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Black History Month: Purpose and Progress

Personally, "Black History Month" represents a time of pride and privilege. A time of gratitude and solidarity. It is the month when my dominate identity markers (black American, female, educator) converge in the celebration of my ancestors.  As the month comes to an end, there are a few salient thoughts about celebrating the progress and struggle of Black Americans both past and present that I want to discuss (or rant about). 
In my K-12 education I remember being taught that “slaves” were brought to the Americas. I wish one of my teachers would have adopted the notion, “slaves weren’t brought to the Americas, people were.” This perspective humanizes Africans, and validates the lives of those who were wrongfully thrown into a vicious cycle of oppression and abuse. During "Black History Month" my teachers also shared the phenomenal stories of the same people (e.g. MLK Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman) year after year. While the accomplishments of these great individuals is certainly worthy of recognition, in college I challenged myself to two things. One, to remember and celebrate the history of AFRICA before European colonization, and two, to integrate the history of African Americans, and other cultures throughout the year in my curriculum! The latter is a work in progress. While the debate on the pros/cons of having “Black History Month” rages on, I am convicted by a need to see cultures embedded into the curriculum and not isolated to a month, week, or day. I can’t think of a single American history event that doesn’t in some way intersect with a different race or culture.  I have gone back and forth about celebrating Black History Month. I get the argument that it is needed, but I can't ignore the fact that to me it seems more of a "do and show" versus a "learn and grow."
In 2012, I had the privilege of meeting John Lewis while attending the Congressional Black Caucus with Teach For America. I was completely baffled by the fact that some people didn’t know who he was(I’m sure that has changed based on the acclaim of the movie Selma). Unfortunately, I didn’t learn about this legend in school, but on my own. That’s a shame because he’s a LIVING LEGEND! A PIONEER! Really. 

 Another reflection I have is about the full story of the Civil Rights Movement. There were some pivotal moments (e.g. Emmett Till’s murder, MLK Speech, Montgomery Bus boycott), but there were also stories and events that sometimes get lost in the shuffle. In particular, I long for a curriculum that delves into the collaborative efforts between blacks and their white allies,  or the dissension within the African American community on the direction of the movement, or the role of politics in the  fight for equality. The good news is that I believe that push for multiple perspectives with the CCSS is moving us closer to such conversations. 
There is movement towards justice being led by the next generation of leaders. While teachers SHOULD NOT, I repeat SHOULD NOT place their personal beliefs in the curriculum, they could use current events to analyze, compare, and contrast the past with the present. I spoke about my thoughts on social justice in this post last month, and I am following up with information I learned after visiting St. Louis and participating in a series of lessons facilitated by those engaged in THE WORK. I observed classrooms where students were discussing their role in leading change (here and here). These lessons were facilitated by novice teachers and I was blown away by student investment and responses! I also participate in a session entitled, "#Blacklivesmatter & Ferguson is Everywhere: A Case Study in How We Can Organize and Take Action." It was led by my fellow Teach For America colleague Brittany Packnett, along with activists Johnetta Elzie, DeRay McKesson, and Kayla Reed. Whoever presented the narrative that mission in Ferguson has no leadership is sadly misinformed. I was humbled and inspired by what these activists are doing and why they are doing it. 

I write all of this to say, 
the history of this country is complicated and incomplete
its not black and white
it's been a long and winding road full of triumphs and disappointments 
In the words of my favorite poet Dr. Maya Angelou, "No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place."

Remember, Black history is American and World history.  I aspire to promote a culturally diverse curriculum that provides a historical perspective that enhances the cultural and racial identity of students 365 days a year. 

NOTE: I have a culturally responsive teaching board on Pinterest and I am looking for pinners! If interested, follow the board and leave your Pinterest information below. 

Close Reading: Teacher Actions

I've seen amazing posts about close reading all over my Bloglovin' feed. Phenomenal educators are sharing best practices, resources, and personal opinions about close reading in posts like this, this, and this. I've even dabbled {here} in the topic too. While I am no expert, I love sharing what I know and hearing the opinions of others. This post will focus on the actions that teachers can take before and during a close reading lesson with students. It is my personal philosophy that teachers should engage with the text at least four times before the lesson: 
       1) For fun 
       2) To determine the literal meaning 
       3) To focus on the author's craft  
       4) To identity places where students might be confused
These steps are important because teachers need to be experts on the text before expecting students to be experts on it. 

Below is a non-exhaustive list of teacher and student actions that assist students with grasping the literal meaning of the text. Please note that many scholars and educators refer to this as "Key Ideas and Details" which aligns to the Common Core Standards. For the sake of brevity, I call this literal comprehension where students identify the big idea of the text. 

As students demonstrate an understanding of the literal meaning of the text, move forward with the "meat and potatoes" which is the deeper meaning. A pitfall to avoid is spending too much time on the literal meaning of the text. I've fallen into this pit by trying to ensure that students understand every little part of the text, and this takes away from the pacing of the lesson and may disengage students. In the sample text that I am using in this post, there are a number of words (i.e. pantaloons, pard, capon) that are not critical in terms of students understanding the larger theme or deeper meaning within the text. Therefore, once students state the big ideas and concepts, I move the class forward in order to focus on the richer themes. This doesn't mean that students skip over parts of the text, which is contrary to the point of close reading. That said, I move the class forward recognizing that we will reread the text and push our analysis in a manner that bridges gaps for students.   

Engaging in conversations around the deeper meaning of the text in a non-leading way is challenging. PERIOD. That said, the most important role that teachers play when engaging with students around the deeper meaning of the text is that of a LISTENER. Teachers must listen and respond to what students are saying and use their expertise of the text to guide student thinking. This underscores the importance of teachers being an expert of the text. 

As a final note, when I think about close reading, it's all about student thinking and analysis. In my humble opinion there is not a "no prep' way to do it. Teacher knowledge of the the text allows for clarification of misunderstandings and for teachers to guide students through and to the deeper meaning. The lesson I am sharing is focused on students annotating and engaging in a robust conversation about the text. That said, there are times when using a different approach with different tasks is appropriate. For example, teachers may have students write responses to multiple text dependent questions during a lesson, or complete a graphic organizer.  This lesson that I am sharing was completed in a small group (8-10) in order to ensure that every student was contributing.The resources for this lesson are {here} for teachers who would like to complete it with their students. Enjoy!

Valentine's Day blog hop 2015

 I am so excited about linking up with an AMAZING group of secondary teachers to share a little love about teaching! 
1) There's so much I love about teaching. I made collage using about .00001 of the pictures I've accumulated over the years, and in the spirit of this collage I am going to ramble (using mostly sentence fragments) about all the things I LOVE about teaching. I love my students. I love learning, and positioning my students to think.I love overcoming obstacles. Problem Solving together. Drama free days. Laughing.Playing.Creating. I love being a role model. Playing multiple roles. Smiling. Learning with my kids.Teaching old things in new ways. I love working with other teachers. Giving. Getting.Growing.Collaborating. I love getting to know what makes kids tick (in a good way). I love the sound of laughter. The sound of awe. The sound of joy. I love getting better. I love proving stereotypes wrong. I love falling down. And getting up. I love meeting parents, guardians, brothers, and sisters. I love being a part of a family.I love being in the "know" about new trends and fads. I love the energy in the room when my students are "all in." I love the stories my students sometimes tell. I love creating our own story, on our own stage, in our own world. I love the challenge in the day to day grind. I love preparing my students to speak back to the world. I being able to share my gift with my students. I love asking questions, and listening to responses. I love reading with students, and listening to them tell me what they love about reading. I love giving my all on a daily basis.I love thinking outside the box. I love watching kids grow. I love teaching. 

2) Now, that I've shared a growing list of things I love about teaching, I hope you will indulge me for a minute while I rant. One thing that is difficult about the middle school years is the DRAMA. I am talking about the he said, she said, we said, I like, she likes, he likes type of drama! Are you following me? I took all that energy I have about preteen/teen emotions and rolled it into a CREATIVE WRITING FREEBIE! The gist of this activity involves students creating a "perfect pair" by rolling two cubes, and using the descriptions on the cubes to create a story about two characters that are the perfect PAIR.This resource can be found here in my store! I'd love to hear your feedback about this product. 

3) A funny/adorable gift that received for Valentine's Day came from one my students who shared my love for the FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES. He bought me a sweater vest, and every time I've worn this the team has won! Too bad I forgot to wear it when we played the Ducks this year. #toosoon 

4) Something you would love to do is start a family blog. I have so much fun with my hubby who is a Game of Thrones nerd, middle school music teacher, and our household chef! We even have a fun GoT inspired blog name! This idea has Summer of 2015 written all over it. 

5) I really love Jacquline Woodson's books. I recently read Brown Girl Dreaming and it is an AWESOME and INSPIRING book! 

Hope you enjoyed this post, and head on over to the other blogs participating is this LOVEly hop!