Friday, November 14, 2014

Examples are the Go-Cart of Judgment: Solution Two for Engaging Black Males in Reading

Solution Two - Always present texts and videos of speeches that show African-American males speaking well or that affirm the importance and power of African American males

"Indeed, the grand and only use of examples, is to sharpen the judgement...Examples, thus are the go-cart for the judgment." -Immanuel Kant

I've heard it said that if you don't know better you won't do better. I think there is truth to that. It probably follows that seeing is a way of knowing. One of the core principles of any instruction is to have exemplars of models of the assignment or end-product. This way, students can know what is expected. The same can be said for Black boys in regards to engaging them in reading and writing well - we need to see it before we do it, we need exemplars.

In my middle and high school years, I went to a church called Rhema Christian Center, located in Northeast, Washington D.C. Because my dad was a deacon, and perhaps because he wanted me to know God and stay off the streets, I would be in church at least three days a week and sometimes more. While there, I had the opportunity to see living, breathing models of Black males who connected articulation and passion regularly. I had Sunday school teachers, one of whom was my dad, who were unapologetically literate. These examples shaped my perception of what I could be as they normalized three ideas for me:

1. Black men can passionately express ideas without slang or cussing; 

2. Black men read well;
3. Black men speak well

This was in addition to the daily example of my father who read the bible often, required  'yes-sir' and 'no-sir' and never met a slang/cuss word he liked. Ever. Couple his example with my mother who was a schoolteacher and excellent example of articulate speech and I had several examples with which to form a literate identity. Everyone Black boy doesn't have the wealth of examples that I had, but you can make your home or your classroom a culture where those examples can live with these five practices:

1. Connect with the fathers in your school or men in your community and have them come to read to your boys monthly. There is a program that a co-worker of mine told me about that is based out of Houston called 'Real Men Read,' - check them out here.)

2. When possible, show footage of Black men who spoke passionately (Malcolm X), persuasively (Martin Luther King), poetically (Dr. Cornel West) and practically (Marc Lamont Hill). 

3. Show footage of Black men introducing critical ideas about popular culture such as this clip, where the author Thomas Chatterton Williams takes on Biggie and the current Hip-Hop culture to the amazement of all in attendance.

4. Comb through texts online and within your own school/home library that are short and powerful that give power to the perspective of a Black male or that affirm the identity of a Black male (Emancipation from Paul Laurence Dunbar being one of my favorites).

5. Have students keep record of poems and parts of texts or lyrics that affirm them or are meaningful to them. One way to do this is to keep a textual lineage (a picture of the template is below) so that they can keep a running record of texts that empower them. This can be done for pieces that they write as well. The idea is taking from an amazing book by Dr. Alfred Tatum which can be found here.)

Exercise some great judgment today and inspire a Black boy to read,
Josh Parker

Maryland Teacher of the Year '12


P.S. This is the third post in the series on Engaging Black Boys in reading started here: 

Solution One can be found here:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Allen Iverson, Narnia and Engaging Black Boys in Reading (Solution One)

In an earlier post, I talked about five ways to create a culture where Black boys can thrive in reading, you can read that here: . Today, I will go into some detail on the first solution:            

1.       Present diverse text sets (game recaps, poetry, rap) in the classroom that are thematically connected and engaging to the interests of African American males

When I was in middle and high school, there were several texts that I loathed to read. As an adult, I can’t get enough of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ and ‘Things Fall Apart,’ but as an African-American male growing up in the emerging world of Hip-Hop/R & B (when it was good), Michael Jordan and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, those books did not engage me. So I did what everybody else did, got the cliff notes, breezed through some of the pages and tried to answer questions to the best of my ability. The worst I could have gotten was a ‘C.’

While that was my in-class reading profile, my out of school reading profile had variety, color and interest. When I left school and went home, I constantly read the latest basketball game recap. The recaps then led to me reading longer essays about sports and especially about its most colorful characters. I remember reading a caption of a picture Philadelphia 76ers great Allen Iverson (A.I.). He had this menacing look on his face (per his usual) when staring at a referee and the word ‘truculent’ appeared just under it.  At the ripe old age of 12, I didn’t know what it meant, but I had an idea. I didn’t know truculent – but I knew A.I. , so I put two and two together and confirmed the definition later with a dictionary. This was just one of the many texts that I would read outside of class.

I will never forget the first time I slipped into Narnia with Lucy, Peter and Edmund. I literally could feel the snow on my fingers when they slipped through that wardrobe. It was if I was in the text. Right on my bedroom floor, I was in another place. A Black boy reading The Chronicles of Narnia? Absolutely! That was my passion. Since I was just getting into the church, the religious undertones spoke to me as well. (Little did I know just how religious C.S. Lewis was). So that’s really the point - what I was passionate and interested about, I fed through my literate habits outside of the school. It wouldn’t be until halfway through high school that my outside life and classroom life would start to merge. Black boys today should not have to wait that long. Here are some starting points for building a culture where they can feel at home, in school:

1.       A culture for student engagement reading should be grounded in data that makes a difference: diagnostic tests (to know where your boys are), specific interest surveys (to know what your boys like) and curricular goals (to know where your boys should be).

2.       Images can be posted around the room of real-life characters that are important to boys as well as images of males reading and easy-to-remember affirming quotes

3.       Know the interests of every Black boy in your room and keep a file folder (digitally or physically) where you keep articles of interest to them. You can daily scroll or for game recaps, ask other males in the building what they read, ask the boys themselves what they read outside of school and make every effort to give them those articles as often as you can.

4.       Have a collection of poems, quotes, lyrics, short stories or even short biographies from different athletes that can help introduce the theme or main idea of a text before you actually read the text itself. This way, your boys can have an easier access into the text itself.

5.       Every text you put in front of a Black boy has to be powerful, fast-moving and engaging. Find those parts in each text and highlight them before or even during the reading and based upon your assessment, make sure that each boy can decipher the vocabulary and read the text fluently.
Lastly, make sure that texts that are encouraging, affirming, emotional and powerful are regularly put in front of Black boys faces. The more we can see how words can connect to the deepest parts of us as well as the deeper parts of society, the easier we will be able to do it when we’re older.
In a future posts, we will get into Solution Two: 2. Always present texts and videos of speeches that show African-American males speaking well or that affirm the importance and power of African American males

For now, have a great day and don’t be truculent with anyone today!

-Josh Parker
MD Teacher of the Year ’12


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On Suffering

"So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation." I Peter 5:10

In your life, tough times are inevitable. Whether they be in the classroom, the office or the home, suffering hits all of us at one time or another. Maybe the most disarming thing about tough times is that they seem to come unannounced. They seem to come and perch right on your arm without notice and without warning. But, once it’s there, what do you do? It depends on how it came and how you perceive the role of suffering.

If the suffering came as a result of your own actions, then you are to endure it as a logical consequence. It still doesn’t make it feel better, nor go down any easier, but nonetheless suffering of that sort is probably there to remind you in the future to not make the same decision. There’s quite a bit to learn from the suffering of this type. I can recall many times in the classroom where I’ve done something that has gone terribly – my subsequent suffering taught me what not to do. Never waste the value of non-examples, for they are the most abundant types.

If the suffering came seemingly without any cause, you can find comfort in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who once said – ‘unearned suffering is redemptive.’ There is a payday at the end of your suffering, which brings me to the establishing scripture at the top of this post.

Suffering builds character. Character helps support and strengthen you in the next season. This support can only come once suffering has it’s time – ‘after you have suffered a little while.’ Now, we can debate what God meant by ‘a little while,’ but suffice it to say that every suffering period has an expiration date. That’s good news.

Creating a Culture where Black Boys Thrive in Reading

African-American males, like all students, benefit greatly from being able to read and write well. But reading and writing well is not enough. It certainly wasn’t for me. As a Black boy growing up in a predominantly African-American district, I was able to read and write so well that my parents allowed me to skip the fourth grade. Still, reading didn’t take on a transformative place for me until high school. I can only imagine what would have happened if Ms. Dew, my 10th grade teacher hadn’t taken the time to create conditions that spoke to who I was as a Black Boy. It’s possible that I am not even writing this blog to you. It’s certainly unlikely that I would have been blessed to become the only African American male from Baltimore County Public Schools to ever win the Maryland State Teacher of the Year award. So, there has to be something more that our potential-rich Black males get out of the reading process than just discrete skills. For this experience to happen though, the conditions have to be present for the culture to take hold. Below are five ways that culture can be created:

1. Present diverse text sets (game recaps, poetry, rap) in the classroom that are thematically connected and engaging to the interests of African American males

2. Always present texts and videos of speeches that show African-American males speaking well or that affirm the importance and power of African American males

3. Give multiple chances for African-American males to speak and write about things they are passionate about (also give multiple performance opportunities)

4. Connect the African-American male students in your class with their historical counterparts

5. As a teacher, show love, compassion, interest and empathy for their lives outside of school
I will go into detail on each strategy in the next few blog posts.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Global Learning and the Classroom

"Exposure enlarges the mind and gives birth to creative solutions for the betterment of the human condition"
Teachers must have a global perspective because we are a global world. Technology, trade and advancements have knocked down walls and have instead built bridges across the world. Additionally, a global perspective helps one to appreciate and recognize the diversity that is within their community.

And of course, as you value the diverse perspectives and cultures of your own students, bridges can also be built between students and teachers in a way that is instructive and successful. International travel grants students the opportunity to be connected to something larger than themselves. To be able to stare out on the ocean or see the Christ the Redeemer statue is to realize that you are a part of an international network of humanity that is capable of enjoying natural beauty as well as creating it. How can one build the next Christ the Redeemer statue if one's never seen it? Exposure enlarges the mind and gives birth to creative solutions for the betterment of the human condition.

The global innovation age is an age that is powered by freedom, creativity and exposure. In this innovation age, the currency is ideas and these ideas are best fostered in classrooms that honor the culture and potential of each student. Additionally, by exposing the student to different cultures and ways of thinking, the student begins to understand the responsibility he/she has to the community and the world at large.

If we defined the world as a mixture of cultures, one need not travel far to replicate it. If traveling beyond the borders isn't possible, perhaps a journey inward is first important. As an educator, you could get in touch with the cultures that shape you. Study their origins via the internet and multimedia projects/experiences. Once this inward journey is complete, maybe the next logical step is to see the cultures and countries that live around you. Exploring the cultures of students in your school will further serve as a microcosm of the global community itself. At its core, global education is mostly about exposing the traveler to lands, people and traditions that have their own back-story.