We hosted our first African American Read In this year inspired by the National Council of Teachers of English Black Caucus.
- 1 part–Enthusiastic students with a renewed love for reading gained through choice and time in class to read.
- 1 part–An excellent librarian willing to do just about anything to foster student engagement in reading. She is also a ton of fun.
- 1 part–Incredible emergence of young adult literature written by African American writers coupled with the steadfast importance of classic African American literature.
Activities for our African American Read In
After promoting the event throughout the month of February, the date for the celebration was set for February 28th. We wanted to have two options for students to drop-in or stay after school.
Drop-in activities included decorating book spines and completing a Flipgrid in exchange for candy. Candy is a great incentive.
Our after school portion of the event included a kick-off reading of Clint Smith’s “Ode to the Only Black Kid in Class.” (Click here to see Oni, Mya, Lauren, and Elisha’s reading).
Students wore name tags that indicated the book or books that they read this year by an African American writer.
Between food and door prizes, we let the books be the stars. Our students read an impressive array of books including poetry collections, graphic novels, verse novels, YA lit, and classic works. Check out our book list here. Roundtable discussions were led with question starters that would work for most texts including:
- What character did you most relate to or understand? Is there a character who you would you NOT want as a friend?
- How the setting affect the storyline of your book? Could your book be set anywhere else? Could your book be set here?
- Do you have a passage you would like to share from your text? What about a lovely line or favorite phrase?
- How is your book influenced by being written by an African American writer? How would it be different if written by someone from a different background?
The event ended with the big picture question: What will you read next? Students left with great recommendations from their fellow classmates.
Why was this important?
When one student left, she said, “This was great. I feel so empowered!” I thought to myself, “Well, mission accomplished!”
I am a white teacher at a predominately white school who spent many years in the classroom trying to convince myself that I did not see color. Well, I do see color. Angie Thomas addressed this at the NCTE luncheon I attended in November. She said to avoid color blindness. “There is nothing wrong with seeing color, it’s what you do once you see color where the issues may lie.”
I decided to take an interest in seeing color and doing something positive with it in my classroom this year. Teaching Clint Smith’s collection Counting Descent set the correct tone for the rest of the year. The day we spent exploring the complexities of black hair through nonfiction, poetry, and fiction to prepare for Beneatha’s transformation in A Raisin in the Sun was one of the most enjoyable days I spent teaching this year. None of this in isolation is enough, but the African American Read In was the kind of event that my students deserved.
Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott, founder of the African American Read-In said, “It is important for all of us to see ourselves in books.” And “all of us” means ALL of us.
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