By far, one of my greatest struggles this school year lies within motivating my African American boys to read independently during their required SSR time. I know much of this struggle was a fault of my own. These students were unengaged in my bookshelves as well as the school library, not finding the popular sci-fi novels such as The 5th Wave or John Green texts “interesting.” At the beginning of the year, almost every book on my bookshelf featured a white protagonist and became unrelatable to these students. Therefore, one of my professional goals was to research this demographic and find novels that my boys really wanted to read. If you read my last post, the Allison Van Diepen novels proved sufficient in this matter. However I needed more than four novels could provide, both time wise as well as variety.
Many recurring themes appear among the wide body of research regarding adolescent African-American males. These themes identify the struggles these males have, “among the most prominent are issues of self-concept, self-efficacy, and identity development” (Tatum, Literacy Practices from African-American Male Adolescents, p.6). Adolescent African-American males, as do many students, struggle with finding their identity in the world starting in the early middle-school years. It is essential for these students to be able to have access to literature reflecting their background and current struggles.
Literature that influences student motivation, “address[es] a range of experiences, including stories about teen wresting with issues of acceptance based on family gender preferences, ethnicity, immigration issues, and gang and cult membership” (Moss, Voices from the Middle, Volume 19, p.39). Readers, especially the African-American male, have more motivation for reading a text, “contain[ing] well-portrayed authentic main characters who grapple in realistic ways with the challenges of today’s world” (Moss, Voices from the Middle, Volume 19, p.41). Students should have access to highly engaging texts and literature, this in turn allows a lens to explore their own identity and persona through characters that mirror their current lives.
There are many conditions necessary for literacy development with reluctant or struggling readers, including the need for student engagement in the text. In terms of engagement, which corresponds with motivation, “reading intervention classes should be filled with high-interest books that march a wide range of students’ reading interest” to foster a true wanting to explore a literary text. (Wozniak, Voices from the Middle, Volume 19, p.17). Educators, as I have, will likely find success with reading motivation when including texts in their classroom embracing students’ ethnic group identities. These specific texts could enhance literacy experiences and correspondingly could increase reading achievement and standardized testing scores.
Overall, research indicates males become more motivated with a literary text when the basis is upon connecting or making the literacy life-like and relatable. This form of connecting to the text, or seeing the text as life-like, allows students to mirror their own life in the story in some context. The emphasis on including historical literary and traditional texts, especially with the African-American male population, is critical to engagement and motivation within a chosen or class-taught text. It is imperative that educators are “honoring and respecting students’ cultural backgrounds” and integrating historical and traditional African-American texts (Flowers, Urban African-American Students, p.166). This is central to actively acknowledging the various cultures.
Historical accounts of the earlier African-American life display the “types, characteristics, and roles of writing embraced by African-American males as they sought to protect their dignity in a racist society” which is still current and relevant in student’s lives today (Tatum, Literacy Practices for African-American Male Adolescents, p.13). Students can analyze historical writing to interpret how politics, race, class, and sex were woven together in the works of writers and themes of literacy and liberation are evident among various historical texts, in which both are placed heavy emphasis upon. African-American males learned to read and write to provide different perspectives on current events and historical emphases leading the actions in their lives. Integrating Fredrick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass and Harriet Ann Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl provides students with the urgent and life-changing reasons to pursue and become proficient in reading and writing applicable in their own lives as well. Types of selections as these, which honor and respect the African-American traditional texts, open up a classroom for cultural safety, identity discovery, and rich discussions on the value of literacy in life.
In my next post, I will provide specific examples of texts I used in my classroom to supplement traditional literature to engage these students. Be on the lookout for that in the coming weeks! If you have had success with specific texts in this demographic, I would love to know and collaborate with you!
Flowers, T. A., and L. A. Flowers. “Factors Affecting Urban African American High School Students’ Achievement in Reading.” Urban Education 43.2 (2008): 154-71. Web. 1 May 2016.
Moss, Barbara. “Fitting In or Standing Out: Finding Your Place in the World of Adolescence.” Voices from the Middle 19.2 (2011): 39-41. NCTE. Web. 1 May 2016.
Tatum, Alfred. “Helping Struggling Readers: Reading for Their Life.” YouTube. Heinemann Publishing, 30 Mar. 2010. Web. 02 May 2016.
Tatum, Alfred W. “Literacy Practices For African-American Male Adolescents.” Students at the Center. Jobs for the Future, Mar. 2012. Web. 1 May 2016.
Wozniak, Cheryl L. “Reading and Talking about Books: A Critical Foundation for Intervention.” Voices From the Middle. NCTE, Dec. 2011. Web. 1 May 2016