Category Archives: Heinemann Fellows

#kal (Kids are Loving) Reading Ladder: Mighty Memoirs and the Women Who Write Them

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Image: Amazon

I used this article from The Guardian as today’s Notebook Time invitation. I wanted students to reflect on their reading that they’d done and the reading they want to do in this new year. Two themes emerged from their responses: a number of them want to read books from authors of color because they “want to know about their background” and their “history,” while many others want to increase their text complexity. They’ve reached that moment of reading where what they started reading in September is now too easy. They are now discerning enough to tell me what they want and need more of.

They want to up the ante!

Thus, I think I’ll spend some occasional blogs on Reading Ladders as part of #kidsareloving (#kal) where I create suggestions for a range of complexity that will help kids grow as readers. And, because it matters, I’ll make these Reading Ladders as diverse as I can make them because, well, #weneeddiversebooks and because my kids want them.Thing is, once I read Reading Ladders a couple of years ago, that’s all I think about in terms of making recommendations. I also am motivated to get these out there because I know that we tend to keep suggesting the same books because we don’t know any others.

I bet we have similar dreams of reading ladders for kids; we simply need to write them down and share them. Thus, please feel free to make suggestions and recommendations as we go.

I know, I titled this memoir, but I have had readers start with Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-fattah and then move up the ladder. This YA book does a fantastic job of giving us a narrator that is smart, spunky and trying to figure out life as a teenager. That she is Muslim is only one part of who Amal is. Her character development is well done and I’ve had Muslim students read it and remark that they found all sorts of similarities between themselves and the main character. Win!

My fellow Heinemann Fellow Kate Flowers recommended I read Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. This was such a great recommendation! I loved it because as an introvert, Rhimes talked candidly and hilariously about what it means to step outside of ourselves and do what scares us. It also is a great parenting memoir, writing memoir…it’s everything. And I think kids would like it who are into reading about interesting people, or into Scandal, or anywhere in between.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae. I can’t keep this book in my library. It just returned today and is on my Next List, but I know I might get bumped if a student has to have it RIGHT NOW. Issa Rae is hilarious and a model of what it means to keep showing up, working hard, having lots of gumption. She is all #blackgirlmagic and fills a void for those readers looking for stories about how to make it doing what you love. [BTW, the Fresh Air interview with Issa and Terry Gross is everything, too.I was particularly struck with how much of her story is about literacy!]

Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling: as hilarious as watching the Mindy show. Another one that is usually checked out all the time.

You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, Phoebe Robinson. I know Robinson from her fantastic podcast, 2 Dope Queens. Her book sounds like it’s even more of what I love, tackling issues of race and popular culture while being hilarious. Yup. It can be done! (This one is on order).

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Source: Magic 95.9, Baltimore

Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home, Sheri Booker. A coming-of-age memoir about a 15-year old girl who starts working at a funeral home for a summer job. From Amazon: “As families came together to bury one of their own, Booker was privy to their most intimate moments of grief and despair. But along with the sadness, Booker encountered moments of dark humor: brawls between mistresses and widows, and car crashes at McDonald’s with dead bodies in tow.” Seriously. You know you have a kid that will just LOVE this one!

I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, Luvvie Ajayi. Luvvie has kept me sane while being one of the best critics about, well, everything. If you read this book, you should then immediately go to Luvvie’s home page and read everything she has ever written. You will laugh until you cry. She is that good.

Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer, Una LaMarche. First, LaMarche has written some great YA titles that my kids love (i.e., Like No Other and Don’t Fail Me Now). Kids who’ve read her memoir have howled aloud in class during reading time, drawing all kinds of curious stares. That qualifies as a good book and one that’s kid-approved.

Whew! Reading Ladders grow and change all the time. Thus, if you have something that works here and keeps with the theme: memoir by a woman of color that is funny and either works with young readers or you think has the potential to work with young readers, then please leave it in the comments. Happy New Year!

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Homework Will be the Death of Me #hfellows

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‘Cause Drake is always the answer

Perhaps I’ve been prolonging writing this blog post because I simply couldn’t figure out a way to begin.

 

For the third time, I have a cohort of young people that I’m bringing along in my sophomore English class with the goal of preparing them to move into advanced/Honors English classes. I’ve been successful with the previous two cohorts, so successful that I decided to actually document my work as part of my Heinemann Fellowship. (I won’t write too much about the genesis of that question, as I’ve written a post for Heinemann that I’ll link to when it’s up to provide that background).

This third cohort has confounded me, though. In a moment of feeling like an absolute failure, my colleague (@emilytwo) reminded me that documenting what isn’t working will help me to answer those inevitable questions we all ask when we are teaching: what do we do with the kids who “don’t get it”?

In short: I have never had a group of kids who didn’t do the independent reading that is their assigned homework. Their nightly expectation (seven nights a week) is to read their independent choice reading book for 20 minutes.

We are nine weeks into the year, and there are a few kids who consistently do not complete their reading. They are apologetic sometimes when they explain that they have other work to do, or practice, or they forgot, or…

Sure, a missed assignment here or there isn’t going to be detrimental, but when it keeps happening and nothing changes, we.have.a.problem.

When I ask the kids, they say they know reading is important. They know that it’s tied to increasing their overall reading comprehension and fluency and enjoyment. They love the books they’re reading, even! It’s just that, when they’re faced with read a book outside of class (THAT THEY CHOSE AND GENERALLY ENJOY), they simply don’t do it.

What I’m getting at is that I’m trying to figure out what it will take for them to just do it. I want reading to be as natural to them as breathing. We’ve tracked the way they use time in the day to find gaps. We’ve set reminders on phones. We’ve brainstormed ways to get in the reading, even breaking it up into chunks.

If reading is a habit we develop, how are these kids going to develop a habit if they don’t do it consistently?

I’ve been able to figure this out for so many years.

Until now.

And it’s the not knowing how that keeps me awake at night.

Image credit: https://media.isl.co/2015/05/drake_7.gif

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Back on the Case: On Being Named a #hfellows Heinemann Fellow

I’ve written about how this year has been difficult largely because I’ve not felt as intellectually challenged as I have in previous years. As a teacher-scholar that has always found something to think deeply about, work on, or consider, that I had to grapple with that issue was one that made me think seriously about the reasons why many of us both choose teaching and choose to pursue lives beyond teaching.

Then, though, a series of events happened. The first was that I collaborated with colleagues to produce a wildly successful Educators of Color Conference that convened so many amazing educators of color sharing their work, celebrating excellence, and simply exhaling together.

The next was being named one of 11 educators from across the nation as a Heinemann Fellow. A primary undertaking over the next two years of this fellowship is to conduct an action research project. Essentially, I get to think deeply about what has been happening in my classroom and focus on a question I’d like to set about investigating. I’d been taking lots of notes during our initial meeting last week, but when our leader, Ellin Keene, began explaining why it’s important to follow our hunches and to think about what is most curious or most troubling about our teaching, I felt my gears start to shift into motion again. 

I have hunches all the time. I ask questions all the time. I write them on Post-Its and in notebooks that I rediscover randomly. For the most part, though, I’ve not spent any meaningful time thinking about how to answer them because of a host of reasons. Largely, though, I’d venture that I’ve not felt compelled to pursue them because I’ve had neither the time nor the compunction to do so on my own. Such a realization is a huge one for me, as when I began teaching I was largely a lone wolf, content to work on my own (for better or for worse). It was only once I got my teaching sea legs that I realized how much more powerful (for myself and for my students) it has been when I go with others. And here I should add that the reason I have been able to remain intellectually engaged over the last two years has been because I have a fantastic colleague that refuses to let me do things alone. Refuses.

Now, though. NOW, THOUGH. Two of my strongest academic experiences were shaped with the help of other people. In graduate school, there was the Dissertation Support Group (the DSG), comprised of three of us working on our Ph.D.s We met often, pushed each other through completion of classes, exams, dissertations, and now, tenure for one of us. Then, there was the Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color (CNV) for NCTE. I was part of a larger cohort of 10 of us that were defending dissertations, applying for tenure-track jobs, figuring out where they fit: in a secondary classroom or in academe (me). In both of these experiences, I was a part of something greater. I was a member of a family. And man, I got some incredible work done!

As a Heinemann Fellow, I am part of a cohort again, and they are some of the most interesting educators I have met in a long time: dedicated, smart, doing great work with young folks. And we’re all doing the work together. TOGETHER. 

Getting back to the research: I had two of the best qualitative methods professors I’ve ever had and I remember both of them talking about hunches and then setting out to see where the data takes you. That, to paraphrase Anne Haas Dyson, is what it means to be “on the case.” I remember being vaguely terrified because, well, that meant that hunches might or might not pan out and what then?!

I’ve come to realize that the what then is actually where the magic happens. That, as one begins to listen, to think deeply, and to simply be willing to be open to what one sees, truth reveals itself. That truth is oftentimes nothing close to what was initially anticipated, but that is okay. Being brave enough to ask the questions is what starts this entire amazing process.

Being named a Heinemann Fellow has reminded me to be brave enough to ask the questions again, and to follow where the case leads. I am beyond excited about this next part of my journey.

 

 

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