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


1 comment:

  1. Do you have any specific interest surveys that you recommend? Thanks.