Blog Archives

Picture Books for Social Justice

This election season has brought a whole new slew of questions, many without answers. Many of our students do not know how to comprehend or even have the prior knowledge or experiential basis to start to form their own ideas on what they think is “right” or issues that they agree or disagree with. Thus the need to teach, explicitly teach, social justice is paramount in order to help students shape their beliefs, values, and contributions to our society. Without the basic tools of literacy, students will not be able to advocate for themselves and their beliefs in a way that is meaningful and purposeful to their futures.

Social justice can be simply defined, although it is not a “simple” term in any regards, as any oppressing social condition to a group of people. This is included but not limited to race, ethnicity, sex, gender identification, religious beliefs, poverty, and much more.

Picture books can be a critical resource in order to build upon students’ knowledge base on what social justice and social oppression looks like, feels like, and the repercussions that follow. Picture books can and should be used with all ages, including at the  middle and high school level. These books have the ability to increase student engagement and allow students to make multimodal connections with the text. The study below details the importance of utilizing picture books with students in the upper grades.

Reiker, M. (2011). The Use of Picture Books in a High School Classroom: A Qualitative Case Study. Masters Thesis. Rollins College.

I have used the following picture books to varying degrees in order to teach on social justice and engage my students in conversations surrounding oppression, the scope of authority, and when we should “rise up” and advocate for what we believe in.

Baseball Saved Us Ken Mochizuki

This book is wonderfully illustrated and centers around the children living in the Japanese Internment camps during World War II. This topic is rarely talked about in schools and is very eye-opening for students. Generally, students are saddened at the camp living conditions and empathetically align themselves with the children at the forefront of this text.

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Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation       Duncan Tonatiuh 

This text is a poignant reminder of the segregation that was present in schools prior to Desegregation. This text provides a new lens for many students when thinking about segregation due to the protagonist being of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage. This book leads to rich discussions regarding race and the oppression that minority groups have faced in the past and are still facing today.

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How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story Eve Bunting

Eve Bunting is a wonderful author who writes striking books that cover a variety of social topics. I often use these texts as discussion starters or to provide some background knowledge for particular themes, projects, or novels. I also love her text Fly Away Home, which is such a heartbreaking story of poverty that rings true with so many students.

This particular text follows the journey of a family, possibly from the Caribbean area, in a small fishing boat to America. This book paints such a tragic picture of a refugee and opens my students’ eyes to the gravity of reality and what real people and families have to go through to find a better life. This text could provide as a starting point to talking about the events in Syria and the current immigration conversations happening nationally.

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What books are you using with your children or students? What kinds of conversations are you having? As always, I would love suggestions!

In the following weeks, I will be posting about novels, non-fiction, and memoirs that can be used as a lens into social justice topics. Stay tuned!

 

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October 10, 2016 · 3:14 am

Novels to Motivate African American Males

tatumreading

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