles for Literary Analysis

This month’s From the Classroom post comes from Tricia Ebarvia, PAWLP Fellow and high school English teacher. If you feel inspired after reading Tricia’s post, please comment below and also consider sharing your own favorite lesson here on the blog. Click here to learn more.


Grade 9, World Literature


1-2 class periods


Whenever my students and I come to the end of any novel study, I’ve always struggled with finding that perfect and elusive “closing” activity—the lesson that can somehow do justice to our novel study before we move on to the next text. While we often do some sort of writing that helps students synthesize their ideas, I don’t think that we always have to write the traditional literary analysis paper in order to engage students in higher level thinking.

In recent years, I’ve shifted my reading and writing practices to try to be as authentic as possible. Whenever I revisit my approach to a text, I ask myself: How authentic is the learning we’re doing? In what ways is the work we do in class work that’s done only in school or work that reflects the type of reading, writing, and thinking that’s out in the world, beyond our classrooms?  Read more