Monday, November 4, 2019

23 Books that Honor Diversity and Have Anti-Racist Themes

I should not have to prove my ethnicity to anyone.  I know who I am.
-- Christina Aguilera

This is a follow-up and conclusion to my 2 previous posts about the #itstimetotalkracism campaign, which you can read HERE and HERE.  The organizer, Chrissy from Buzzing with Ms. B, has put together a list of books with anti-racist themes and books that honor diversity that teachers can use to stock their classroom libraries.  Some of these books were reviewed in the blog posts written for this campaign.

Stock your classroom library with these 23 books that have an anti-racist theme | The ESL Nexus
List of books compiled by Chrissy of Buzzing with Ms. B
Edutopia recently published an article about how to use books that provide mirrors and windows for students.  Although the author says most people know what it means, mirrors and windows was another term I was not familiar with.  It’s explained in the article but basically it refers to books that enable students to make connections to their lives in some way.  It's a great article with teaching ideas that you can use with these books.

If you’d like to help your students think more about what it means to be kind and show respect to others, you might like this resource I created.  It’s 10 photographs in 8.5" x 11" poster size and each one is overlaid with a quotation; there are 5 quotes about kindness and 5 about respect.  There are also 10 questions you can use as writing or discussion prompts.  For more info, please click HERE.

Create a positive classroom & school community with these Respect & Kindness posters with writing & speaking prompts | The ESL Nexus
Use these posters to create a positive classroom & school community; source: The ESL Nexus
I hope my blog post and all the others in this series have not only given you lots to think about but also have offered you some practical, actionable ideas that you can implement in your classrooms in the near future.  Given the current state of world affairs, I think it’s very important that educators teach their students respect and kindness for all people, regardless of who they are, what they look like, where they come from, what their religion is, or what language they speak.


Monday, October 21, 2019

Learning How to Decenter Whiteness in a TV Show

"It's hard as a young person of a different ethnicity or background to look at the TV and not see anyone who looks like you. Representation is very important."
-- Zendaya

When I was asked if I’d like to participate in the #itstimetotalkracism campaign, at first I wasn’t sure what I could write about because I’d never really taught an explicit anti-racism lesson.  But after thinking about it, I realized I could present a lesson I’d implemented when I was a teacher trainer.

Learn what "decentering whiteness" means, download a free checklist that helps you identify TV shows & videos that center whiteness, and discover a book you can use with your students that deals with bias | The ESL Nexus
Source: Buzzing with Ms. B.
The lesson used Star Trek: The Original Series to explore first impressions, “the other,” and stereotypes.  I’m a proponent of using videos with students and as a long-time fan of Star Trek, I thought the series was a great way to teach about intercultural communication.  I mean, Vulcans, Humans, Klingons, Romulans, the Ferengi – you can’t get much more cross-cultural than that!

I emailed Chrissy from Buzzing with Ms. B., the coordinator of this 22-day campaign, to ask if my idea would be okay.  She viewed the episode, Devil in the Dark, and said it didn’t really decenter whiteness.

Since I didn’t quite understand what “decentering whiteness” meant, Chrissy and I emailed back and forth as we delved into why that Star Trek episode didn’t do that.  Because I think our conversation would be helpful to other educators, with her permission I am going to share some excerpts below.  Following that, I’ll offer a link to a resource I created to help you select TV shows and videos that decenter whiteness.  I’ll also discuss a book I recently read that would be a great read-aloud and discussion starter with your students.

Below are the sections of the email exchange I had with Chrissy that really made clear for me this idea of decentering whiteness.  But -- spoiler alert!  If you've never seen this episode of Star Trek, these excerpts give away part of the plot. 

Chrissy: I've been thinking about the Star Trek episode, and I totally see where you're coming from with addressing biases and cultural misunderstandings.

I'm realizing that this episode does center whiteness. In other words, because it's from the perspective of the colonizers...and how they're being killed by this other thing, it's about the white experience in response to this new culture.

Susan: I see where you're coming from with that and I agree up to a point.  But I also feel that it's Spock, who is bi-racial, who is the hero of the episode.

: [T]he issue as I understand it isn't that the actors or writers are white or anything in that sort of vein. With this episode, the issue as I see it is that there was a group of people moving into a territory and the creatures there are represented as some kind of animal, even once Spock understands their perspective. My concern is that some people might see themselves as the Horta, an animal who, even when being described as being "highly intelligent" is the butt of jokes about her appearance.

The agreement that the crew and the Horta reach is actually only beneficial to the humans…. The humans are acting as colonizers, taking what they want, and agreeing to leave the natives alone, taking on the role of white savior to bestow that kindness on the Horta, even though she was fine before they arrived.

Susan:  That makes a lot of sense, especially the part where you say it isn't about the writers or actors being white…  And I see your point about how the Horta is described and how some people could internalize those negative comments. 

That really makes things clear, in terms of where you're coming from with your analysis of this episode.  I hadn't ever thought of Kirk and crew as being in white savior mode but it makes perfect sense from the way you've characterized it.

Chrissy:  It's interesting that we can love shows and acknowledge that they were problematic, too.  When people see that it's ok for our thinking to change (and it always does!), they can feel like it's ok for their thinking to change, too.

*   *   *

So I discarded the idea of sharing my Star Trek lesson with you.  Instead, I decided to create a checklist you can use when you are looking for a TV show or video to show your students.  It’s a list of questions that ask about the show, with space for you to write answers next to each question.  You can find it HERE, where you'll be prompted to download a copy of the free checklist.  Please note that I use the phrases "minority characters" and "people of color" interchangeably in the checklist.

Learn what "decentering whiteness" means & download a free checklist that helps you identify TV shows and videos that center whiteness | The ESL Nexus
Download your free copy HERE; source: The ESL Nexus
Using these questions as a guide when evaluating videos and TV programs helps you view shows in a different way.  I know that I, now, am looking at what I watch through a different lens.

Now I'd like to reccomend a book that would be a great addition to your collection of books that deal with racism, bias, stereotypes, prejudice, and how kids interact with people who are different from them.

With its traditional “once upon a time” fairy tale beginning and watercolor-ish full-page illustrations, from the stars in the sky to the fish in the sea is a beautiful picture book that will appeal to kids of all ages.  It’s about fitting in, choosing who you want to be, and how to treat non-conforming people.  It’s also about a mother’s love for her child.  The song she sings every evening when her child recounts their negative experience in school will warm your heart.

Find out why this book belongs in every teacher's classroom library in this blog post about anti-racism | The ESL Nexus
Find out more about this book HERE

This story has an important message that will resonate with all students who feel awkward and out of place in their school: English Language Learners, special needs students, gender non-conforming students, and every other kid who doesn’t fit into whatever is considered typical for where they live.  I love this book and it should be in every teacher’s classroom library.

This post is in memory of Maribel Hernandos Campos, one of the 22 persons murdered in El Paso in August 2019 by a gunman who targeted people of Mexican heritage.

Honor one of the 2019 El Paso shooting victims by reading this blog post that discusses how to identify videos & TV shows that center whiteness | The ESL Nexus

I am posting a link to each day's blog post in the #itstimetotalkracism campaign on my Facebook page and Twitter account.  Please check them out for great teaching ideas and resources!


Monday, October 7, 2019

22 Helpful Anti-Racism Blog Posts for Educators

"I should not have to prove my ethnicity to anyone. I know who I am."
-- Christina Aguilera

The #itstimetotalkracism campaign is a 22-day effort by teachers to help other educators and their students discuss racism, bias, and related issues.  Please click HERE to read how and why it got started.  I was honored to be invited to participate and hope you will share these blog posts and resources widely with your colleagues.

Join the #itstimetotalkracism campaign: 22 days of blog posts with resources & info for educators | The ESL Nexus
Read how and why this campaign was started HERE; source: Buzzing with Mrs. B.
Today’s blog post, the 4th in the series, is by Ha Dinh and her post is titled Acknowledging and Celebrating Where We Are From.  She writes about an experience her son had in school when he was asked where he came from.  It’s a common experience for a lot of students, including English Language Learners, and Ha explains how she handled the situation.  In addition, she recommends a book dealing with this topic which you can read with your students.  Ha also offers a free resource in her post that your students can fill out -- what’s really great about it is that it includes a positive affirmation about their origins.

Join the #itstimetotalkracism campaign: 22 days of blog posts with resources & info for educators | The ESL Nexus
Download your free copy HERE; source: Happy Days in First Grade
Here are some additional articles you might find useful:
* How We Refer to Groups of People Matters a Lot
* Teaching 6-Year-Olds About Privilege and Power
* Learning to See Students’ Deficits as Strengths
* I Thought I Understood What School Was Like for My Students of Color
* Lessons Learned in Teaching Native American History
* How to Address Bias and Bullying: Resources for Schools

My own #itstimetotalkracism post will be published on Monday, October 21st.  To read all 22 blog posts in this campaign, please follow me on Facebook or Twitter -- I’ll be publishing links to each day’s post on those platforms.


Monday, September 23, 2019

How to Determine if Books are Suitable for English Language Learners

"A capacity, and taste, for reading gives access to whatever has 
already been discovered by others."
-- Abraham Lincoln

Are you a regular education/mainstream teacher with English Language Learners in your classes?  Or are you an ESL teacher with multi-level ELLs in your classes?  Both teaching contexts present a challenge when using a textbook or a novel since it’s quite likely your ELLs are not all reading at the same level.  This post will give you some tips on how to analyze a textbook or novel to see if it is suitable to be used with your ELLs.

How to Determine if Books are Suitable for English Language Learners | The ESL Nexus
What features in a text you should look at when using texts with ELLs; source: The ESL Nexus
First off, look at the presentation of the text:
* Look at the size of the font(s): The larger the font, the easier it is for an ELL to read and comprehend the material.
* Look at the type of font: Printed letters are easier to understand than words in cursive fonts, especially since different languages write cursive letters in different ways.
* Look at the letter spacing: The more space there is between the words and lines in a sentence and paragraph, the easier it is to read and understand the text.
* Look at the amount of white space: The more white space there is around the margins, the easier it is to comprehend the text.

Next, look at the non-textual features in the text:
* Are pictures included: Photographs and illustrations that help explain the text will greatly aid ELLs’ comprehension of the material and for ELLs at beginning and intermediate levels of proficiency the more images the better, but even ELLs at advanced proficiency levels find pictures beneficial.
* Are diagrams, tables, and/or charts included: The easier it is to read the info in those images and in their explanatory captions, the better it is for ELLs.
* Are the images in color or black-and-white: Color is preferable but if the black-and-white images are high quality and it’s easy to discern what they are, then ELLs will be able to figure out what they depict.

Lastly, analyze the text complexity of the textbook or novel: 
* Look at the sentence complexity of the text: Shorter sentences are easier to comprehend.
* Look at what grammar structures are used: Sentences beginning with subordinate clauses, (e.g. Before I went home, I did my homework), sentences with relative clauses (e.g. The girl, who came from Mexico, earned the highest math grade on the text), some transitions (e.g. nevertheless, on the other hand), sentences with idioms and figurative language – texts with these features will be harder to comprehend.
* Look at how new vocabulary words are  presented: When definitions are provided right after the new word, such as in parentheses or offset by hyphens or commas, that makes the text easier to comprehend.  Even texts that have words explained in footnotes or a glossary in the margin of a page will be easier to comprehend than texts that make students flip back and forth between a glossary at the end of the book and the page being read.

After you’ve analyzed the book, you’ll have a better idea of whether it is something your ELLs will be able to read and understand or if they will have difficulty comprehending it.  To help your students even more, check out this blog post for 14 Tips to Help ELLs Understand Their Textbooks.

Use these Social Studies Resources when Teaching English Language Learners | The ESL Nexus
Click HERE for more info about these resources; source: The ESL Nexus
Social Studies textbooks in particular are text-heavy and written in dry prose.  I’ve created a line of resources about historical time periods and civilizations, with more to come, that are written at lower levels of text complexity.  They’re aimed at ELLs in mainstream classes who have a hard time understanding regular education textbooks but they can be used by any student who is not reading on grade level.  If your students are having difficulty comprehending their regular Social Studies textbooks, these resources will help them out.  You can find them all HERE.