Engaging Disengaged African American Students

As a student of African American studies, I often engage in the study of pedagogical theory, and I imagine ways in which to create spaces and opportunities for African American (AA) students to take part in meaningful educational experiences. As of now, my students and I are just getting by in the dissection, analysis, and evaluation of real time and present-day socio-cultural education.

In other words, students are missing out on what teacher educator Gloria Lanson-Billings terms culturally relevant teaching – “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills and attitudes.” We’re learning, nonetheless. The issue though is more about what we are learning. The work that we are doing is not as transformative and liberatory as it should and could be.

Yes, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of standards to be addressed by all states; however, the implementation of the CCSS has not changed state and local curricula. I must admit that I am proud of how many of my students are engaging in possible non-affirmative material that I have presented per the curriculum of the local school district.  It is a disservice, however, to not engage AA students in the most necessary study of African American life and literature, their own culture.

In the pursuit of raising our students’ intellectual levels and student achievement, my colleague and I are on a very necessary quest for the creation of transformative and culturally relevant curricular materials for AA students especially in the public school settings.  Although our work is supported by the foremost authorities on the subject of culturally relevant pedagogy, much of our work is also grounded in our own experiential pedagogies.

For we recognize, we witness that when students read about themselves, they are inclined to run toward education rather than away from it. For example, we see publishing companies such as Townsend Press create literature not just for reading but also curricular materials that centers AA students. Middle school students devour novels published by Townsend Press and then beg for more. We see that when we teach high school students from the frame of hip hop, they fall in love poetry and its power; they are anxious to jump in and go deep, and they do not cower from it. Students are transformed when required to engage with materials that are somehow reflective of them or their experiences. Students become liberated as literature certainly has that type of power.

There is now a gamut of research which supports this unsurprising phenomenon, yet the curricula still is not here, nor is the current curricula reflective. The criticality of relevant and engaging curricula is important seeing how statistics as recent as 2013 from the Children’s Defense Fund Fact Sheet show that “89 percent of Black fourth graders could not read at grade level and 87 percent could not compute”.

How much clearer can it be that we must transform how and what we teach and learn after the tardy bell?

Follow LeMar Clifford on Twitter @lcliff06

Virtual Schools. . Education of the Future?

The scoff, the smirk, the stifled laugh.

 So where did you get your degree?

If the answer to this question is not a brick and mortar institution, many people may respond with the previous responses.

But who will have the last laugh? As online undergraduate and graduate degrees have risen in popularity, secondary schools have approached this mode of learning as an option of alternative education. What students and teachers could benefit from virtual schooling?

Students who suffer from extreme physical conditions have used virtual schooling to maintain their grades due to excessive absences. Children with specific learning disabilities are able to use the extended time with the content which may not be possible during the busy school day.

Teachers who have been alienated from administration over instructional and management practices enjoy the ability to set their curriculum without the threat of non-compliance. Those who desire to teach but whose natures or experiences in schools have proved less than successful or grown wary of student emotional and physical abuse stand to gain and still answer their proverbial call of duty to lead.

As we lesson plan and prepare for standardized testing further than 2017-18 school year, the truth of the matter is we simply don’t know how the future of education may look.

My reasons for considering this came after viewing a TED talk by Sugata Mitra “Build a School in the Cloud.”

Mitra hails “self organized” learning bodies in which children teach themselves using the internet as their text and assessment. Where does the teacher come in? Am I now out of a job – I asked myself.

“The teacher sets the process in motion and sits back and watches learning taking place,” Mitra states. This is described as “self organized learning environment.”

S.O.L.E means “broadband + collaboration + encouragement” put together.

I am currently working at a middle school where every student has an iPad and uses the device daily in classes. The students utilize educational apps, such as Socrative and Nearpod, found in the App Store.

Socrative can be used as a formative assessment in ELA posing questions to students checking reading comprehension of a passage supporting the lesson. Live results are showed on the screen as students and teacher view the questions they answered correctly and the skills which they may need to improve for missed questions.

Nearpod is especially effective in Mathematics as teachers are able to assign math problems which encourage the student to perform the problem right there on the screen. The teacher can then select exemplar student work to guide independent practice.

I was astonished at how seamless this method of instruction had been implemented in the classroom compared to the paper and pencil model I had in the 1990s. Of course, students would Snapchat and make silly faces on Photobooth while the teacher’s back was turned as well. However, after the teacher posed the question, the learning took place.


Mitra ran into the issue of instructing students who faced a language barrier, which is a recent and rising issue today in the United States. Students who are English Language Learners greatly rely on the internet to level the language gap which once stood between them, the student, and their often harried “no time to learn so-and-so language” teacher.

Sitting beside Heidy, Google Translate became our voices as she asked me to go to the restroom or what was that night’s tarea or homework. There is an app which allows you to take a photo of a page of printed text and it translates it you for in a matter of seconds in up to ten different languages. GT had allowed me to be culturally responsive, so to speak.


Here is an area where teachers excel to a fault. The plight of the teacher – the gift and curse of a need to serve man and equip the children with the tools to learn in today’s world and tomorrow’s future. Mitra poses the question to the TED audience and now to you: How are we preparing the children for the jobs of tomorrow?

Until broadband is readily available to all students, those who do have access ought to show other teachers, students, and administration the priceless value of “moving into the cloud.”


Follow Jalissa Bates on Twitter @BurninNLootin