How I’ll Teach Reading after Charlottesville

Going back to school each fall is always a little nerve wracking. There are new faces staring back at me, new expectations, and new stereotypes to be broken. The reputation I’ll never know completely that circulates among the students is going to be both reinforced and deconstructed as my new group of students experience my classroom first hand.

We’re going to go on a ten month journey as I guide them through the wonders of reading. They were introduced to books and the idea of reading for pleasure last year. Now, it’s my job as the adult in the room the guide them to be brave in their reading choices. To push themselves, not only beyond their reading level or lexicon, but to read stories that make them uncomfortable. They need to read stories that help them empathize with characters whose lives look nothing like their own. Reading should be a place to test out unpopular opinions and to “try on” different life styles. So hopefully, they can avoid experiences many of the characters experience by making different decisions.

I want to teach my students that books are a safe place to practice critical thinking about the world. When you question what you read and whether or not it is valid, those skills transfer to making judgments about the real world. Students need to question the news, other people, their own worldview, in order to form their identity. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t a safe place for much of my student demographic to explore because of their race and socioeconomic level. It is my job to make my classroom a safe place.

I pledge to fiercely protect their minds by challenging them and making them self-sufficient. Here are some books that are going to help in the fight.

ms marvel kamala khanFor my reluctant readers, comic books and graphic novels are a safe place because of the balance of text to illustrations. I’m going to introduce them to Ms. Marvel, a muslim heroine that embiggens and smashes injustice. She’s a person of color, a minority religion, and lives in a different state from where I teach. That’s the trifecta of mind-opening literature. Or Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, a novel written in verse that tells the story of fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon.

 

all american boys jason reynolds

For my grade level readers, I’m going to present The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds. Both of these novels discuss the topics of racial injustice and what kinds of tough decisions need to be made in response to experiencing it not only first hand, but on a large scale. These books give my students the vocabulary they need to intelligently discuss current events. It can give them a fresh perspective from characters in the minority. Also to experience different cultures, books like Malinda Lo’s A Line in the Dark, which introduces not only an Asian main character but also LGBTQ characters.

absurdistan gary shteyngartFor my advanced readers, I’ll be suggesting books like Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which discusses an African’s view on American culture, race, and feminism through a young woman’s eyes. Or Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart, which is a cultural satire on socialism and capitalism in America and central Asia. It has Russian gangsters, hot Latina girlfriends, and civil war, all to show my students that reading outside your comfort zone doesn’t have to be boring.

For my own part, I’m going to read more diversely as well to be a model for my students. I’m going to be using Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge as a guide.

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Celeste Ng, Jesmyn Ward, and Robin Sloan recommend their favorite books in our newest podcast, Recommended. Download it for free from Apple Podcasts or Google Play.
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