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Late October Update

I realize that I keep most active on Twitter, and if you’ve found me there recently, or even stopped by here, I want to first welcome you and thank you.

Over the last bit of time, I’ve chatted with authoress Erin Entrada Kelly at the Boston Book Festival about her new middle grade novel (a must read), Lalani of the Distant Sea. Erin’s selfie game is strong as you can see below. I love this picture so much! (BTW: if you are looking for some fabulous short stories, I also can’t say enough about Erin’s; that’s how she got her start writing MG novels–her short stories!).

Erin Entrada Kelly. I LOVE HER! (photo credit: EEK)

I completed my time as judge for the Boston Globe-Horn Book awards. The winners are incredible. Please, read, buy, and share these amazing books. I was definitely fangirling HARD the entire night.

I presented about equity and literacy a few times, including the Scholastic Reading Summit in Greenwich, CT (Black Boy Lit); at ILA with my favorite #squad: Aeriale Johnson and I about Black and Brown boy lit (I love working with Ms. J; I’m going to see if we can make this a permanent thing!), with Julia Torres about how literacy affiliates and chapters can really, truly think about diversifying their affiliates, and with all of my favorite people–Anna Osborn, Tiana Silvas, Aeriale, and Tricia Ebarvia about teachers and action research. Anytime I can spend with them is self-care. We laugh. We cry. We plot revolution. We go to Sonic. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I should also note that none of my ability to get up and chat with folks would have been possible had not Lizabeth Moore been my ELA and Speech Team coach for all those years in high school. I have eternal love and gratitude for her for seeing and nurturing something in me when I was just a teenage mess, and for also building and supporting a community of young people, some of whom are my dear friends to this day.

In the last two months of 2019, I’ll hope to reflect on the year, be grateful for the abundance that grows in my life, from friendships, to family, to mothering my boy (and am still getting powerful feedback from folks who have been moved by that post), and remember that I’m happier when I’m disconnected (Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism has been good for this), but I have a Twitter habit I just can’t quit. Shrug.

I’ll be at NCTE in Baltimore with the #DisruptTexts (Tricia, Julia, and Lorena German) crew and keynoting at the Conference on English Leadership CEL on Monday. If you’re in Baltimore, please, say hello!

Three quick things that are saving my life right now:

-committing to cooking a few nights a week. I’ve decided to cook from two cookbooks, Julia Turshen’s Small Victories and Lucinda Scala Quinn’s Mad Hungry. Both have easy, delicious recipes that I can pull together with minimal planning and shopping, and my kid tends to like it. Oh, and Smitten Kitchen. Always, always.

Occupational Therapists for children. I’m convinced all young children need them. ALL. I’m learning so much from the one who works with us and how much the body’s core regulates, well, everything.

returning to a reading habit. I have been able to read only what I want, and I realize how much of a privilege that is after judging the award. I’m making up for lost time and reading nearly 100% exclusively BIPOC authors. ONLY. And I’m making sure to read BIPOC authors that I don’t have a lot of experience reading so I can build my own windows and sliding glass doors (Bishop, 1992).

I have a number of 2020 PD dates already on my calendar. If I’ll be spending time with you in the new year, I’m looking forward to learning together. If you’d like to bring me to your school or workplace, please send me a message. I have some limited availability and love working with departments, districts, and community organizations.

I’m aiming to update the rest of the site with articles, podcast links, and sundry information that helps to know what’s new around here, with an eye to returning to a regular writing flow soon. I promise!

In solidarity.

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#Blackboylit: Martellus Bennett’s Washington Post Perspective is a Must Read: Let Black Boys Dream

I ordered Martellus Bennett’s forthcoming Dear Black Boy. His essay in the Washington Post is simply beautiful and is a powerful reminder for why we need a range of texts and representation for Black boys.

Martellus Bennett (Photo Credit: The Nation)

“We can begin to change that — not just by integrating those mostly white realms but also by allowing black boys the space to dream differently. Accept them for who they show you that they really are. When you look at black boys, see them as the future writers, composers, chefs, tech moguls, presidents, film directors, architects, illustrators or fashion designers that they are. The world is more beautiful when we let black boys dream big.”

Enjoy!

Oh, and be sure to #supportBlackwriters and buy the book!!!

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#blackboylit: New & Notable

I’ve been loving some new titles (or new to me) that I’ll either be book talking in upcoming presentations or suggesting when folks ask. Here are a few. All make worthy additions to the on-going list of resources distributed at workshops and available here.

Dream Country by Shannon Gibney

The Season of Styx Malone, Kekla Magoon (MG): funny, buddy novel that includes a realistic Black family living in rural Indiana

Where’s Rodney? Carmen Bogan (PB): fantastic way of thinking about why Black boys (and ALL kids) need to be able to experience nature and what happens when they are outside and able to LIVE

The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop, Carole Boston Weatherford & Frank Morrison (PB): this just arrived in my library. I’ve heard great things about this book and can’t wait to read it.

Finding Langston, Lisa Cline-Ransome (MG): a gentle, slim, beautifully written novel about a boy who moves to Chicago with his father during the Great Migration and struggles to find his way. Literacy saves him, and so, too, does love. Oh how I love this book.

The Parker Inheritance, Varian Johnson (MG): another on my TBR list. It’s picked up a bunch of awards and I’m thinking this is a good model for boy-girl friendships and could spark some healthy discussion about being a good friend, especially for tweens.

Dream Country, Shannon Gibney (YA): I do think this is the first example of a YA novel that covers the relationship between African immigrants and African Americans. Reminded me a lot of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, in that it’s intergenerational and takes place in Liberia and in Minnesota. Be sure to read Gibney’s acknowledgements, particularly about why she wrote her book and about Black boys. Image credit 

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October Update: Where You Can Find Me This Fall

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I’m returning to this blog after too long away. In case you’ve been wondering what I’m up to, I’ve created a Publications & Podcasts page where I’ve put up some recent and relevant stuff.

This fall, I’ll be at the Association of Independent Schools in New England Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference on October 24 and at the People of Color in Independent Schools Conference November 28-Dec. 1 in Nashville. I’ll be co-presenting with the Cambridge Friends Schools’ Jack Hill about #blackboylit. I’m so excited! Come see us!!

I’ve been having lots of fun with my #DisruptTexts cofounders, too. Be sure you’re following us on social media, stop by NCTE for an in-person session, and, in general, be in touch.

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What Happened When We Asked Students to Think: Conclusions

Reading student reflections is always my favorite part of anything I plan. There, if we’ve done it at all well, they will reveal what they really think, what they learned (or didn’t), and offer any suggestions for future instruction. This process of asking for feedback and reflection is amazingly useful and quite humbling. It’s also thrilling. Thus, when I sat down to read through the student reflections of what they’d learned through the messy process of growth mindset (part one is described here and part two is described here) and design thinking, here are some snippets of what they said:

Question: Why do you think this assignment asked you to think of a problem and design a solution?

They said: “Maybe because people want to know what kind of ideas we might have.” “To tell people nothing is impossible, there’s a solution for every problem.” “…there are always problems in this world and to design a solution can help us learn to think of a problem then solve it.” “…because Dr. Parker wanted to know/see what we’re capable of.” “Because we as students might want a change in the high school.”

Question: What risks did you take to move your project forward? What did you try that you weren’t certain about at first? What were the results?

They said:”We repealed our skit in order to move forward”…”We took a risk when we started designing our prototype. We weren’t certain about the drawing of the brain. The result of the drawing turned out to be good.” “The biggest risk was changing of topics because if we did that we’d have to start back at square one again with the very little time we had left. But it turned out all right in the end.” “I wasn’t sure that this idea will work because it seems a bit too far fetched. Like not many teachers and staff in the school may agree with the idea of naptime.” “We tried to use a soft poster, like a thin one and it got destroyed and it resulted to us having a really good poster board.” [Note: ALL students remarked that their results were satisfactory because they made changes. That’s a big deal!]

Question: What did you learn about yourself through this activity?

They said: “I learned that I need to have a positive growth mindset at all time and not everything that’s impossible unless you actually try.” “I can be creative if I want to be and I want to be able to use my creativity through everything I do.” “I like solving problems.” “I can have a lot of potential if I focus more.” “I learned how to manage my time.”

As I look at these responses a few months after the project, I’m gently reminded that, while I felt this project was disorganized and I was one step ahead of my students, they learned a tremendous amount. Specifically, they learned how to collaborate, how to think of something that mattered to them and try to change it, how to take pride in their work, how to present their ideas to an authentic audience.

Since that project, we’ve moved on to other pursuits, but we keep the throughlines of the growth mindset work with us. [Note: it’s important, too, to consider what Carol Dweck has said about how the growth mindset understandings can be used incorrectly with young people. She’s right. We are all combinations of growth and fixed mindsets. It’s situation-dependent. We are all works in progress, and that is not a bad thing.] Students will occasionally challenge each other to “GROW!” which I find hilarious, especially as those words come when we are doing something hard. Kids want more of this type of work, work that matters, work that is real, work that encourages them to push against their own boundaries and, indeed, to grow. 

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A Little Help for Some Teen Book Joy

It’s an all-hands on deck type of situation with my classroom now. All my kids are reading, but they won’t go to the library, I can’t get a library cart for them, and the books they want to read aren’t readily available.

So, in the latest attempt to do some problem-solving, I created a Donors Choose project to raise money for books for them and some bookcases.

If people donate before November 3 and use code SPARK, DC will match the donations.

Here’s the link.

#sharebookjoy!!!

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Winning a Literacy Award

…and, I’m back! I was named a MA Literacy Fellow over the summer. My project is to create what I’m calling the Black Literary Society during this next school year. The goal of the organization is to connect all students in our school to Black literary traditions. We’ll have monthly themes, explore literary luminaries, read some books in a book club, and generally nerd out over literature. This might be the most fun EVER!!!

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Video from the Random House Teachers Event for New MLK HS Anthology

I spoke at Random House’s Author Event for NYC Educators on Friday, June 28, 2013. Best thing I might have said (and what I firmly believe): “Intertextuality is my jam.” The anthology is called A Time to Break Silence and is appropriate for grades 8-12.

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September 4, 2013 · 11:03 am

One Year!

Word Press just informed me that I’ve been blogging for one year. One year?! Already? I swear that I blinked and I missed it. But this picture of Octavia Butler is a fantastic way to celebrate. Image

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Trying to Turn to Wonder

The strange part about social media is that, even when you don’t want to, you find out what people you know (or, in this case, think you know) are thinking.

This week has been difficult, largely because injustice prevailed in the Trayvon Martin case. I have been inundated via the media, as people express feelings of hurt, disappointment, lack of surprise, all of those emotions and more as many of us attempt to get some sort of perspective on this moment when yet another young Black man is killed and justice isn’t served. 

I intentionally decided to limit reading of social media. I didn’t want people telling me how I should feel about the verdict, attempting to justify any laws, making dismissive comments about the values–or lack of values–of Black bodies. I also didn’t want to have to, as a surprising number of friends have been doing, un-friend folks for their comments and perspectives.

Not this week.

However, given that I’m teaching in my summer program, it’s not like I could stay holed up in my apartment during what has been a heatwave and refuse to engage with anyone. So, I began to process the verdict with people I trust, and showed up for school on Monday. 

The kids knew what had happened, but I don’t think they quite knew how to talk about it. Thus, I started with my own feelings, wherein I expressed my sadness, my feelings of hopelessness, my…worry that, as the aunt of two Black boys they might one day experience this. I recalled my student who was killed the first year of my student teaching and how the school essentially kept moving along while the teachers who loved him were left to pick up our own pieces. If anything, I was trying to feel hopeful when I was fearful.

Gotta tell the kids the truth.

They began to speak, and their responses were similar to mine, and different, close and far, but they were their responses, and they were real, and valued, and they mattered. 

Still matter. Will always matter, as far as I’m concerned. 

This is one of those difficult conversations that teachers can have with kids, or choose NOT to have with kids. Race is going to come up–it’s the axis on which everything turns, I’d argue–but these conversations are challenging, scary, and also easy to “convince” students what they should be thinking. I try not to do that, but that, too, is difficult to manage around sensitive topics. I do a better job of it sometimes rather than others.

Another group of student writers read King’s “What is Your Life’s Blueprint?” and had to write about the relationship between that text and another. Many of them chose this article, an apology to Rachel Jeanteal. The letter and Rachel are compelling to them. Like Trayvon, we know Rachel, too. And many of them are grappling with the bigger idea of what to do when your “somebodiness” as King defines it is challenged by forces over which you have no control.

I read this quote somewhere that said when times get tough, turn to wonder, and I’m really, really trying, but I am so very disappointed. 

Trying, though. Ever trying.

Then, it happens: I sit and talk to a young writer about the article, about quotes that stand out to him, about details that matter, and I realize that in those spaces, hope does exist. I do try to turn to wonder with them, and we marvel over the relevance of “Blueprint” to all young people, not just the underserved ones. I do think and believe, too, that they can be change agents in the world, and I say it to them, while swallowing my own worries of racial profiling, presumed guilt, other concerns that threaten to paralyze me if I sit and think about them too much. 

We’re going to see Fruitvale Station. Their decision. I read them a bit of the review from the New York Times and they said we should go. I suspect I’ll be chaperoning a trip once it comes to the city, then spending even more time afterwards trying to help us all figure out what it all means: to be people of color, living in a world where wonder is important, but is, at this moment, so difficult to find.

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