Tag Archives: Young Adult Literature

We Aren’t the Brave Ones… a collection of novels showcasing what true bravery looks like in our public schools.

If you haven’t been living under a rock and are at all connected to the educational world- whether that be in a school, on Facebook, Twitter, or “the news”- the discord, tension, and frustrations are obvious and apparent. Some, including myself, could even call the political “educational” commotion dangerous.

With everything being said (or not being said) about the state and future of our public school system, I am lead to believe that we are operating under a few systemic flaws. First, many lawmakers do not know what truly goes on inside all schools across America. They do not understand the populations and how different those populations can range from school-to-school. We are racially and ethnically diverse, cognitively diverse, demographically diverse, and combating gender norms.

Our schools are full of students going against the grain, forging new territory, and setting examples for bravery, compassion, and empathy for their peers.

On the topic of discrimination, something that has been brought to light in current political hearings, the delegation of federal dollars to public and charter schools has been spotlighted. While I have some thoughts on this, strong thoughts I might add, the purpose of this post is to highlight stories of bravery and compassion among diverse, minority populations in some regard. To me, “minority populations” is a phrase that can stand for a multitude of student groups. ESL kids, African American students, students receiving Special Education services, and refugee populations as well as many others can be considered a minority population.

Before getting into a few books that highlight these diverse students within the school, I want to share a little story about middle school and what true bravery looks like.

There is a student at my school and we can call him T. T comes to school every day properly in his uniform. He follows the school rules as best as he can. He attempts to make friends, but due to a cognitive barrier he is labeled as different. I think he is able to understand that he is different in some way, but he usually doesn’t let it phase him. He puts on his headphones and dances with the biggest smile at school socials. He asks girls to dance, and they willingly oblige if just for a moment. He made the school basketball team and showed up early to every practice showcasing his dedication and commitment to the team even if he only recieved playing time when the scoreboard could afford it. He is the definition of bravery in a middle school where you can be eaten alive if your weak spots are shown. He is a teacher to his peers guiding them in the virtues of dedication, perseverance, and citizenship. Needless to say, it was a task to hold back a few tears when he walked across our gym floor to accept an award at our yearly Awards Ceremony today. 

All students, no matter what, deserve a chance at a true inclusive education not only for the opportunities that are available to them but for so much more. We all learn from each other in many different ways. T is as much of a teacher and leader to other students as “mainstream” students are to him. It would be a true loss for all to begin to incorporate discriminatory policies into our public education.

The following novels are stellar options to incorporate into your summer book clubs, summer reading list, classroom or home libraries, or classroom curriculum especially if critical literacy and inclusive educational ideals are at the forefront of your interests.

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Wonder by R.J Palacio- An oldie-but-a-goodie, this novel will teach everyone a thing or two about bravery. With the new movie trailer and release around the corner, this text is sure to catch quite a bit of attention again! Auggie, the protagonist, suffers a slew of medical issues leaving him with quite a few facial deformities and the subject of a lot of scrutiny. This heart-warming and heart-wrenching story allows readers to see into the daily struggle of someone who is different and the lessons he is able to teach his peers through his perseverance.

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Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt- Ally can’t read but she is clever enough to hide her inability across schools and years. Ally’s struggle with dyslexia and reading mirrors so many students who don’t ask for help or assume they are simply “dumb.” This uplifting story resonates with many young teens in that one single aspect of themselves is not their whole identity and also asking for help when needed is bravery in and of itself.

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Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals- This gripping memoir follows Melba, one of the “Little Rock Nine”, and her tense account of integration into the public school system. This story reiterates the importance of the court ruling “separate is not equal” and provides a timely reminder of why inclusive, integrated schools are imperative for all to attend. In this memoir, Melba faces the worst circumstances in her quest for equal, public education including physical violence as well as verbal violence. Combating the challenge of the horrific conditions, she perseveres though it all and never backs down on her right to an equal, integrated education.

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Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper- Melody is unlike all of her peers at school in her integrated (or inclusive) classroom. She is bound to a chair and cannot talk or write. Through Melody’s perspective readers learn that she is brilliant, has a photogenic memory that allows her to remember every single detail of her life, and is bound by her medical condition cerebral palsy. Melody is determined to prove to all, including her doctors and peers that dismissed her as severely mentally challenged, that she is not who they think she is. This is a story about determination and that people are way beyond what they look like or seem on the surface.

All of these stories tell tales of true bravery and determination whichy would not have occurred if the students were not allowed in schools due to some reasoning or policy. What books are you adding to your bookshelves this summer? Have you read and books lately that exemplify “bravery” in the school? What new books should I add to my collection to read? I would love to hear from you!

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If you liked “Hunger Games”…

You should really read Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. You may like it even more, as I did! This novel is fairly new and comes with a few sequels, which is great for classroom reading such as Sustained Silent Reading or DEAR! Kids love a good series and it keeps them occupied for a few months of reading time during class.

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Here is the basic run-down: a lowly girl happens upon circumstances that thrust her into the court of royals whom are significantly different than her due to their “silver” blood. Here something crazy happens and she is forced to take on the identity of a “silver” costing her more than just her identity throughout the story. She ultimately has to choose a side, red or silver, and pays dearly for her choice. The final ending is very surprising and one I truly didn’t see coming! However, in retrospect all of the foreshadowing was present just difficult to make sense of.

Red Queen shares similar motifs to Hunger Games especially in the rebellious attitudes towards a suffocating governing force as well as the love triangle that multiple stories seem to have currently, think Gale/Peeta or Jacob/Edward. As much as I do not like novels where the strong “heroine” seems to fall into the love trap, RQ kept much of the integrity of the female lead allowing her to progress the story based upon the conflict with the governing force rather than the conflict of who to choose to love.

The only qualm I have with this novel is the lack of in depth character development for a majority of the ones seen in the spotlight. I wished I got more through Cal and Mere (our heroine) could have used some more layers as well. Some of the focal characters besides these two lacked depth but in an extrememly purposeful way. Read to the end and you’ll see what I am hinting at. With a twist as great as this one, I don’t want to give anything away!

This is a great read for the middle grades due to the lack of adult language, themes, and sexuality. At times, it is harder to find engaging books for higher level readers in the middle grades that is still deemed “PG.” This is definitely a good pick, I enjoyed it even as an adult!

Take a read and let me know what you think in the comments below!

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Novels to Motivate African American Males Pt. 2

Earlier last week, I detailed the struggle of the African American male in independent reading, in that the root of this issue could be resting in the lack of novels that pursue and reflect “identity” for this demographic. In this post, I have a few suggestions on novels to include in classroom libraries or in lessons to promote the identity of the African American male in the classroom, many of which I found successful with my own students this past year.

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.

Including a socio-historical perspective in the culturally responsive pedagogy provides students with insight into the wide range of reasons African-American males practiced reading and literacy. 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).

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Many times students will be compliant in whole-group literacy instruction. Note compliance and engagement vary greatly and are not interchangeable. A main struggle for African-American male students regarding motivation and engagement is within the Independent Reading or Sustained Silent Reading blocks in the English Language Arts classroom. These males tend to pretend to read or lack any interest in finding a text of their choice, therefore providing high-interest and relatable texts in the classroom or school library is critical to engaging students in actively independent reading. Novels reflecting on the African-American historical cultures are important to include because they provide a long-standing and enriching perspective on the trials, perseverance, and literacy values of significant people in the culture. Such novels can include: Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, The Autobiography of Malcom X, and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.

All of these above texts provide students with the foundational perspective of the African-American male and the hardships endured to be where the student is today.

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More modern texts further demonstrate political unrest and racial tensions as their traditional counterparts, mainly themes such as the prejudice of the black man and the white man. These texts engage students with the longing for social change and justice. Examples of these types of texts can include Monster, The Rag and Bone Shop, and Tears of a Tiger.

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 Contemporary texts published within the last few years allow students to truly understand their own identities and permit students to seemingly look into a mirror and see themselves reflected in the text. These texts do not shy away from difficult and superficially-inappropriate topics such as gangs, death, drugs, and gun violence. Many males in the African-American demographic struggle with these topics everyday and the necessity for texts allowing students to explore these in a safe environment is essential. Newer texts as these include Street Pharm, Snitch, Takedown, Tyrell, Dope Sick, Joseph, and Response. These texts exude the topics students are grappling with today and allow for the discovery of identity through culturally relevant experiences.

Allowing students access these types of texts in the classroom-historical, critical, and topical- provide engagement and motivation in independent or whole group reading tasks due to the relevance and authenticity of the authors and subjects included in the novels.

As with most of my novel suggestions,  please be aware and educated of the content. Many of these deal with “older” themes, language, and violence. I always send home permission slips for students to check books out of my library, so that parents are aware of the types of subject matter their students could be encountering.

If you have used any of these or have other great texts that you’ve used, I would love to hear about it!

-Stephanie Branson

 

 

Cormier, Robert. The Rag and Bone Shop: A Novel. New York: Delacorte, 2001. Print.

Diepen, Allison Van. Snitch. New York: Simon Pulse, 2007. Print.

Diepen, Allison Van. Street Pharm. New York: Simon Pulse, 2006. Print.

Diepen, Allison Van. Takedown. New York: Simon Pulse, 2013. Print.

Douglass, Fredrick. Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass. N.p.: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.

Draper, Sharon M. Tears of a Tiger. New York: Atheneum for Young Readers, 1994. Print.

Equiano, Olaudah, and Robert J. Allison. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 1995. Print.

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.

Jacobs, Harriet A., Lydia Maria Child, and Jean Fagan. Yellin. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1987. Print.

Myers, Walter Dean, and Christopher Myers. Monster. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1999. Print.

Myers, Walter Dean. Dope Sick. New York: HarperTeen/Amistad, 2009. Print.

Tatum, Alfred W. “Literacy Practices For African-American Male Adolescents.” Students at the Center. Jobs for the Future, Mar. 2012. Web. 1 May 2016.

Volponi, Paul. Response. New York, NY: Viking, 2009. Print.

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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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