The Promise of a Humanizing Writing Pedagogy for Black Students

This is an excerpt from the article “Revealing the Human and the Writer: The Promise of a Humanizing Writing Pedagogy for Black Students” by Latrise P. Johnson and Hannah Sullivan, which appeared in the May 2020 issue of Research in the Teaching of English, and for which the authors received the 2020 Alan C. Purves Award. 

Using a critical stance on place, literacy, and humanity in order to examine how the literacy learning and practices of ELA classrooms/schools might (de)humanize and (de)culturize Black students, this study examines the writing pedagogy of a professor who taught a semester-long creative writing class for students at West High School. Through a humanizing approach to teaching writing, the professor and students engaged in writing and being in ways that honored—as well as centered and supported—their individual, cultural, and writerly identities. This article offers ways that teachers of writing might tap into Black intellectual traditions and invite students to use writing as a way to connect to what they do and learn while at school.

Historical perspectives of Black conceptions of literacy position Black people as demanders, creators, funders, and maintainers of educational institutions that have (a) provided literacy for all; (b) apprised individuals of and prepared them for the dominating culture’s institutions; (c) counteracted the pernicious and venal images of African Americans prevalent in popular culture; and (d) engendered group solidarity and commitment to uplift (Harris, 1992).
These perspectives are reflected in texts that historicize and imagine the lives of Black people, as well as in the contemporary composition of authentic portraits of Black people that challenge monolithic, dominant, and damaging narratives. The production and centering of such texts represent what is possible for teaching writing to Black youth, in that these texts serve as a “re-appraisal of . . . aesthetic values . . . [that are] less influenced by the dominant standards” and allow Black youth to “be taught with real conviction the beauties of [their] own [lives]” (Johnson, 1936). These texts also provide models for how writing has been used to add the voices and perspectives of Black people to bodies of knowledge that have historically ignored their contributions.
Therefore, a humanizing writing pedagogical stance begins with the notion that students’ knowledges (which encompass their collective and individual histories) are at the center of what they are expected to know and do while at school (Bartolomé, 1994; Donnell, 2007).
Thus, a humanizing writing pedagogy provides a lens to view Black students’ individual lives and creates opportunities for them to make personal, critical connections to a world where they share collective struggle related to the “circumstances of race status” (Johnson, 1936). With regard to writing instruction and the production of text, humanizing pedagogical processes require that pedagogues enact critical practices that interrupt normalized literacies and dominant ways of knowing and being.
For instance, the full development of a writer depends on understanding oneself in relation to one’s world (Johnson, 2017). That said, humanizing approaches to writing instruction and practice mean centering the writer in the processes and production of critically conscious writing—and, in this case, in ways that involve Black youth in the meaning-making that is part of a rich literary tradition.
Indeed, Black people have historically “needed literacy in order to acquire freedom and power” (Harris, 1992, p. 278). And it is that history and re-centering of Black culture that is integral to humanizing writing pedagogies for Black youth as they (1) recall forms of literacy that privilege and are contingent upon students’ sociohistorical lives, both proximally and distally; (2) are grounded in literate histories and traditions of Black people; and (3) invite Black students to compose and add their voices to various bodies of knowledges.

Latrise P. Johnson is an associate professor of secondary ELA and literacy at the University of Alabama.Hannah Sullivan is a Spanish teacher and PhD student at the University of  Alabama.

Read the full article: “Revealing the Human and the Writer: The Promise of a Humanizing Writing Pedagogy for Black Students”

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.

ESSC and ECEA of NCTE Respond to Anti-Asian Discrimination and Offer Resources

This statement was authored by the NCTE Elementary Section Steering Committee (ESSC) and the NCTE Early Childhood Education Assembly (ECEA).

The members of the NCTE Elementary Section Steering Committee and the Early Childhood Education Assembly denounce racism, hate, and white supremacy, and express our solidarity and support of our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander colleagues and community today and always. We demand justice for these communities and support the movement to #StopAsianHate
On March 16th, 2021, six Asian women were murdered as an act of hate and racism. These acts, fueled by white supremacist rhetoric and xenophobia, have surged throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This past year, a report issued by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes against Asian Americans in major US cities have surged by nearly 150 percent in 2020.
This violence is not new for marginalized communities, but attending a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina; going to synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; or going to work in a massage parlor in Atlanta, Georgia, should never equate to not coming home. These acts of violence and hate are all rooted in white supremacy. Therefore, it is vital that we stand in solidarity. The revolution will be intersectional. And we need everyone to fight against white supremacy.
This call is specifically for educators in schools and teacher education programs, recognizing that  as we are teaching future generations and teachers of these generations, each one of us has a responsibility to do something. These children will grow up and will either perpetuate anti-Asian hate or disrupt it. As educators, it is imperative that we realize that silence is not the answer. We lean on the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: If you are neutral in situations of injustices, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. 
Below we provide some reflection questions and resources to help you in this journey of disrupting anti-Asian hate:

How do you decenter whiteness in your curriculum every single day? (Resource: Decentering Whiteness in My Classroom) 
How do you honor the voices, experiences, languages, and stories of Asian/Asian American communities as a classroom norm? (Resource: Humanizing Asian Americans in the Classroom Through Children’s Literature)
How do you teach about the diversity, history, and contributions to the world’s knowledge from Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities? (Resource: After Atlanta: Teaching about Identity and History) 
Look at your picture books, library, and curriculum. Whose voices and stories are absent or merely token additions in your classroom library and instructional texts? (Resource: The Best 9 Children’s Books to Combat Asian Racism with Tips to Raise Anti-Racists)
In the wake of COVID-19, how are you teaching students to be critically conscious and act against Asian American hate? (Resource: Young, Proud, Sung-Jee, by Joyce Y. Lee and Emily Ku)  (Resource: Addressing Anti-Asian Racism: A Resource for Educators)

As educators, we must work together, across differences, to do the deep and necessary work of digging into ourselves—to unearth the biases, prejudices, and racism that we hold inside of us–to engage in the active process that Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz describes as the archeology of self.
This is a process of working through the internalized stories and ideologies that we carry with us through our schooling and the other spaces of our lives. We draw on the wisdom of scholar-elders like Grace Lee Boggs, who reminds us: You can’t change any society unless you take responsibility for it.
Moving inside out and back again, we can do the work of dismantling racism and white supremacy in our world, our schools, and our teaching.

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.

Promoting Social Justice with High-Interest Works of Sports-Related Nonfiction

This post was written by NCTE member Luke Rodesiler. 

Over time, sports culture has been established as a site of resistance, with athletes of yesteryear (e.g., Lew Alcindor, the Syracuse 8) and the modern day (e.g., Megan Rapinoe, players across the WNBA) fighting for social justice. It is no surprise, then, that many sports-related texts provide teachers with high-interest avenues for promoting social justice in the English language arts classroom.
Below I highlight three such texts. Each book is a distinct work of sports-related nonfiction published in 2020 that can be used to facilitate meaningful discussions about social justice or otherwise serve as a springboard into research projects that extend literacy learning at the intersections of sports and society.
Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball
by Jen Bryant & Frank Morrison (2020)
When recalling historic athletes who promoted social justice, Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos, boxing champ Muhammad Ali, and tennis star Billie Jean King quickly come to mind. Though often overlooked, basketball great Elgin Baylor is also noteworthy, for he conducted a one-man civil rights protest in 1959. Specifically, he refused to suit up for the Minneapolis Lakers after he and Black teammates Ed Fleming and Boo Ellis were refused service in Charleston, West Virginia, the site of a game against the Cincinnati Royals. The protest prompted change, for it was soon declared that no NBA team would play in a segregated state unless accommodations for all players were guaranteed. Baylor’s story is captured in Bryant and Morrison’s picture book, which can be read with students at virtually any grade level to support the exploration of social justice, the power of protest, and athlete activism.
Dragon Hoops
by Gene Luen Yang (2020)
Yang, a renowned graphic novelist, documents the 2014–2015 Bishop O’Dowd High School (CA) men’s varsity basketball season in this award-winning graphic memoir. Along the way, he recounts his experiences as a teacher at the school, as a cartoonist, and as a family man. He also incorporates stories about the history of basketball, including its creation by Dr. James Naismith; its adoption by Senda Berenson, who introduced women to the game; and its expansion into China. Opportunities for discussions about sociopolitical issues such as racism, equity, and religious persecution arise throughout. Moreover, one of the book’s notable motifs reflects the idea of having the courage to step into the unknown, just as the Dragons do each game, risking failure and subjecting themselves to the vitriol of hostile crowds. Maintaining such courage is surely relevant when taking up the fight for social justice.
Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back: Dilemmas of the Modern Fan
by Jessica Luther & Kavitha A. Davidson (2020)
Teachers eager to promote social justice by facilitating critical readings of sports culture are sure to appreciate this book by sportswriters Luther and Davidson. The authors acknowledge the joys of sports fandom (e.g., camaraderie, the thrill of victory) but contend that many fans inevitably experience a crisis of conscience, for many of society’s ills (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia) permeate sports culture. Each chapter, then, presents a moral dilemma faced by modern sports fans, giving students a chance to explore sociopolitical issues in the context of sports culture. Addressing topics such as inequitable compensation, racist mascots, and the marginalization of LGBTQ+ sports figures, the book offers valuable opportunities for promoting social justice. Whether sharing excerpts or the text in full, teachers can use Luther and Davidson’s book to facilitate discussions, launch inquiry projects, or otherwise position students to critically examine timely issues in sports and society.

Luke Rodesiler is an associate professor of education at Purdue University Fort Wayne. Along with Alan Brown, he is the coeditor of Developing Contemporary Literacies through Sports: A Guide for the English Classroom (NCTE, 2016). He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @rodesiler.
Visit the companion website for Developing Contemporary Literacies through Sports
Read Luke Rodesiler’s English Journal article “On Second Thought: Teaching for Social Justice through Sports Culture” (July 2018).
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.

How Autobiography Can Contribute to Global Citizenship in COVID-19 America

From the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship

This post was written by NCTE member Heerak Kim, a member of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

“I realized I was following a tradition established by Frederick Douglass—the slave narrative—speaking in the first-person singular, talking about the first-person plural, always saying ‘I,’ meaning ‘we.’ ” —Maya Angelou

As committee members of the Standing Committee on Global Citizenship, we have pondered what it means to contribute to the world as global citizens. This quote from the American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou regarding autobiography writing suggests the power of telling one’s own stories in one’s own words, prompting me to consider more strategically the ways in which autobiography can contribute to global citizenship.
Autobiography is written by a single person but often testifies to the experiences of many who might share that person’s identity.  In a sense, therefore, autobiography represents the power of participatory identity or representative group identity. The autobiography is a voice of a people, channeled through the person writing their autobiography.
In this regard, no one suffers alone. There is collectivity to the suffering. Many can identify with this, particularly during COVID-19 global pandemic. When an area is under a lockdown and all the restaurants close their dining rooms, there is a shared loss or grief in the community. There is also a common sense of loss that is evoked among  community members of a hot-spot area when they bear witness to their fellow residents dying from COVID-19.
Collective memory and experiences are not all tragic, however.  Even in the greatest tragedy, people find humor and positivity, which they share through art, literature, and music.
In the current climate, that could be in the form of a Zoom meeting, where each instrumentalist plays their own music in the private space of a tiny Zoom window.  But the many small Zoom windows on the computer screen come together to provide a symphony that is distinctive to our shared COVID-19 experience.  Perhaps we can call it “the COVID-19 Cultural Experience.”
Despite the pandemic raging throughout the world, we cannot forget the fact that global citizenship is alive and well and that we can all contribute. As literature educators, we can encourage project-based learning, inviting students to tell their own stories through autobiography. From here, we can even seek a publisher to publish the collective work, to be shared throughout the world.
In this regard, I find one particular collection of autobiographies enlightening. Korean-American Stories:  Collection of Autobiographies, edited by Ariel Raimundo Choi, shares autobiographies in which “I” means “we.” Raimundo Choi reflects on his personal experience as a Hispanic-Korean-American, an ethnic Korean born in Argentina who later immigrated to the United States. Ye One Chung identifies herself with Israel, the country where she grew up and subsequently wrote her autobiography,  in Hebrew with an English translation provided. Reading through Korean-American Stories: Collection of Autobiographies, one comes to understand the beautiful diversity of global citizenship.
English language arts teachers in pre-K to 12th grade and college professors teaching in departments of English and literature can encourage discussion of the complexities of global citizenship by engaging in reading autobiographies such as those contained in Korean-American Stories: Collection of Autobiographies. This can be a generative multicultural experience.
Our shared pandemic experiences can provide similar opportunities for writing about “I,” meaning “we.”  A classroom teacher can encourage each student to write about their own family’s day-to-day experiences during the pandemic. Since COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of everyone’s life in the United States, allowing opportunities for expression of this new experience can provide a nuanced portrait of the realities of different cultural experiences in America.
As literature educators, we can contribute to the engagement and production of this genre of literature that can be educational, engaging, and even therapeutic. There is power in the written word, and reading and writing autobiographies can usher in greater participation in global citizenship.

Heerak Kim is writing his Ed.D. dissertation at the American College of Education on improving urban schools and is the vice president of its chapter of Kappa Delta Pi International Honors Society in Education. Heerak is the author of Bat Yam: A Novel and Jewish and Indian and Other Stories.

“The Standing Committee on Global Citizenship works to identify and address issues of broad concern to NCTE members interested in promoting global citizenship and connections across global contexts within the Council and within members’ teaching contexts.”
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.

Build Your Stack: Curating a Menu of Mentors

This blog post was written by NCTE member Lynsey Burkins. It’s part of Build Your Stack,® an NCTE initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. Build Your Stack® provides a forum for contributors to share books from their classroom experience; inclusion in a blog post does not imply endorsement or promotion of specific books by NCTE.

On January 20, 2021 President Biden signed an Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. Section 2 defined equity as follows:
Sec. 2. Definitions. For purposes of this order: (a) The term “equity” means the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.
As I began to process how the order defined equity, I began to think about my own practice as an elementary educator. I reflected specifically on creating an equitable curriculum. In the district I have taught in for the past 18 years, teachers have the agency to use our state standards to design learning opportunities for children. This gives teachers the responsibility of selecting materials used to teach the state standards.
I would like to think of myself as a teacher who strives to live within a social justice pedagogical stance. In this quest, I want to do all that I can to be careful not to other or create any stereotypes of any community and or dehumanize in any way. I want my students to feel seen and know that they are heard. I also want my students to be woke to themselves and the community around them. Books have always been a way to support conversations and to learn in my classroom.
Working within the learning standards, I’ve tried to use three categories of books when creating a menu of mentor texts to use for literacy units of study reading and writing. Franki Sibberson helped me to think in terms of a “menu of mentors,” in which I collect books in larger groups (menus) to use to pull text sets for learning. Three of my book menus that support student learning are:

Books that teach about history
Books that support conversations around social justice
Books that represent incidental diversity

My hope is that any menu of mentors that is created for whole group units of study in reading and writing would include a mixture of all three of these book categories. All three of these are needed as we work to humanize all of our stories and experiences in this world.
Here is a sampling of books for these three categories that have really sparked conversations among the third graders in my class this year:

Books that teach about history give students a historical perspective about people and events.

A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation
by Barry Wittenstein (author), Jerry Pinkney (illustrator)

The Teachers March!: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History 
by Sandra Neil Wallace (author), Rich Wallace (author), Charly Palmer (illustrator)

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
by Carole Boston Weatherford  (author), Floyd Cooper (illustrator)

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story
by Ken Mochizuki (author), Dom Lee (illustrator)

Baseball Saved Us
by Ken Mochizuki (author), Dom Lee (illustrator)

Books that support conversations around social justice help students give words to feelings or things they see. Many times, after reading these books, students begin to organize themselves in conversations around taking action. It is important that these lists include books that not only explore the issues and trauma but also the joy. Social justice work should always have joy.

Milo Imagines the World
by Matt de la Peña (author), Christian Robinson (illustrator)

Call Me Max (Max and Friends Book 1)
by Kyle Lukoff (author), Luciano Lozano (illustrator)

Your Name Is a Song
by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (author), Luisa Uribe (illustrator)

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners
by Joanna Ho (author), Dung Ho (Illustrator)

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story
by Aya Khalil (author), Anait Semirdzhyan (illustrator)

Books that represent incidental diversity better reflect the real world. These may be books with characters who just happen to belong to an underrepresented group or community or books in which the character’s diverse identity is not the central focus of the story.

Puppy Truck
by Brian Pinkney

Let’s Go on a Hike! (a Family Hiking Adventure!)
by Katrina Liu (author), Heru Setiawan (illustrator)

Me & Mama 
by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away 
by Meg Medina (author), Sonia Sanchez (illustrator)

Lift
by Minh Lê  (author), Dan Santat  (illustrator)

My Papi Has a Motorcycle
by Isabel Quintero (author) and Zeke Peña (illustrator)

Dragonfly Kites (Songs of the North Wind) 
by Tomson Highway (author), Julie Flett (illustrator)

One thing I want to always remember is that, over the school year, children should have experiences reading books about people and communities that show them in a myriad of experiences and situations. Histories, celebrations, struggles, trauma, and joys should be shared through stories so that children have a full picture of the richness and experiences of all those who make up our world.

Lynsey Burkins has been a passionate educator for over 18 years in Dublin, Ohio. She resides in Westerville, Ohio, with her husband and two children. She is a member of NCTE and is Chair of the Build Your Stack Committee. Lynsey also writes for the Classroom Communities blog. She lives for the moments when children see themselves in books and recognize that their stories matter too.

NCTE and independent bookstores will receive a small commission from purchases made using the links above.
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.

Our Solidarity Is More Than Symbolic

From the NCTE Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English

This post was written by NCTE members Damián Baca, Kathleen Colantonio, Dulce Flecha, Lorena Germán, Richard Gorham, Felicia Hamilton, Patrick Harris, Jazmen Moore, Keisha Rembert, Holly Spinelli, Jineyda Tapia. All are members of the NCTE Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English.

Yet again, we find ourselves collectively mourning loss as a result of hate and desired power. As we grieve, express our anger and exhaustion, and exhibit care for the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, our solidarity is more than symbolic; it is in the actions we take in our classrooms and beyond.
Since the onset of COVID-19 and its inflammatory and racist framing, the AAPI community has seen increased levels of violence recently, culminating in the deaths of six women of Asian descent. Hate crimes have been heavily reported by Asian women—specifically, verbal harrassment, physical assault, civil rights discrimination, and online harassment.
According to Stop AAPI Hate’s latest national report, AAPI hate crimes topped 3,700 incidents in the time period from the start of the pandemic in 2020 to now, in 2021. NCTE recognized the danger of inappropriately characterizing COVID-19 with divisive, xenophobic language by awarding the 2020 NCTE Doublespeak Award “. . . to any elected official and news media personnel who used, defended, or advocated for the use of phrases such as China Virus, the Chinese Flu, Kung Flu, and Wuhan Flu in place of the COVID-19 virus’s official name.”
These acts of hate have risen in schools as AAPI students reported more instances of bullying in 2020–2021 (Act to Change).
Here are some actions we encourage all ELA educators to take:

Be deliberate with your language. Think about how your language around the racism experienced by the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community promotes understanding, cultural awareness, and allyship.
Be honest and explicit with your students. This is a conversation for our ELA classrooms at all levels. Think about paired texts and discussion prompts to promote critically.
Be sure you do your homework. No cultures or peoples are monoliths. Recognize the varied histories, experiences, values, languages, places, and cultures that make up the AAPI community.
Be mindful of internalized trauma. Give your students the space and time to properly process their thoughts and feelings. Ensure that AAPI students are extended care and not expected to carry the burdens of dialogue or education of others.
Be vocal. Speak up! Our students—those who are members of the AAPI community and others—are always listening. They hear our voices and they also hear our silence. Now is a time to let your students know where you stand.
Promote action. Translate learning into actionables for students.

Below are some resources to support you in embedding antiracist teaching and learning in support of the AAPI community.

Activists:

Consider learning about Betty Yu’s art. She’s an NYC artist and activist. Learn more at her website: bettyyu.net
Simon Tam (also known as Simon Young) is an activist, musician, and writer. He’s one of the founders of “The Slants,” an all Asian American dance rock band. Learn more at his website: Simontam.org.

Articles:

The following are organizations with information and research that you can use for class discussions, projects, and as sources of research for essays.

Literature by AAPI authors

For children:

Picturebook: Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant & Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki
Picturebook: Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat
Picturebook: A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
Picturebook: Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by Farhana Zia, illustrated by Ken Min

For middle school students:

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhà Lai (could also be used with high school students)

For high school students:

Understanding American history in a more complete way, including the presence of Asians is critical. Consider the following resources:

Anti-Asian racism is, of course, nothing new. It has permeated the history of our nation just as other forms of racism have. Our classrooms are the place to examine the truths and complexities of anti-Asian racism so that students understand, empathize, and are positioned to act against such hate.

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. 

Build Your Stack: Our Classroom Libraries Evolve as We Learn and Grow

This post was written by NCTE member Mary Lee Hahn. It’s part of Build Your Stack,® an NCTE initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. Build Your Stack® provides a forum for contributors to share books from their classroom experience; inclusion in a blog post does not imply endorsement or promotion of specific books by NCTE.

In the past few months, white America has taken a couple of baby steps in learning American history. More whites now know about the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 and Juneteenth than ever before. As a white teacher, I believe it’s my responsibility to continue my own learning, and I hope we can all do this and make plans to bring what we learn into our curriculum. Picture book biographies are a great place to start. Say their names. Lift them up. Make American history whole.
My classroom library continues to evolve as I learn and grow. In the summer of 2020, I gathered this stack. This is not a definitive resource. This stack is a reminder to start with the books that are on your shelf or in your school library. This stack is a reminder that books can be used not just to center Black excellence. They are also the books you can go to for mini lessons on the power of endpapers, using the format of poetry in writing a nonfiction text, comparing and contrasting across a theme or topic, creating a dual timeline, using flashback, or studying the ways illustrations and text work together.

Along with teaching a more complete and honest version of American history, these books are a reminder to be intentional about all the ways we can center Black excellence in our classrooms.

Begin with Frederick Douglass, who lived an amazing life that spanned a significant era of the history of our nation: he was born into slavery, was involved in resistance and abolition, championed women’s rights, experienced emancipation, and lived to see the 13th Amendment ratified. Douglass’s story makes it clear that Black history is American history.

The endpapers of Carter Reads the Newspaper could be the starting point for a year-long study of history, beginning with kings, queens, and pharaohs in Africa, and continuing on to the activists and politicians of today. Let’s continue the work of Carter G. Woodson, who spent his life championing Black history by establishing Negro History Week in 1926. This week eventually became Black History Month. Let’s  weave Black history into all of American history.

Whereas Carter G. Woodson was supposedly told by a Harvard professor that Black people had no history, it was Arturo Schomburg’s fifth-grade teacher who told him that, and who sparked his quest to collect the books and documents that proved her wrong. This collection became the Schomburg library in Harlem. Close readings of each of the poems in Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library can lead to a deeper understanding of both Schomburg and luminaries of Black history.

Like the lives of Douglass, Woodson, and Schomburg, Ida B. Wells’s life was defined by the power of reading, writing, and speaking. She should be known not only as a journalist, but as a journalist who fought against Jim Crow laws and lynching and for desegregation and women’s suffrage. The blend of realism and symbolism in Stephen Alcorn’s illustrations in Yours For Justice, Ida B. Wells will deepen the reader’s understanding of Wells’s life and work.

Fannie Lou Hamer’s super power was her singing voice—and her belief in and work for voting rights, civil rights, and women’s rights. A timeline of American history would show that the lives of Douglass, Woodson, Schomburg, Wells and Hamer all overlap, and in some cases, intersect.
History can be found in more than just timelines and politics. We need to teach our students that all of us MAKE history with our lived experiences. History is in the lives of our artists and our sports sheroes and heroes.

Not only was Josephine Baker an amazing dancer in the Roaring Twenties, but she worked against racial discrimination, spoke alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington, and lived her truth by adopting twelve children of different races and from different countries.
Tyree Guyton used his art as community activism to lift up and save the Detroit neighborhood of Heidelberg.

Alice Coachman’s determination and focus on her dream led to her being the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the 1948 London Summer Olympics.

Cassius Clay (before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali) also won Olympic gold in 1960. He used his fame to be a positive role model. This book can be used as a mentor text for nonfiction text structures in the way it uses flashback.

Which brings us to today, and the sisters—Venus and Serena Williams (also Olympic gold medalists)—who have changed so much for Black women in sports and the sport of tennis with their power, craft, and sense of fashion.

I’ll repeat what I started with—It is the responsibility of teachers to continue learning, and to make plans to bring what we learn into our curriculum. Picture book biographies are a great place to start. Say their names. Lift them up. Make American history whole.

Mary Lee Hahn is a teacher-poet. She has taught fourth or fifth grade for 35+ years and is the author of Reconsidering Read-Aloud. Her poems can be found in more than a half-dozen anthologies. She collects her poetry at Poetrepository.

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.

Assisting with My First African American Read-In

This blog post was written by NCTE member Willeena Booker.

The month of February proved to be a celebration of literacy and learning, as I engaged in diverse ways of celebrating African American History.
I began with a goal which I had established for myself in 2019: I set out to plan and assist in facilitating my first African American Read-In.
In my own classroom I had begun by exposing my students to texts written by authors of color. On the first day we read Kamala Harris Rooted in Justice, by African American poet and author Nikki Grimes. This was a beautiful way of introducing our nation’s Vice President to young learners.
I went on to read many other texts with my students, such as as Kente Colors by Debbie Chocolate. I used my own Kente cloth to show the beauty of patterns and color as well as giving the meaning of Kente cloth, which is used on special occasions and during celebrations within the African American community.
I also read the story Brown Boy Joy, written by Thomishia Booker, and led a conversation on using adjectives as describing words. Students were able to list the describing words in the story such as gold, shine, fearless, bold, bright, happy, and wonderful. I talked to students about the author’s purpose in writing stories that uplift Black children to counter negative perceptions.
I then read aloud Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story, by Ruby Bridges, and we discussed the unfair laws and the meaning of segregation. Following this was Wilma Unlimited, by Kathleen Krull, in which we followed Wilma’s life and all the hurdles she overcame from birth to becoming an Olympic gold-medal winner.
Finally, in the last week of the month, our school prepared for a visiting author event. I contacted poet, author, and photographer Charles. R. Smith Jr. and arranged with the administrators of Hatboro-Horsham School District to bring in this amazing author on February 26, 2021.
During our official districtwide celebration of the African American Read-in that week, I shared the book I am World and 28 Days, both by Charles R. Smith Jr. The students learned about the resiliency,  the struggles, and the determination of many African Americans in history, such as Bessie Coleman, Robert Smalls, and Marian Anderson. The assembly was open to all grades K–5 in the district and was well attended: there were 53 elementary classes present at the primary grades portion and 58 classes in attendance for grades 3–5.
The feedback that I heard from teachers after these African American Read-In events was extremely positive and uplifting! I enjoyed planning and facilitating my first AARI and wholeheartedly look forward to next year’s AARI celebration.

Willeena Booker serves as an elementary teacher for both Hatter’s Academy and Hallowell Elementary School, in the Hatboro-Horsham school district in Horsham, Pennsylvania.

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.