The 57 Bus. This Is America. The Hate U Give. Joyner Lucas.
These are just a few of the perspective-shifting, heart-wrenching, incredibly powerful stories that have been shared with me lately and I wanted to share them with you. The first and last are probably less well known than the middle two (at least in main-stream media) but the social commentary is no less poignant and powerful.
The 57 Bus - A True Story by Dashka Slater. Oh man, this book was such a great read. Written like fiction but pieced together from actual events, The 57 Bus retells the story of two teens living in Oakland, CA; two teens whose lives might otherwise never have crossed paths save for one fateful day on the #57 bus. Using personal accounts, court documents and interviews, Slater retells a story of gender identity, race, justice and truth. Material that many would consider (and did consider) to be delicate, controversial and challenging is expertly handled by Slater, who weaves the story so richly that you instinctively feel for both parties and are left wondering what exactly defines justice.
This Is America - Childish Gambino. If you haven't seen this video, stop reading and hit play now. I have watched this video over and over again with many of my Gr. 8 students (yes, we turn a blind eye to the one, albeit pretty major, swear word; we talked about it, we know it's not school appropriate, we moved on) and have been amazed at their understandings of what it means. For context, I work with many at-risk boys who listen to a lot of rap and seem to idolize a lifestyle of expensive clothes, fast cars, guns and scantily clad women. I am always concerned about the messages their young minds are getting from the music they listen to, so hearing them dissect this video is really refreshing; they are thinking about the messages, a least a little bit! So many fascinating conversations have come from watching this video with them - thoughts about guns, race, the USA vs Canada, symbolism and more.
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas. Hot on the heels of the previous two recommendations is this wonderful book. Stemming from the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of Tupac Shakur (whom my students LOVE), this book is also an important social commentary on controversial topics like race, gangs, white privilege, money and more. Thomas does a great job of bringing the neighbourhood and people of (fictional) Garden Heights to life, creating vivid images and feelings for the reader. Such rich discussion and perspective-taking can come from this book, wow.
Joyner Lucas - If you haven't heard of Joyner Lucas, you aren't alone. I was introduced to him after watching This Is America with a few of my students; one of the boys brought his videos up on the computer just after we finished watching This Is America. Turns out, these videos are very not school appropriate - consider yourself warned - but so powerful (to be clear, I went home and watched them by myself that night). Much like Tupac and other rappers, Joyner Lucas is a contradiction - his commercial rap is highly offensive but his social commentary is on point. When I asked my student how he had heard of the videos he said "Well, I like rap music and this is rap, so I just checked them out." I highly recommend the videos "I'm Not Racist" and "Frozen" for their social commentary. Be warned, however, that the language and content is very explicit so if that is difficult for you, you might choose not to watch; then again, you might want to challenge yourself to get a bit uncomfortable as a way to understand what he is rapping about. *Note - the video below is about car accidents and is pretty graphic; please consider your own experiences before watching.
If there was a way to squeal over writing insert here. If you have read my other two blogs about my son and writing (here and here) you know that it has been a struggle. In fact it has become my mission to help boys (and girls) love to write and, more importantly, choose to!
Quick recap: my son Sam is in grade three. He is an excellent reader and has always been a reluctant (sometimes hostile) writer. Being the Literacy Lover that I am I decided I was going to change that. I have worked evenings and summers with Sam on his writing. In fact the revised Scope and Sequence to our Writing Station in the Lit Pit is 100% due to my discoveries with my son and his adventures in writing. Now I would love to tell you that his transformed attitude is due to an amazing lesson I created and the inspiration I have given him, but that would be lying. Sam's turnaround in writing came from his incredible grade three teacher (I could kiss her!).
Sam came home telling his dad and I that in his free time in class he's been writing a chapter book. The shock on both of our faces was visible, and the looks between us were actually comical. When we asked him to tell us more he went on and on about his story, his characters and the plot. He talked about the adjectives (and yes, he used that word) that he was going to use to describe his characters and then went on (in case we didn't know) to explain what an adjective was. When I could finally get a word in (and, trust me, we were hanging on every word of his writing adventures), I asked him what it was that inspired him to write. He simply said, "Mrs O. She told me that writing and reading are almost the same and then she told me that she was going to teach us the building blocks of words and sentences to help us create great stories. She just loves writing and reading so much, Mom, that it inspired me to write."
There isn't much more I can say. His success and comments have simply reinforced the idea that Bryn and I try to secure our teaching to - it's not simply just important to teach How, it's important to inspire a Love for Literacy that will get our students excited about Reading and Writing. Our Motto - Love to, Learn to and Choose to - was driven home this week. Mrs O's love for writing got Sam excited about writing. All these times I've been working with him it's been more about a "job" and less about getting him to love it. Oh Mrs. O, thanks for the reminder!
In my quest to find ways to motivate my son to write, I have stumbled upon some very interesting articles. There are LOTS of opinions about literacy and boys and whether or not it should even be something we expect from them (because with technology they may not actually need to know conventions or how to form simple sentences). The teacher in me insists of course this is something we should expect and not only should we expect it we can help them even enjoy it (some may argue this is wishful thinking). However, this week we had a bit of a breakthrough at our house.
When I say I’ve tried many tactics with my son to get him to write it would be a gross understatement. To date, none of them have really managed to capture his attention or his interest. Until now - my son loves Lego! His imagination with Lego is so much fun to watch and he and his younger sister can amuse themselves for hours building scenes. One day while trolling Pinterest I saw a woman with a post about a Lego scene writing idea and thought it was genius. I introduced the idea to my two kids, told them to go and create scenes with their Lego and then take pictures of it with the Ipad.
My daughter decided this would be tons of fun with Barbies. They had a great time setting their scenes and then taking pictures of them. I was amazed at what they both came up with. Then I put the pictures into a document and printed them off. The kids then spent the next couple of hours writing their stories to match their pictures. When I told my son that he only had to do the first two pages (six pictures) he told me he wanted to keep going (insert Mom fist pump here). The stories they came up with were adorable and they are already planning their next ones. Now I’m trying to come up with other things they can photograph and write about. I have already thought of ways we can adapt this idea into the Lit Pit’s writing station and am so excited to try it out with my students.
I would love to hear about any ideas you’ve had inspiring your students to write!
Fourteen years into my teaching career and Literacy has always been my primary love. Teaching little people to read and write and seeing the world of books from new eyes brings me an immense amount of joy. I have spent many hours discussing how to get students who are reluctant readers and writers to be engaged. I have given ideas and activities to encourage parents who are at their wits end.
This year I’ve met my match.
He’s an incredibly bright little boy who reads above grade level, his oral comprehension and imagination are exceptional. Getting him to write however, is like pulling teeth. He comes up with every excuse in the book and truth be told our writing sessions are looking more and more like wrestling matches.
As irony would have it, this little boy also happens to be my son.
So this past year I have been on a mission to come up with inventive and exciting ways to encourage my son to write. I’ve tried video prompts, engaging hands on activities, lists, letters and stories. We’ve run laps between sentences, had writing breaks and tried every time of the day.
Writing is still a struggle. He has a million ideas but trying to get them on paper is hard. He immediately becomes tired, grumpy and is distracted by the smallest of things. Even though attention can be an issue for him at times if I put a math sheet in front of him or a book or Lego he’s able to focus for hours.
So this summer my task has been reading everything I can about boys and literacy. It seemingly has become a theme for me; people I hardly know have come up and asked me about getting their boys to read and write. Dinner party conversations have taken a turn to our education system and boys and the question of does our current system meet the needs of busy boys. I’ve begun asking myself, what can we do differently at our school to engage our boys and not only teach them to read and write, but create a culture where they choose to?
I believe things begin to change when we not only recognize the problem, but begin asking questions. I don’t think it’s coincidence I have a son who is demonstrating these challenges. It’s motivating me to find an answer. I would love to end this post telling you I’ve discovered a quick fix, but we’re definitely a work in progress. My son and I are on a quest to find ways to engage not only him but other boys like him. At the end of his school career I would love to be able to say that I’ve helped him not only learn to read and write, but Love to, and Choose to.
Stay tuned as the questions turn in to answers...
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!