Black History Month and the Achievement Gap

Beautiful book.

As I am sure you are aware, February marks the start of Black History Month.  Students across the country will learn about Rosa Parks, read Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech, and will organize local celebrations. I hope I do not come across as cynical, but much like last week’s celebration of “Literacy Week” in Florida, it seems a no-brainer that this is something that should be a part of our everyday classroom environment.

Despite the perceived success of our nation’s students via standardized testing, one key demographic is not keeping pace–minorities, primarily Hispanic and black males. This Achievement Gap has garnered plenty of national attention but we must look at this “gap” beyond the standardized test scores.

There is much more that must be done beyond the classroom walls to fix the problem. Poverty and prejudice might be beyond our direct control, but they are not beyond our teaching. One month to celebrate the contributions and the history of a huge portion of our students seems barely enough.

One of the initiatives of the nonprofit, The English Teacher’s Friend, is to implement a new program called NAS (Not A Statistic) intended to focus on black males for reasons beyond the Achievement Gap, including educating students and teachers about the startling statistics of highly disproportional incarceration rates, as well as a focus on local black history that is often glossed over in our curriculum and communities.

Florida statute 1003.42 Requires instruction in “the history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition, and the contributions of African Americans to society.”

Although we likely cover enough black history to meet the requirement in our history classes and during Black History Month, we are certainly not designating many courses of study for students to truly immerse in their own history.

I was born, raised, and taught school in Brevard County, Florida. Our County complex is called the Harry Moore Center. But it wasn’t until several years ago, on my own searching, that I found out who Harry Moore was. Harry and his wife Harriette were civil rights activists-he a member and organizer for the NAACP. They were responsible for huge increases in African American voter registration across Central Florida and both were honored educators who were fired for their political activity. They made a huge impact in the Civil Rights movement before it became an official movement. Harry investigated every publicized lynching in Florida and was likely murdered because of once such investigation–the Groveland Massacre.

Harry and Harriette Moore were killed on Christmas Day, 1951. A bomb was placed under the floors of their home directly under their bed. Harry died on the way to the hospital and Harriette died nine days later.

Since I learned about the Moore’s I have been curious to know how many students  and adults are aware of their story. I have been asking my new classes which consist of mostly minority students, if they know who Harry Moore is? I often ask adults, too. I am rarely met with someone familiar with this local connection to our National history. We live 30 miles from where the Moore’s house once stood.

This prompted me to research more Florida history in relation to African Americans and there are so many stories that our students do not know-that I did not know. This is what I love about being an educator-the constant learning and discovering. If you don’t take advantage of getting paid to learn, to discover with your students, you are missing a valuable enrichment for your life, a nice fringe benefit.

Our NAS program is designed to work with the students to discover, uncover, and enrich their understanding of the local history. Through this relevant curriculum and targeted demographics we hope to engage students with more relevant curriculum. Out of the 10-15 admitted to the program, we hope for a minimum of 3-4 to become leaders and organizers of a group to continue to share these stories and statistics through workshops and presentations at schools, conferences, and in the community.

Please follow the blog as we detail the making of this program. Through the combined efforts of students and teachers working together for a common goal, we hope to create a program that can be replicated throughout the state, and maybe elsewhere in the country.

In the meantime, I will be sharing what I can with the students I have in class right now. I will start with a checklist to see where their background knowledge stands. Visit these sites for more materials you can work into Black History month and hopefully March – January too.

Read more about Harry and Harriette Moore.

Separate is Not Equal: Brown Vs. Board: This site includes lots of resources and lessons to teach an entire unit on the inequality of education. This is a key topic to address at a time when many students find education a burden.

History.Com list of resourcesfor Black History Month.

Another interesting read: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness


Looking Foward to Research…

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.   –Benjamin Franklin

Every year you see them.

They move through the halls like zombies carrying stacks of papers and a jug of coffee. Often they are mumbling incoherently, something about “I taught them this…” or “If I read one more…”  You see these crazed beings for a few weeks each year and even though you might typically have lunch with them, during these weeks they barely leave their cave-room and instead, lurk in shadows over mounds of papers. I am talking about the English teacher, of course, in the midst of grading the “dreaded” research paper.

For some reason, this annual torture seems a necessary part of our profession—a rotten part of the job we hope to make better every year, but find ourselves disappointed when once again, these young people don’t grasp the concept of what it means to research.

This is also where we fail time and time again by not adapting to the change in research methodology to meet the needs of today’s students. The research process has changed rapidly in the past decade and we have not entirely caught up in our classrooms. As those tortured teachers can tell you, many students are primarily taught research as a unit, for a single paper, often done in the 11th grade.

A few decades ago this might have been fine when the only way one could do research was to use the resources at the local library. The goal was different then, also. It was designed to teach the research process for students entering college where they would be expected to write formal research papers. Our world outside of academia did not require a lot of knowledge for research skills. The general population could rely on select elite who were in charge of providing us with information and we generally trusted those sources.

But today’s world involves an increasing demand for reading between the lines. As we encounter an endless supply of information, the need to evaluate and synthesize that text is vital. Bias in media is rampant and we can no longer rely on every news station to provide clear, impartial information.  And our students are struggling.

Understanding reliable sources versus unreliable ones is an ever-increasingly difficult task. This is not just a result of the internet. This is a result of the accessibility of information—from text messages to cable television to vanity presses. We also have an environment where copyright infringement treads into murky waters and we need to do better at guiding our students.

Research skills—validating sources, understanding copyright, synthesizing text—do not need to be taught as a sole unit for a research paper. Our classrooms should be models of skills they need in the real world. With our ever-increasing demands on curriculum, we need to find inventive ways of efficiently teaching a number of skills at once. We can provide more engaging ways to learn the process year round while also incorporating other components of the curriculum such as technology, media skills, and writing in other genres.

I am always looking for ways to make the best use of a teacher’s time by combining skills, activities, and standards.  In the Modern Research Model, that is precisely what happens.

Instead of a final paper, the students write a blog or create a magazine based on their interests.

These two models are presented in lessons designed to cover a day or two over 12-14 weeks so that the research process becomes and integral part of your curriculum. You can pretty easily adapt these lessons to be more or less rigorous and more or less time-consuming. In this collection, I tried to find a middle balance and have created it with the 9th grade student in mind. This collection is arranged in three parts.

Part one is the BLOG model. Students will create a blog on a topic of their interest. Lessons will add a new component to the blog each week that not only address a different aspect of research, but also teach technology (hyperlinks and importing media), and a new writing genre (informational or personal essay).

Part two is the MAGAZINE model. The magazine will incorporate concepts such as multiple genres (editorial, personal essay, how to, etc.) as well as technology (design-based) and research skills each week. The final product is a publishable magazine to share with other students.

Part three includes resources to use with both models. Online resources, tutorials, and samples are designed to provide additional assistance.

Worried you might not be techno-savvy enough to pull a project off like this? No worries. This collection will walk you through all the steps you need. In the blog project, you will create a blog prior to the students, so you can predict and share any kinks in the process. Also, this is an important characteristic of this generation. They are not afraid of technology and will find ways to make it work. When you hand over the reins, they will often surprise with collaboration and dedication. Let the students teach you. The future of education includes teachers as mentors and learners, working side by side with students, not in front of the room as disseminators of knowledge. Use that to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to hand some teaching to them.

If you still want to do the formal research paper, you are in a much better starting place after having done one of these models since much of the research, writing, synthesizing and organizing are already done.  In each option, students will write approximately 3,000 words total on a single subject.

The most important aspect of this model is it creates engagement. Students are not writing for the sole purpose of a grade for you. They are researching and writing to share it with others. This matters for this generation and it will matter in the effort they put forth.

Make use of this text and please let me know ( what you think. I would love to hear about your successes and suggestions for improvement. As things change, I am sure this book will too.

Research Sites Worth Saving

FactCheck provides free resources for educators to find relevant research intended to cut through the spin and propaganda of local media. An education component on FactCheck called FactCheckEd provides a full year’s worth of lessons adaptable for middle and high school. This site is a go-to site during this next year as they take a close look at political ads, claims, and candidates.

ProCon is on one of my favorite sites as they provide both sides of a topic.  Search through 40+ controversial issues and see the collection of information they provide (with citations) for evidence supporting both sides of an argument.  This is a great way for students to find topics of interest and have the resources right at their fingertips.

Noodle Tools. Teachers that spend classroom time teaching how to create a works cited, or require note cards, are really wasting much of their time. Students today will work mostly electronically and often articles and information contains the citations already. Sites such as this will walk students through the process and create the works cited for them.

Wikipedia. Some people are still anti-Wikipedia for research. Wikipedia is not going away and what we want to teach students is that Wikipedia can be a great place to start—and the great thing about it—the citations listed at the bottom.  This is a necessary element in Wikipedia and will help researchers find information.

English Teacher’s Friend Delicious Account (Student Research Tag)  Delicious is a social bookmarking site. Click on the link above and you will find all of the above resources and more. As I add more sites that are helpful for student research I simply add them to this Delicious tag. Check back in or follow this Delicious account to see updated links.

The Online Writing Lab (the OWL) at Purdue University is excellent and might be the only resource you need. Covers all things research related.

Internet Public Library  is an online reference site, the IPL organizes websites into subjects as well as provides links to e-texts, magazines, and newspapers.

The Learning Network (NY Times Education Blog) provides lessons and resources for teachers using current news.


%d bloggers like this: