Especially in these times where we are practicing social distancing and spending more time at home, reading can make a difference. Reading can take us to far away places. Reading can expand our views and perspectives. And reading can validate and honor our stories. In our book, Reading to Make a Difference, learn how books can serve as springboards for critical conversations and lead children towards action to make a difference in the world!
We can’t believe it has already been one year since our book, Reading to Make a Difference was published! To celebrate the book’s first birthday, we are giving away a FREE copy! You can enter to win three times: (1) fill out this form, (2) retweet this post, and (3) post on Facebook and tag us.
with guest blogger Nozsa Tinsley, 2/3 teacher, Center for Inquiry, Columbia, SC
As educators, we strive to create learning environments where children feel safe to explore identity, diversity, justice and activism throughout the curriculum. Foundational to all of our work is providing students with rich literature and learning experiences that allow all identities, cultures, and languages to be affirmed. If we are not cautious, our curriculum and literature can quickly become a representation of the majority culture, completely dismissing other cultures, including those within our own classrooms.
It is vital for kids to see and feel themselves in books in order to have their cultures, languages, and identities acknowledged (Bishop, 1990). We can promote these healthy and inclusive practices through literature, pictures, videos and curriculum that we choose. However, although our classrooms are microcosms of our larger diverse community, the dominant culture tends to be the only cultured centered in in many classrooms. For example, students are taught Standard American English (SAE), which for students of color, may sound and feel much different from that of their own home language. Students who come from households that speak SAE are always affirmed within the classroom, but what about our students who speak African American Language (AAL) or the many other languages that make up our country and our classrooms? Oftentimes Black students who are raised speaking AAL are told to “speak English”. Instead of seeing the home language of our students as a deficit, what if we make the conscious effort to affirm and build upon their culture?
In my classroom, we did a language study including African American Language to better understand the value and importance it represents. As we began our study of AAL, I was careful to choose books with Black characters that spoke the language, but that did so outside of slavery. This was in hopes of breaking the misconception that AAL is an uneducated language and to move beyond this as the only narrative presenting African American Language. The few picture books that I found included legends and fables. It was a challenge to find modern books including Black Americans who spoke AAL. When selecting books with AAL, I considered the following three questions:
Does the book showcase Black families/people in a way that my kids can relate to (culture, customs, everyday life activities)?
Does the book showcase Black families/people enjoying themselves?
Does the book show Black families/people in a positive way?
Through the use of carefully selected literature, the kids recognized that African American Language (AAL) had patterns and rules just like that of Standard American English (see Figure 1). Taking a close look at the language allowed some students to gain new insights, while allowing others to unlearn some of the misconceptions they previously held (it’s wrong, improper, or just slang). By taking a close look at AAL, a language that is often dismissed, my AAL speakers were able to have their culture valued. Non AAL speakers experienced a new culture outside of their own. All of my students gained the knowledge and appreciation for a beautiful language.
Figure 1. Moving Between Languages (Translating) Anchor Chart
African American Language
Standard American English
-ed (past tense)
be (She be sick a lot.)
is (She is sick a lot.)
“It would be good if teachers could genuinely understand that Black English is not mistakes, it’s just different English, and that what you want to do is add an additional dialect to black students’ repertoire rather than teaching them out of what’s thought of as a bad habit, like sloppy posture or chewing with your mouth open.” – John McWhorter
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15th – October 15th in commemoration of the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens and immigrants that have ancestral ties to Latin American and Hispanic countries located in North, South, and Central America. Countries like Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile celebrate their anniversary of independence from Spanish colonization and rule. Celebrations include parades, festivals, concerts, and posts on social media wherever people who are tied to these countries are located, whether it is in the countries themselves or in spaces where descendants have immigrated to. Designating a month to bring attention to any group of people helps to raise the consciousness of all people. These designations are one step in the right direction, but only a small step toward the notion of full inclusion for all people. There is much work to be done if we are ever to see all groups being honored and celebrated every month, every day, all year. Let us work toward daily celebrations of our diverse and complex identities in our common humanity.
In this month’s post, we invited Kelsey Milian, one of Katie’s students at Furman University to share her poem, Buenos Días Niña to honor own voice stories from the Latinx community. We then share how Alyssa Cameron’s fourth graders become inspired by the true story of Latina role model, Sylvia Mendez.
Buenos Dias Nina is Spanish for “Good morning little girl”. When I was 19 years old I would take the Miami metro mover and buses to a very affluent part of the city for a summer internship. Every morning, I would sit at a bus stop around 6:15am and be greeted with “good morning little girl” from small Latinx women who reminded me of my mother. It was this very bus stop that I write my poem and made connections to a life opportunity my family made sacrifices for and one in which I would never stop working for.
My poem “Buenos Dias Nina” celebrates the family members that have made sacrifices in order for their children to have a different life and many more opportunities than they had.
Buenos Días Niña by Kelsey Milian
17 stops. Palmetto Station to Douglas Road and 30 minutes of music that seem to cloud my thoughts with summer plans.
The city is hot and humid. Today more than ever before.
I sit down next to large handbags, cheap flats, and petite women.
They remind me of an alternate universe. My life. And my mother’s life.
Those women stand here as early as 6:15am. Conversation after conversation. Bus after bus taking them to Hialeah. Taking them home.
A new brown skinned woman approaches the bench every 15 minutes. Besos, names, and preguntas about how their families is doing Are the normal intros exchanged.
I sat there and listened to their conversations. Some would realize they had forgotten their laundry at the bus stop once reaching Hialeah. And some would begin working at a new home in Coral Gables.
But it hit me. To the point that I began to taste the salty drops of my subtle tears.
They were the maids. Las que take care of someone else’s children. Las que spend hours cleaning the homes they wish to own one day.
My mother was one, a time before I appeared and a life we would have continued if opportunity was not earned.
But, my destiny was different.
I sat on that bus stop bench waiting to take the next route to a future mis papas dreamed for me.
Lo que soñaron para us.
Those women represent a culture and people I refuse to forget. Respecting what they do, their sacrifice and ganas goes noticed.
I hope mis sueños go noticed too.
I was born in Eastridge, TN, but was only there for 15 days until my family moved to Mexico and Guatemala, where they are from. After I turned 6, my family moved to Miami, FL where I was raised in a hub of Latinx an Carribean diversity. I am a Sociology and Educational Studies major at Furman University. Along with my many aspirations, I hope to attend graduate school and receive a PhD in Ethnomusicology or Sociology of Education. At the same time I hope to publish my first poetry book that speaks on what it means to be the daughter of Latinx immigrants and my own journey to make my dreams a reality. –Kelsey Milian
Kelsey’s story is a reminder that racism and classism are still a very present part of contemporary life in America. Many of our students know this reality, yet some of them have no experience, no point of reference that will allow them to recognize the injustice and inequity of it. Carefully selected literature read aloud and followed by open conversation can part the curtains on windows they never knew existed. In chapter five of Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action, we introduce Alyssa Cameron’s fourth graders in South Carolina. Using the instructional framework (see introduction), Alyssa moved her students from reading an intentionally selected text to thoughtful conversations and student-driven action. When reading the book, Separate is Not Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, the students learned about the discrimination including school segregation that Sylvia Mendez and her family faced as Mexican Americans living in California. This true story was eye opening as the students began to deepen their understanding of the racism that permeates through the United States in the past and into the present. The students were so moved by Sylvia’s story that they wanted to take action to inform others of the life and the actions of Sylvia Mendez and her family. They created a play for younger children, a presentation with slides for administration, and a letter to the editor of the “Who Was?” series requesting a book be written about Sylvia Mendez. This example demonstrates one way we can honor the contributions of Hispanic Americans. The graphic below illustrates the process these students followed in moving toward action. It begins with a small set of texts carefully selected to validate the experiences of some students while exposing others to information that may be new to them. Guided conversations typically lead to insights and connections and further reading. Time for reflection and writing often brings up the urge to take a stance and take action.
When school started Daniel enthusiastically introduced his new group of second graders to their classroom library. He introduced the books through book talks and
modeled how some of the books might be organized. He then invited the students to examine commonalities across books, sort them into like categories to create book bins, and create a label for the collections of text. By inviting students into the sorting and organization process, students have a greater sense of ownership over the collection. They will know where the books are kept and will have greater access to books. This will reduce time spent “shopping” for books and will increase time spent reading. After all, research shows us that access to books, choice in book selection, and time spent reading are key predictors of overall success in reading (Allington & Gabriel, 2012).
We love all the labels these kids came up with, but our favorite is “Young Kids Saving the World.” What a powerful way for students to see how other children can take action to make the world a better place. Perhaps these books will serve as doorways (Bishop, 1990) for these young readers and inspire them to make a difference in the world.
Consider following Daniel’s lead, how might that play out in your classroom? What if you brought in several empty boxes or laundry baskets and filled them with the books from your classroom library? What if your students spent a morning getting familiar and sorting the books into sets that are meaningful and accessible to them? What if?
Recently I spent a few hours in a second grade teacher’s classroom to sort a sample of his classroom library and evaluate the books for diversity and inclusivity. We chose a sampling of his classroom library collection to make the activity more manageable. This led to some eye opening revelations about who is included and who is excluded from his classroom library. As he sorted books, we had some interesting conversations about the activity and the role of diverse books (more about this in a future post). He commented about how valuable this exercise was to help him pay closer attention to the books he selects and how those books serve as mirrors and windows (Bishop, 1990) for his students.
“So why then do we read the same book year after year on the first day of school?” – 2nd grade teacher
First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg has been a favorite first day read aloud for many teachers. In fact, his entire grade level team reads it on the first day. I even read it aloud to my undergrads as we begin each semester. While we still love that book, this post features 10 suggested first day read alouds featuring diverse characters and perspectives.
The call to diversify our classroom libraries has gained recent attention over the last few years. With our nation’s population becoming increasingly diverse, it is essential that the books we read aloud and make available for our children to read independently allow them to see reflections of themselves. Yet our classroom libraries often over represent the dominant culture and fail to provide adequate mirrors for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People/Person(s) of Color) resulting in perpetuating the single story (Adichie, 2009).
For more book suggestions as well as instructional ideas, see chapter 1 “Discovering Our Own Identities” in our book, Reading to Make a Difference (Laminack & Kelly, 2019).