Honoring African American Contributions: Rare Books

African American History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in US history. This week we will investigate rare books written by African Americans.
The African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection  from the Library of Congress gives a panoramic and eclectic review of African American history and culture and is primarily comprised of two collections in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division: the African American Pamphlet Collection and the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, with a date range of 1822 through 1909. Among the authors represented are Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Benjamin W. Arnett, Alexander Crummel, Emanuel Love, Lydia Maria Child, Kelly Miller, Charles Sumner, Mary Church Terrell, and Booker T. Washington.
The Library of Congress holds a rare book from William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois. It features one of his most beloved creations, The Brownies’ Book, a serial published in 1920 and 1921. It is digitally presented here—22 back-to-back chronological issues. It was the first magazine of its kind, written for African-American children and youths to instill a sense of racial pride and provide overall instruction on how to conduct oneself. Du Bois is credited with establishing the genre of African-American children’s literature. The Brownies’ Book is considered part of the movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, a time of great African American artistic expression.
“African American Perspectives: Women Authors” shares details from the lives of the sisters Angelina and Sarah Grimké,  who became two of America’s most prominent female abolitionists. They also supported women’s rights and were instrumental in linking the two crusades. Also profiled is influential writer and editor Lydia Maria Child. The social reformer Clarissa Olds Keeler is also featured.
Many rare books have been digitized so they can be accessed wherever you are.

Curious about the NCTE and Library of Congress connection? Through a grant announced recently by NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE is engaged in new ongoing work with the Library of Congress, and “will connect the ELA community with the Library of Congress to expand the use of primary sources in teaching.” Stay tuned for more throughout the year!
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Cultural Updates to Narrative Reading Strategies

This post was written by NCTE member Gary Pankiewicz. 

Just as our own cultural context influences our identity and values, we can recognize some of the cultural contexts that influence our students’  racial and ethnic identities and values, as well as the challenges they face. But how can we make an investigation of these cultural contexts more consistent in our approaches to literature in the classroom? It makes sense to provide more access to diverse texts, but, culturally responsive pedagogy suggests that exploring instructional practices to enhance cultural perspective is just as important. One practical idea in the ELA classroom is to make room for an exploration of culture in our narrative reading strategies.
In my experience, many ELA teachers often use the Somebody-Wanted-But-So summarizing strategy or the “story mountain”  plot-diagram visualization strategy to support their students’ understanding of reading and writing narrative texts. (The plot diagram is also available in PDF form.)
A quick addendum to either of these two popular strategies could be far-reaching to build cultural competence.
The S-W-B-S strategy (MacOn, Bewell & Vogt, 1991; Beers, 2003) is a prevalent approach to summarizing a text. In short, students can more readily summarize a story once they identify the following: main character (Somebody); character goals (Wants); story conflict (But), and story resolution (So then . . . ).

I suggest that a more modern conception of this strategy includes a look at cultural context in every step: Somebody in a cultural context; Wanted in a cultural context; But (include if culture plays a role in the conflict); So (include any new understandings about culture). In other words, a deliberate mini-cultural analysis could be included as students trace the action of a text.

Let’s take Meg Medina’s Merci Suarez Changes Gears, a 2019 Newbery Medal-winning middle grade novel, for example. Merci Suarez is the “Somebody,” and her cultural context is significant. She is a Cuban American girl who comes from a working-class family invested in Cuban traditions in southern Florida. Her house sits amid a row of three houses referred to in the story as “Las Casitas” (translated to mean “little houses”), where her aunt and grandparents live in the other two houses nearby. Merci “Wanted” to maintain good grades so that she could keep her scholarship and make the soccer team in a private school, where there are not many other Latina students. “But” issues involved with Merci’s cultural identity are relevant to her confrontation with a school bully and a family health concern. When cultural context is examined in each step, we are left with a “So” that enhances our cultural perspectives, such as Merci’s reverence for her family and extended family that is threaded throughout the text.
The same concept could be used when identifying the elements of plot or a story mountain.  In each step (i.e., exposition, narrative hook, exposition, and resolution), ask students, “What role, if any, does culture play in this part of the story?”
This could evolve into a story mountain graphic organizer that makes room for additional annotations on culture (e.g., how Merci’s grandparents say they are sorry through good Cuban food and a game of dominoes). This approach could foster a denouement that surpasses a coming-of age-story of a new middle schooler and, instead, also explores some of the cultural complexities, assets, and constraints of a young Cuban-American girl in a particular setting and context.
Culturally responsive texts or texts selected with our students’ diverse interests and learning needs in mind lend themselves to these approaches more than others. In any case, additional culturally responsive texts and this quick supplement to these common narrative reading strategies can contribute to building our students’ cultural competence over time.
Find more about the S-W-B-S strategy:
The Reading Strategies Book, by Jennifer Serravallo. (Heinemann, 2015.)
When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers, 6–12, by Kylene Beers. (Heinemann, 2003.)
Responses to Literature, by Diane Bewell, James M. Macon, and MaryEllen Vogt. (International Reading Association, 1991.)

Gary Pankiewicz is a teacher-writer and administrator with research interests in supporting reflective practice, multimodal literacies, and voice-filled curriculum and instruction.  He works as a K–12 ELA supervisor in Fair Lawn Public Schools, New Jersey, and as an adjunct reading professor and writing instructor at Montclair State University. Twitter: @gpankiewicz

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

The African American Read-In Celebration at the University of Northern Iowa Marks Its 15th Anniversary

This post was written by NCTE members Tiffany A. Flowers and Gloria Kirkland-Holmes.

Each year, the African American Read-In is held during February, Black History month. During this program, there are many African American books read and shared with children. However, as seasoned organizers, we contend that it is just as important to promote the authors who research, write, and craft these brilliant books. It often takes years to put historical fiction picture books together. Ensuring the illustrations are authentic and well matched to a text is of great importance as well. After many years of coordinating African American Read-in programs, we have concluded that when you read a book, you are not just sharing the story; you are relating culture, experience, history, and comprehension of the author’s lived experiences.
The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) African American Read-In promotes African American authors and illustrators every year at their event.  The aim of the African American Read-In program is to do culturally specific programming for first graders in the Waterloo Community schools. This can include workshops on hair braiding, Black inventor STEM workshops, drawing workshops, math workshops, and of course workshops that host authors.
UNI aims to bring authors with unique perspectives who can inspire children to greater heights. One example is Jan Spivey Gilchrist, a researcher and cultural historian of African American children’s literature. Jan can create stories that children love. Her talent comes from years of practice, writing, rewriting, and researching how to relate African American experiences to all children. Another example is Crystal Swain-Bates,  a best-selling author who engages students through everyday stories about their worlds. Ty Allan Jackson is known for his work with Black boys. He has an uncanny ability to empower Black boys to love reading through representation. Children delight in his beautiful books focusing on self-awareness and adventure. Teacher-scholar and author Ryan Joiner  brings his books to life by promoting all the reasons that children should learn to read. Ryan believes that reading can take you anywhere.
Promoting brilliant Black authors during the African American Read-In is just as important as reading the books. This is why the African American Read-In is a success every year, and this year’s Read-In, celebrated and hosted during the 10th annual African American Children and Families Conference, sponsored by the College of Education at the University of Northern Iowa, was no exception.
In fact, this year we celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Read-In at the University of Northern Iowa! Although we initially expected to hold it in person, we switched to an online model with major modifications. It is important to note that COVID-19 did not stop the university faculty, staff, students, librarians, media specialists, public school teachers, and first graders in Waterloo, Iowa, from celebrating and attending the Read-In. February 11, 2021, saw authors, entrepreneurs, and volunteers from across the United States using Zoom to read to over 1,000 first graders from Waterloo Community schools, who listened from their homes or (socially distanced) from classrooms.

Shown reading at the AARI event (l. to r.) are Jim Bray, assistant professor, Theater, and Whitney Hanley, assistant professor, Special Education. (Photos: Chris Wiebe)

The Read-In committee stayed committed to the mission of the conference to ensure that children were able to participate in this event. We want to give special thanks and acknowledge the African American Children’s and Families African American Read-In Committee, the University of Northern Iowa technology team, and the countless volunteers who tirelessly served to connect children to an experience they will cherish long into adulthood.
As we embark on our journey as literacy professionals to deliver and promote literacy instruction to children in digital environments, sharing our strategies is key to closing the digital divide and helping all students. As program planners across the United States begin their plans for the Read-In next February, our hope is that you will make time in your program for authors to focus on writing workshops, discussions surrounding their work, and the formation of book clubs to read African American children’s books.

Chicago native Tiffany A. Flowers is a children’s author, literacy advocate, and assistant professor of education in the department of cultural and behavioral sciences at Georgia State University Perimeter College. Her research interests include African American literacy development, children’s and young adult literature, urban education, family literacy, field placement, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. You can contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @Prof_Flowers.
Gloria Kirkland-Holmes is an Emeritus Professor of Early Childhood/Elementary Education at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the conference coordinator and founder of the Annual Conference on African American Children and Families and the University of Northern Iowa Annual African American Read-In. You can contact her at [email protected]

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

STEAM Learning Inspired by a Life Story

This post was written by guest author Yolanda Gonzales. 

The Mathical Book Award was new to me as an English language arts teacher and as an educator in general. Even though I teach in a STEAM-based school, it is still an ongoing struggle to create a cross-curricular study between the reading and math classes. Usually, our math and science teachers pair up to create a lesson and I pair up with social studies or technology.
But after viewing the Mathical award-winning author chats and read alouds that NCTE participated in as part of the National Math Festival in December of 2020, I see how beneficial and crucial it is to include areas of study that we wouldn’t traditionally think about in the reading classroom.
Ebony Joy Wilkins, the author of DK Life Series: Katherine Johnson, shared in her chat that she wants readers to be inspired by the story of famed NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson. Wilkins encourages both teachers and young learners to “face their fears, work diligently, and push for a fair place in this world.” Reading through the life story that she has provided in an engaging balance of graphics and text, I imagine the magnitude of the author’s goal as I think about how I would use this book in my own classroom.

When we engage in a book, whether it’s literary or informative text, I want my learners to demonstrate comprehension and analysis, but also to have an opportunity to apply what was read in some way. Katherine Johnson’s story gives us a perfect example of someone who had all the obstacles set up to cause her failure, but who did not let that stop her from doing what she loved and from helping others at the same time.

I couldn’t ignore the story of Katherine Johnson’s journey and I couldn’t ignore the potential math connection either. I handed over a copy of the book to our math teacher Matthew Botello, asking how we could have a math language arts activity with our students that went beyond writing a paragraph of how they solved a math problem. It’s been a struggle, I admit, especially with this year’s other challenges: we’ve been teaching in a hybrid model in which students in the classroom have had no or low-tech devices and students at home have had devices but were unable to meet at the same time; managing group activities with social distancing and not sharing supplies as often as we used to; and being confined to teaching in front of the computer instead of interacting with students all around the classroom.
Fortunately, brainstorming with my colleague gave me the running start I needed to create a Choice Board—a graphic organizer of project ideas that gives students options for exploring a topic in a variety of ways.
In this case, inspired by Katherine Johnson’s story, I decided to create a STEAM Choice Board; the math teacher provided the Math and Engineering sections and I created the rest—and my colleague and I experienced the most success we’ve ever had in formulating activities that include each other’s subject areas!
My thinking is that students can choose one project out of each section. Ideally the Choice Board will be used throughout the students’ classes—I plan to facilitate the Arts and Technology sections and the science, math, and engineering sections could be facilitated by those teachers as well.
It’s clear that Katherine Johnson’s story has appeal and value outside the areas of math and science. There are a multitude of connections you can make to other areas: social issues, the arts, passion projects, inquiry, mentoring, design and engineering—the list goes on. My hope is to illuminate the layers of Katherine Johnson’s challenges and contributions, so that students can be inspired to question, to push, and to do what they love well.

Yolanda Gonzales teaches English language arts, grades 6–8, at the Joe Barnhart Academy in Beeville, Texas. Yolanda has a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies through A&M-Corpus Christi and a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in reading through Concordia University. She also currently serves on her school’s Campus Instructional Leadership Team. Yolanda aims to continually grow as a learner and as a professional, and is humbled and thrilled to be a part of NCTE. This will be her 14th year of teaching in the English Language Arts; she cannot wait to see what teaching will bring in another fourteen.

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Self-Education: The Skill That Will Help You Stay Ahead

I’d always seen my dad use Photoshop, and I was curious to learn. So in 7th grade, I scraped together my allowance and bought a copy of Photoshop for Dummies. Through hours of practice, along with reading that book and online tutorials, I learned the basics of editing images in Photoshop. While I’m still no … Read more

What the Mathical Book Prize Offers to Young Readers and Writers

This post was written by NCTE Past President Franki Sibberson.

I love discovering new book awards. After serving on the committee for the NCTE Charlotte Huck Award® for Outstanding Fiction for Children, I realized firsthand the care with which award books are selected. As I read about other book awards, I realized that each award committee is celebrating books that match a vision they have for our children.
The Mathical Book Prize is a children’s book award that I’ve recently discovered. The Mathical Book Prize website introduces the award program this way: “Math is more than numbers and equations! The Mathical Book Prize is an annual award for fiction and nonfiction books that inspire children of all ages to see math in the world around them.”
I have been an elementary teacher for over 30 years, and most of those years were in self-contained classrooms. So as a teacher of both math and literacy, I am always looking for books that help my students understand math concepts through story.
This year, I was excited to see the new Mathical picture book winners. I knew they would be an important addition to early childhood and elementary classrooms. I loved Pigeon Math by Asia Citro when I first read it. I knew immediately that not only would children enjoy this book, but it would make math come alive for them in a way that was really fun. The math is such a natural part of the story and it is engaging from the first page. It is a perfect book to help young mathematicians see math in the real world in order to build understanding.
While the math elements are prominent, I realized when I reread the book how much it has to offer to young readers and writers as well. I sometimes forget about the ways these math stories can serve as mentor texts for our youngest writers.
As a teacher of reading and writing, I find powerful the many invitations Pigeon Math has for readers and writers of all ages to participate on their own.  I read the book to a group of third graders and a few immediately wanted to try to write their own humorous math story. From the engaging plot to the detailed adjectives to the changing size and font of the text, there are so many ways for student readers and writers to learn from this book.
The other Mathical Prize winning picture book this year was One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller by Kate Read. Again, this book will help young children make sense of math concepts. But it also provides a great mentor text for young readers and writers. I could see using this book to teach lessons on the ways that the words and pictures go together to tell a story, or the careful word choices the author made in creating this story. There is something very playful about trying to tell a story in counting book format, and this book may very well invite writers to play with writing their own clever counting book.
The Mathical Book Prize reminds us of the value of math books to build understanding. And as teachers of young readers and writers, we also have to remember that these books—the most recent winners as well as past winners—can serve as powerful mentors for both fiction and nonfiction readers and writers.

Franki Sibberson is a literacy consultant with over 30 years of classroom teaching experience. She is a widely published author and is Past President of NCTE.

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

AOC Is Tutoring a First Grader

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Readers as Placemakers

This is an excerpt from “Readerly Explorations: Reimagining Reader Response Journals to Engage Readers as Placemakers” by NCTE member Sarah Fischer, which appeared in the November 2020 issue of Language Arts. Read the full article. 
Using reader-text-place transactions as a framework, this article presents an approach to reader response journals that broadens definitions of “reader” and acknowledges children as placemakers.

Several years ago, after I had just completed a whole-class study of folktales in my fourth-grade classroom, Mikayla (all names are pseudonyms) stood in front of her peers on the carpet ready to share her most recent Readerly Exploration: a multimodal, reader response journal activity requiring readers to connect their reading experiences to local place(s). She held up a collage of photographs she had taken at a local park with her grandmother and explained, “I went to Bailey Park for my Readerly Exploration because my uncle told me a story that a bank robber hid money somewhere in the woods there and no one has ever found it.”
Ben interjected: “My dad said it was buried under where the pavilion is now!” Several more students attempted to offer their insider knowledge before I was able to turn their attention back to Mikayla. After sharing her experience reading Rumpelstiltskin and then exploring the park, she concluded with a smile: “It was really fun to go to the park, because it reminded me of how people a long time ago told each other stories so they wouldn’t give up hope and I hoped I would find the money.” Giggles erupted as the next student made her way up to the front of the carpet to share.

A sense of place, one’s developing affection for the distinctive qualities of a particular place (Ryden, 1993), is linked to a sense of belonging (Brillante & Mankiw, 2015).

Biologically influenced to make sense of their physical world and socioemotionally driven to connect with others, all children are placemakers (Chawla, 1992; Tuan, 2001). Because of this, Altman, Stires, and Weseen (2015) refer to schools’ disconnection from local place experiences as a “teachers’ and students’ rights issue” (p. 2) and they challenge educators to prioritize children’s connections to local place as a goal of instruction:
There is an urgency about this enterprise that is unique to our time. In a culture that is anything but mindful and present, place has never been so important. In classrooms particularly, teachers and students are distracted by the dictates of data-driven instruction, high-stakes assessment, and standardized curriculum. (pp. 1–2)
To position readers as placemakers in literacy contexts is to see them as having agency to shape the various dimensions of the places in which they dwell (Derr, Chawla, & Mintzer, 2018) and to acknowledge reading experiences as a powerful vehicle for this important work.
There are many ways young readers use texts to engage in placemaking during their recreational reading that can inform a place-conscious approach to literacy instruction. When children’s independent geographic accessibility expands in middle childhood (Sobel, 1993) at the same time that reading independence is often developing, these two identities (reader identity and place identity) intersect in dynamic ways through reading transactions.
Characterized by imaginative play and multisensory/multimodal aesthetic engagement with their physical environment, readers engage in placemaking behaviors as modes of response, including repositioning, nesting, transportation and layering (Fischer, 2017) as described [in this article.]
These authentic kinds of reader-text-place transactions serve as the framework by which I have reimagined reader response journals with my students both in my former role as a fourth-grade teacher and in my current role teaching preservice teachers.

Sarah  Fischer  is  an  assistant  professor  in  the  Department  of  Education  at  Messiah  University  in  Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

You Don’t Just ‘Raise’ A Reader, You Have to Teach Kids to Read, Too

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Celebrating Jacob Grimm, One of the Brothers Grimm

Jacob Grimm was born in Hanau, Germany, on January 4, 1785. With his brother Wilhelm, he began collecting traditional German folk tales, publishing their first volume, Children and Household Tales, in 1812. While many of these stories are still well known today—”Cinderella” and “Little Red Riding Hood” among them—their long-critiqued violence and frankness have been toned down over the years in more familiar versions. After a long career as an academic and librarian, Jacob died in 1863.
Learn more about the publication of the first volume of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Children’s and Household Tales (Kinder-und Hausmärchen), popularly known as Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
Students are always fascinated to learn that the fairy tales associated with the Brothers Grimm to which many of them have been exposed are not, in fact, the original Grimm versions; students have most likely only read or seen softened or “Disney-fied” versions. This activity has students encounter the original versions, so it may not be appropriate for younger students.
Have a student tell the story of Cinderella, starting from after the Ball. Then, have students read the end of the original version of the story and use the ReadWriteThink Venn Diagram interactive to compare and contrast this version with the more familiar retelling they heard from their classmate. Encourage students to discuss why certain changes might have been made and what the effects of those changes are on readers.
Next, ask students to choose a lesser-known Grimm story to read. Ask students to rewrite this story for an audience of elementary school children. Students should be able to explain what changes they made and the intended effects of those changes. Alternatively, students can use the Fractured Fairy Tales interactive to write alternative versions of fairy tales.
What is your favorite Grimm tale?

Curious about the NCTE and Library of Congress connection? Through a grant announced recently by NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE is engaged in new ongoing work with the Library of Congress, and “will connect the ELA community with the Library of Congress to expand the use of primary sources in teaching.” Stay tuned for more throughout the year!
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.