I know I’m late to the game, but I recently began The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. My inspiration for beginning this book actually came from one of my students, Demetria, who is quite the avid reader. Already this year, she’s read The Skin I’m In, Dear Martin, Long Way Down and All-American Boys. I thought it would be fun to read some of Thomas’s book so that I could ask Demetria questions about it during our independent reading time. I got hooked into the book early on though, and now we are sort of reading it together (she comes into homeroom each morning and opens my bookmark to see how far I’ve read). It’s a healthy competition, and it’s giving us a lot to discuss.
Anyhow, at the start of the book, the main character, Starr, is in the car with her friend Khalil when they get pulled over by the police as Khalil is driving her home from a party. The incident gets out of hand and the cop shoots Khalil three times in the back, and Starr watches her friend bleed to death on the street. The book centers around this act of violence, and the over-policing of African-Americans is one of the novel’s central themes. Though the scene where Khalil is killed is only a few pages, it is full of sensory details that paint a vivid picture of this gruesome image. So of course I had to read it aloud to all of my classes.
Anyone who has ever taught middle school knows that they are truly elementary school students in overgrown bodies. In all four of my Language Arts classes, students protested, “Don’t stop! Keep reading!” when I got to the end of the excerpt. Nearly 90% of my students are African-American and/or Latino, so many of them had experienced or knew family members and friends who had experienced negative interactions with law enforcement. Most of my students admitted to having “the talk” with a parent or grandparent previously about how they should speak to police officers if they are ever stopped and questioned. I confessed to my students that I had never had such a talk with my parents, and that just the week before I was pulled over for speeding and let off with just a warning, to which they hollered, “Because you’re white!”.
In addition to Demetria, three other students hustled to the library to check out this book. It’s amazing how powerful our influence can be over students and what they read when we provide them with dramatic readings from engaging texts. Book talks are such an easy yet effective way to hook students into a text. When I read the first chapter aloud from Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, I immediately had five students reading the book during our independent reading time. The same thing happened when I read from How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon.
My heartwarming moments of the week
This week I had two separate interactions with students that made me feel overwhelmingly satisfied with my position in this world as a teacher. The first occurred on Wednesday when Saul, a student who professed early on in the year to me how much he disliked school, stopped by my room in the morning on his way to homeroom to ask if he was going to get to read his book, Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri, at the beginning of class. Recently, I shifted my classes’ independent reading schedule. I used to reserve two to three days each week for the students to read from books of their own choosing in the work session, which would mean a 15 to 20 minute block of time. However, that schedule was resulting in too many weeks where we only read independently for just two days, so I moved it to the first 10 minutes of every class, every day, and it’s been amazing. I suppose some of the kids haven’t fully-grasped that this is how class is going to start each day since Saul seemed a bit unsure, but the fact that he is entering the building wanting to read something is an immeasurable leap from the beginning of the school year.
My other newly converted reader, Sanchez, read Long Way Down before the holiday break, and he sort of became obsessed with it, but in a good way. He particularly enjoyed how the book was written in verse, so I tried giving him The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, but for whatever reason he wasn’t feeling it. I offered him House Arrest by K.A. Holt, and he sunk his teeth into it. He read it at the start of every class period this week, and on Friday he came up to me in homeroom to let me know that he read thirty-something pages at home the night before. His confession stopped me in my tracks. This is a kid who repeatedly claimed to “hate reading” from the first day of school. By the end of this upcoming week, he’ll have finished his second novel this year completely on his own. I’m not totally sure how these transformations occur, but they are marvelous to observe from where I’m standing.
Using emojis to make inferences and cite details
While I absolutely love reading through my students’ journal entries, I do occasionally feel guilty about having them write a journal response before we read, and then having them write responses to a reading prompt after we read. Maybe I’m becoming a softy. Anyhow, recently I’ve started having them draw emoji(s) at the end of class that represent their thoughts and feelings regarding something that they read, either from our class novel or their own books. Then, they have to go around the room and explain their emoji(s) to at least two other students. This activity has been a big hit so far because (A) it’s fun to draw emojis, (B) 7th graders love any opportunity to get out of their seats and talk with their peers, and (C) I think the kids appreciate the break from the writing.