Monthly Archives: May 2017

In the Classroom: Let’s Talk: Teaching Race in the Classroom

Last week I visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was incredible and overwhelming and I have been yearning ever since for a way to return as I feel I barely skimmed the surface of what was there. Then,  perusing the website, I came across a page featuring Professional Learning Events, one a week-long workshop titled “Let’s Talk: Teaching Race in the Classroom.” It is being held July 10-14 and I registered immediately. While I have done other workshops on equity and race I feel my learning and work on it is never enough so this can only help me to do this work with my colleagues and students. And since, at my school, we are continually grappling with the best way to teach the Transatlantic Slave Trade with our 4th graders I’m also hoping to learn how to do that better.

Here’s the description:

Race is an aspect of our American culture that is often ignored, glossed over or mishandled.  Additionally, to succeed in promoting equity, tolerance, and justice, childhood is the time to address these issues by understanding children’s development and encouraging positive feelings about their racial and cultural identity, as well as others’.  Working with youth makes it incumbent that educators are prepared to address issues of race whenever they surface such as in history or social studies lessons or when current events brings them forward such as events in our recent history.

Through presentations from researchers in the field, small group discussions, and reflective exercises participants will engage in conversations about race/racism, explore ways to address issues and topics that will meet students where they are in their racial development, and practice techniques for creating safe space for difficult discussions.

Educators will

  • learn and practice strategies for building a personal connections within their classroom
  • be introduced to and deepen their knowledge of racial identity development
  • reflect on their personal racial views, experiences, and implicit bias
  • practice facilitating interactions/discussions around racial issues by performing role-play situations
  • identify implicit bias and recognize how it affects teaching in the classroom
  • learn strategies for resilience and self-care

Due to the nature of the workshop material, the layering of activities and the sensitive nature of conversations that may develop, we require participants to commit to attending the whole week. 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under In the Classroom

A Taste of Philip Pullman’s Forthcoming Book of Dust

The gentleman waiting gave him a start, though all he was doing was sitting still by the cold fireplace. Perhaps it was his dæmon, a beautiful silvery spotted leopard, or perhaps it was his dark, saturnine expression; in any event, Malcolm felt daunted, and very young and small. His dæmon, Asta, became a moth.

“Good evening, sir,” he said. “Your Tokay what you ordered. Would you like me to make up the fire? It’s ever so cold in here.”

“Is your name Malcolm?” The man’s voice was harsh and deep.

“Yes, sir. Malcolm Polstead.”

“I’m a friend of Dr. Relf,” said the man. “My name is Asriel.”

From the Guardian’s “Before His Dark Materials: Philip Pullman’s New Novel — Exclusive Extract” Makes me all the more excited!

2 Comments

Filed under His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman, The Book of Dust

SLJ’s Day of Dialog

I’m very honored to be moderating a YA panel at School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog next Wednesday, May 31st. This is a stellar yearly event that is held in conjunction with Book Expo, one I have attended many times. It sells out quickly, but this year they are offering something for those who can’t be there in person — live streaming! More about that here.  If you need more encouragement to do this, here’s the schedule:

9:00-9:30AM
Opening Keynote
Gene Luen Yang, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

9:30-10:15AM
Panel: To Interstellar Space and Back: Nonfiction for Everyone!
R. Gregory Christie, A Time To Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech (NorthSouth)
Sue Macy, Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly into the Twentieth Century (National Geographic)
Michelle Markel, Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books (Chronicle)
Steve Sheinkin, Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team (Roaring Brook)
Alexandra Siy, Voyager’s Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space (Charlesbridge)

10:30-11:00AM
Hear straight from the publishers about their biggest Fall titles
BLINK
Candlewick
Charlesbridge
Chronicle

11:00-11:45AM
Panel: The Sweet Spot: Captivating Middle Grade Readers
Tracey Baptiste, Rise of the Jumbies (Algonquin Young Readers)
Paul Griffin, Saving Marty (Dial)
Katherine Paterson, My Brigadista Year (Candlewick)
Jason Reynolds, Patina (Simon & Schuster)
Karina Yan Glaser, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

11:45AM-12:15PM
Hear straight from the publishers about their biggest Fall titles
Harlequin
HarperCollins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Listening Library

1:30PM-2:00PM
Luncheon Speaker
Megan Whelan Turner, Thick as Thieves (HarperCollins)

2:00-2:30PM
Hear straight from the publishers about their biggest Fall titles
Macmillan Adult
Macmillan Children’s
Penguin Children’s
Random House Children’s

2:30-3:15PM
Panel: Imagination on Steroids: Powerhouse YA Fiction
M.T. Anderson, Landscape with Invisible Hand (Candlewick)
Gregory Scott Katsoulis, All Rights Reserved (Harlequin Teen)
Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Warrior (Viking)
Mitali Perkins, You Bring the Distant Near (Macmillan)
Maggie Stiefvater, All the Crooked Saints (Scholastic)

3:30-4:00PM
Hear straight from the publishers about their biggest Fall titles
Scholastic
Simon & Schuster Children’s
Sleeping Bear Press
Sourcebooks

4:00-4:45PM
Panel IV: The Expansive Picture Book Universe
Hervé Tullet, Say Zoop! (Chronicle)
Sean Qualls & Selina Alko, Why AM I Me? (Scholastic)
Sydney Smith, Town Is by the Sea (Groundwood)
Philip Stead, The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine (Doubleday)
Brendan Wenzel, Life (Simon & Schuster)

4:45-5:00PM
Closing Keynote
Kwame Alexander, Solo (Blink)

5:00-5:15PM
Announcement of the 2017 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Winners
Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief of the Horn Book, Inc.
Kwame Alexander, Solo (Blink)

Leave a comment

Filed under Other

Considering the Classics

Long, long ago I wrote a professional book for Scholastic called Fantasy Literature in the Classroom. After Harry Potter, they had me update it and then retitled it Using Beloved Classics to Teach Reading Comprehension.  Both books feature my E. B. White author study, my teaching of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and other works of classical fantasy literature for children. Since writing the book I’ve been attentive to others who write of the problematic nature of many beloved classics, especially in terms of diversity. Most recently I appreciated Padma Venkatraman‘s Nerdy Book Club post, “Classics, Colonization and a Call for Change” in which she relates her own experiences with certain classics and urges us to carefully consider if and how we share them today with children.

While I’m clearly still a fan of teaching certain classics, I also think we need to vigilant at examining the ones we share with children to be certain that they aren’t problematic. Repeatedly. Just this weekend I visited a dear former colleague to whom I had at one point suggested do something with Kipling’s Just So Stories. (I illustrated “The Elephant’s Child” when I lived in Sierra Leone and remembered the stories fondly, thus my recommendation.) She was game until she read them and encountered some seriously racist language I’d completely forgotten and there was no question that it wasn’t suitable. (For those interested it is “How the Rhinoceros Got Its Skin.” Often editions edit out the n-word so you may be unaware of it. I just came across this thoughtful post by a parent on reading the stories to his child.)

Padma reports:

Despite all the amazing recent work that the organization We Need Diverse Books is doing, despite the many dedicated individuals who have been working for decades to raise awareness about the need for diversity and multiculturalism in children’s books, I’m sorry to report that my daughter has been given The Secret Garden and A Little Princess as gifts; not once, not twice, but an astounding seven times all in all. This gift has always come from thoughtful individuals who remembered that the stories had something to do with India; I am sure, however, that they didn’t quite realize how Indians (and other people of color) are portrayed in these (and so many other) classics. After all, I’ve even heard some librarians and authors of Indian origin say they’ve never come across a poor portrayal of an Indian person in a book.

I am so glad Padma wrote this post for the Nerdy Book Club audience. It is a large one and I suspect some in it are as unaware as those who kindly gifted those seven copies of Burnett’s book to Padma’s child. I just hope it is widely read. My audience here is far smaller, but I’m pointing it out hoping others will pass it on as well.

I still love many classics and will continue to teach favorites in my classroom. However, I will also point out issues such as those Padma highlights when necessary. For more on my thoughts around classics here are a couple of posts:

Leave a comment

Filed under Other

In the Classroom: Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write

Some may have read or heard this story before, but for those who haven’t here it is again. It is what made me passionate that no young writer I taught ever had the same experience.

So my story. I loved writing as a child — until something happened. This was my high school A.P. English teacher telling my parents I shouldn’t take a role in the school play (my passion at the time) so I could “work on my writing.” He never told me what was the matter, never met with me to show me what I needed to do, and I never asked (as I was shy and he was a strong personality we admired very much). So I messed around and messed around with my school essays, clueless as to what was wrong. My mother remembered me up late at night and feeling so sorry she couldn’t help. I went to college worried and this impact my writing to the point where I was sent to a tutorial for help. I figured out that my problem lay in revision so handed in first drafts full of typos (this was the day of the typewriter) as they were still better than if I tried to revise them. The professor overseeing the tutorial told me it was all in my head and there was nothing she could do. So what I did was avoid all English classes for my undergraduate and graduate studies. (And, boy, did I yearn to attend them. Some sounded right up my alley, but I wasn’t going to risk it. Instead I read voraciously on my own — classics, everything.)

In the early 1980s I became deeply involved with the burgeoning personal computer movement in schools, finally matriculating as one of the first classes for a program in computers and education at Teachers College Columbia University. I was surprised to find out that I was good at programming — doing it and teaching it (having been a miserable math student). And then, as one of my final courses, I took Lucy Calkins’ summer institute in writing. It was the second one and it was a revelation for me in many ways. The idea of the workshop — of a process — has informed my work as a teacher ever since.

A few years later I broke through my own writing phobia by writing an essay that got me a competitive fellowship to study children’s literature at Princeton. At the same time I was becoming more and more active online in children’s literature and educational communities. All of this made me finally believe I could write. And I did — books for teachers, articles, blog posts, etc. And a book for children that was lauded for its writing. I’m currently working on a new project and was elated when recently the editor I’m working with celebrated my ability to write fiction.

All of this informs my beliefs when it comes to teaching writing to 4th graders. These include:

  • Creating situations where students feel invested in their writing
  • That they have audiences
  • That they find joy in the work
  • That they understand that there are many different ways and reasons to write — some being completely private, some to figure out a problem, and more.

Of late my impression is that writing instruction in schools is highly driven by testing, common core curriculum, packaged programs, and consultants. Often these are highly scripted and allow little opportunity for children to write for themselves. As I work in a private school, I have far more freedom than many of my public school colleagues, but this overall approach affects us too as it is now presented in language arts communities and organizations as best practices.

What has struck me is that the focus in now on kids learning structures, on expository writing above all, and no consideration of audience or, worse, joy. And so I was eager to read Ralph Fletcher’s Writing Joy: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing. It happens Ralph was my writing instructor when I took the TC institute those many years ago and we have run into each other over the years. (His wife, it happens, was my instructor then too.)

Ralph is blunt about the reduction of joy in today’s writing programs. In the book he does a clear presentation of the history, of the current situation, and then makes some very smart suggestions. That is, find places for kids to write for fun, in ways that they truly care about, that aren’t graded, that can be full of spelling errors, etc He suggests “Greenbelt Writing” a sliver of a place in children’s daily school lives where they can play textually, away from the regular writing curriculum. This would be on the side, a sort of recess time (as I understand it), an enjoyable and relaxing place with the goal of kids having fun writing, of finding joy in it.

Last year I started a weekly BoB session to replace reading logs (see this post for details). The kids love, love, love this. They read, they update their BoBs (Book of Books), and chat with me. Sometimes we talk as a group about what we are reading. Mostly it is a quiet and serene time. (I bought a bunch of soft lights that we put on their desks so we can avoid the bright overhead.)

Reading Ralph’s book made me decide I want to do something similar with writing. It will be tricky taking over another period for it, but I’m determined to do so. I’d love a cool acronym for it that goes well with BoB. Any thoughts? I see it as a greenbelt time where kids will write whatever they want, to share or not.

This isn’t a regular review, but a personal response to Ralph’s book. It is a short book, to the point, clear, and may be uncomfortable for some, but also it is kind and offers some fabulous suggestions I hope others consider. As I already wrote, I sure am.

Thanks, Ralph, for writing what really really needs to be said today.

2 Comments

Filed under In the Classroom, Review, Teaching, Writing

Shannon Hale’s Real Friends

Shannon Hale’s Real Friends was a Reading Without Walls challenge for me. That is, as a child and still today, I’m not much of a group person, most likely related to my introversion. From childhood on I can recall being part of groups of people I liked, but they almost always wanted to spend way more time together than I did. Shyness is probably also a factor as we moved a lot and so I was never in a school more than three years. This made me happy to find just a single friend. Now Shannon wanted this too, but in her case the single good friend always seems to be tied to bigger group politics which was not my experience. So I wasn’t gravitating to read this one, but did because this is so much the reality of many children and especially my students.

That is, I’ve been a classroom teacher for decades and have observed and helped kids navigate friendships throughout that time. Sometimes it is one person snubbing another, sometimes it a group thing (with the popping up of clubs always a sign that someone is probably being excluded), sometimes it is sweet and lovely, and sometimes it is mean and vile and intractable. And so while I didn’t read Real Friends for nostalgic or personal reasons, I did read it because it was so real and raw in terms of many children’s reality.

Shannon’s description of the ups and downs of friendship and, especially, the complicated dynamics of groups and popularity are vividly and honestly done. For kids for whom this resonates this book will be a life-saver, something that will speak to them, that they will see themselves in. Or perhaps they are yearning to be part of a group — this may help them understand it isn’t necessarily nirvana. I appreciated that Shannon isn’t represented as perfect when part of a group by any means  — she doesn’t do the usual forgiving of one culprit, she doesn’t significantly help another bullied child (authentically being too self-absorbed in her own woes to do more than recognize her and talk to her when they are thrown together). Kudos to Shannon for being so authentic and real and honest. As an adult, I found the family dynamics most potent, especially her relationship with her big sister. Shannon doesn’t hold back and, boy, is some of it rough. Fortunately, there seems to be the start of a better understanding at the end and more in the afterward that is reassuring for any who worried about Wendy.

A piercingly honest view into the complicated social life of one young girl that is certain to resonate for all who have observed, participated, or otherwise experienced the difficult dynamics of school friendships.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Review

Indie Press Spotlight #3

Here are two oversized books that feature languages from around the world.

The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak is a very cool look at language from all over. It is remarkably comprehensive (while, of course, not able to be complete) and a rich reading/looking/listening experience. (That last is because it comes with an app.) Each section begins with a map showing the languages highlighted, provides brief text about them, and then come a series of illustrations for representational children saying something in their language.

Hello World by Jonathan Litton and illustrated by L’Atelier Cartographik is an oversized board book featuring a handful of languages from different continents. Large double-page spreads are provided for Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia/Oceania. Fun lift-the-flaps provide tidbits of information and pronunciations. While definitely fun and worthwhile adults should discuss with child readers those images that are stereotypic.

Leave a comment

Filed under indie spotlight