On the blog:
- A links round-up of six good articles from the past week
- A request to teachers to stop assigning harmful books
The whole time I was reading Rebecca Stead’s new middle-grade novel, The List of Things That Will Not Change, I kept wondering if there would be some kind of unexpected twist. Stead seems to specialize in the big reveal at the end of a novel. And sure enough, there was definitely a twist here that I didn’t see coming. I really enjoyed this story about ten-year-old Bea, who is still trying to get used to her parents’ divorce and finds it helpful to keep a list of things that won’t change in a time of so much change. This is a quiet novel about family and relationships. I read it very slowly over the week so that I could savor Stead’s writing.
I loved Dr. April Baker-Bell’s new book, Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity. and Pedagogy After I first heard Dr. Baker-Bell speak at NCTE a few years ago, I read all of her published articles (most of them multiple times), and I am so happy to have this book expanding on her ideas. This book is a must-read for all teachers. Baker-Bell argues that trying to compel students who speak Black Language (her preferred term for African American Vernacular English or African American Language) to try to assimilate into “White Mainstream English” is a form of linguistic racism. She convincingly shows how language, culture, and identity are intertwined and how we do violence to our students when we teach them that their language has no place in school. She shares the results of her studies with high school students in Detroit that show how Black students have internalized white teachers’ devaluation of their language. I kept thinking of Dr. Bettina Love’s “spirit murdering”–all of the ways that schools murder the spirits of Black and Brown children.
Dr. Baker-Bell also provides a way forward for teachers that consists of learning the history and understanding the richness and complexity of Black Language and teaching that to students. All that she shared was so fascinating, and this book worked on me like the best nonfiction always does–sending me all over the Internet watching videos, reading articles, and ordering more books. She shares a sequence of lessons that she conducts with high school students as well as a bonus chapter on how she uses Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give with her pre-service teachers to help them interrogate language and identity.
In Teaching for a Living Democracy, Joshua Block, a teacher at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, shares his approach to project-based learning in English and History courses. So many excellent ideas here, along with examples of his students’ truly phenomenal work. The book itself is a productive blend of the theoretical/philosophical and the practical. It’s an excellent book for showing how our values, beliefs, and commitments as a teacher can lead to the development of curriculum. It’s a short book but it took me all week to read because I took so many notes and had so many ideas while I was reading it.
Carl Anderson’s A Teacher’s Guide to Writing Conferences is part of Heinemann’s Classroom Essentials series. The book is beautifully designed and highly visual with lots of photographs and many cartoons ( as well as links to many videos, which I didn’t view). In theory, I love the idea of more visual professional development texts, but in practice, it’s not quite working for me. There are A LOT of photos of students sitting at tables writing, some of them taking up entire pages, and this book is only 128 pages as it is. Photographs need to do more work than simply be colorful and provide some visual relief from text. They also need to do some of the heavy lifting of teaching the concepts of the book. But here, they’re mostly window dressing. The cartoons provided more information, and they were so inclusive, but I also tired at some point of seeing so very many of them, especially when many were simply repeating information I’d already read in the text. So. Heinemann needs to do a little more thinking about how the visuals are extending the learning from the text.
In terms of content, it’s a bit thin. Really best for those new to workshopping and new to conferencing. It’s definitely a book I’d recommend to my pre-service teachers, especially as the information is helpfully organized in many charts and diagrams and there is a lot of support for how to initiate and sustain conferences, how to keep effective records, and how to figure out what to teach in a conference based on what you notice in the student’s writing. But I’m not sure how useful experienced workshop teachers will find it.
Sarah Zerwin’s Point-Less outlines her thinking and classroom practices on meaningful feedback and humane and responsible grading. This book has plenty to offer early career as well as experienced teachers. I know my pre-service teachers would love it and would take copious notes on her classroom routines, schedules, and scaffolding of reflective assignments. But I’ve been using contract grading and self-grading for over ten years now and I also took copious notes and had many ideas for deepening my own practices. There’s something really comforting and engaging about Zerwin’s voice as a writer. She makes hard things seem totally doable, and she makes ideas that probably sound a little out there to many teachers (the students grade themselves?!) seem totally natural and like something we should all do tomorrow. I think it’s a real plus that Zerwin is doing this kind of work in a public school setting in a school that requires grades, and she explains in detail how to make this system work in a more restrictive context. (More restrictive than, say, the academic freedom I have at the college level.) She includes frequent tips for navigating potential obstacles. Overall, a book that manages to be quite thoughtful as well as deeply practical.
I am sure I will continue with extensive professional development reading this week. I’ve also just started Victoria Jamieson and Oma Mohamed’s When Stars Are Scattered and Joel Dane’s Cry Pilot, and I have a couple of poetry collections I want to finish. What are you reading this week?