Tag Archives: global literature

Novels to Motivate African American Males

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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!

 

-Stephanie Branson

References:

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

 

 

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June 2, 2016 · 8:47 am

Allison Van Diepen and Reluctant Readers

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Engaging my readers during SSR (sustained silent reading) was quite a struggle at times. These particular students fall into the reluctant or unmotivated category due to an assortment of factors that I won’t spend time detailing because of personal and privacy reasons. Reluctant readers are a widely diverse group.

For some students, the struggle or difficulty of reading can be intertwined with factors such as family and cultural backgrounds, socieoeconomic status, peer pressure, learning disabilities, and emotional stressors. The desire to read, or even perform well in school, can be suppressed and lessened because of any or a mixture of these influences. However, the right book in the right hands has the power to shape and even change this disengaged mindset.

Some of the books I have found successful with readers who fall into these categories are the loosely-related novels written by Allison Van Diepen. She writes very candidly about hard topics dealing with drug use, gang violence, drug cartels, and much more. Students from my demographic deal with these same topics in their daily lives. I have seen my students become submersed in these novels to the point they are “walking away” and asking to be kept. These are books that truly inspire reading. These books give students a mirror to look through, to see themselves in. Students should have access to highly engaging texts and literature, in turn allowing a lens to explore their own identity and persona through characters that mirror their current lives. The beauty of these books is that even though they revolve around tough subject matter, students can learn from the mistakes of the characters as they are being immersed into the action, plot, and conflicts of the stories.

The Allison Van Diepen novels are rich and diverse. It is essential for these students to be able to have access to literature reflecting their background and current struggles. The characters in Allison Van Diepen’s texts a represent a multitude of backgrounds and family roles. Students start to leave their reluctancy in reading when novels break the traditional boundaries and protagonists they are used to seeing. Influential literature on 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). Van Diepen’s texts certainly satisfy these experiences.

Using these novels would require parent permission due to the nature of the subject matter and language at times, especially at the 8th grade level. There are definitely students that I would deem these texts inappropriate for. However, with the right kid these texts can change their world.

If you use these in your classrooms, I would love to hear your experiences!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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Using Global Literature to Understand Personal Reality

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I am lucky to be working in a district with a rigorous curriculum that allows students to apply their learning past the classroom doors into their personal lives. Our final unit’s essential question has been revolving around how we as humans make sense of our reality, and if it is something chosen or forced upon us by outside factors. This has been such a fun unit to teach; I really have been able to see those elusive “light-blub” moments with students who struggle with school and reading daily.

In order to facilitate discussion and apply this understanding to their own lives, I used multicultural and international memoirs or memoir-like novels to facilitate literature circles. The beauty of using global literature is that the multiple perspectives allows students an open window to different parts of the world in which they have limited exposure. This is especially true with my students making up a primarily Hispanic and African-American demographic. The novels and paired excerpts I selected promoted intercultural understandings and global perspectives on issues students had little to no experience with. I chose the following texts and global issues for the students to explore:

                  The Other Side of the Wall by Simon Schwartz (The Berlin Wall, East Germany DDR)
                  A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Sudanese Lost Boys, Water Crisis)
                  The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (Holocaust)
                  Surviving Hitler by Andrea Warren (Holocaust)
                  Bad Boy: A Memoir by Walter Dean Myers (Harlem Renaissance)
                  Within Reach: My Everest Story by Mark Pfetzer and Jack Galvin (Into Thin Air Tragedy)

I also pulled in excerpts from the following texts to facilitate class discussion and make connections between the groups’ different novels:

                  Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
                  Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
                  The Crossover  by Kwame Alexander
                  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
                  One Step at a Time: Memoir by Anant Vinjamoori
                  The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

This was such an exciting experience for me; I love hearing students discuss what they are reading and work collaboratively to come to mutual understandings. As many of my colleagues know, my biggest goal is to try and teach students to love to read. If I have done that, then I feel I have done my job to the best of my abilities.

I took a different approach to teaching literature circles this round. Usually, I assign students jobs that rotate and have them complete a very structured conversation around the jobs as they discuss the novels. This time, I guided the groups giving myself much less control than I am used to. I had students complete a small daily task and bring an open-ended question to group meeting time. I was nervous that discussion was not going to be fluid or plentiful, however I was surprised when I was having to cut off groups after fifteen to twenty minutes of meeting time. Students were genuinely talking about their books, what they found interesting, and grappling with bigger questions and issues regarding their character’s reality.

My students’ exploration of how their characters in the novels and the excerpts made sense of their reality allowed for application into their own lives. Students, at the end of the unit, were able to identify influencers on their own reality and if they chose those influencers or if those were imposed upon their lives by outside factors.

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