Next Book!


The next online discussion/forum is Sunday, January 3rd at 6:00 p.m.  For most educators this is the Sunday after the holiday break.  The text that will be discussed is How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon.  For those looking for a great read during the break, here it is!  Book lovers spread the word!

Discuss Here!!! Book Club

Good evening educators,

We’ll use this thread for our discussion on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  The questions are “How can I positively impact the education of AA students?” and “How do we sustain positive cultures, and how can we motivate and inspire students to learn?”  These questions provide a frame for our discussion; however, our discussion is not limited to these questions.  Feel free to pose your own questions.

First Book Club text !!!

Between the world and me picture

We at The Young Scholar Society are excited to begin our Book Club!  The first text we are reading and discussing is the critically acclaimed Between the World and Me by Genius Grant recipient Ta-Nehisi Coates.

After talking with educators from all over, after informal surveying and student conversations we find that many students do not attend church regularly (Although some research suggests Black church attendance isn’t following the broader trend of decline).  I strongly believe in the positive impact of youth regularly attending mass or church services.  Church service and mass function as spaces for learning (morals, traditions, values, interpretation, orality, and the fine arts among other types of knowledge) and the practice of gratitude – spaces almost necessary for social growth.

Between the World and Me is a text wherein Coates writes a letter to his teenage son explaining Black life and survival in the United States among many other things. However, and interestingly,Ta-Nehisi Coates does not believe in a “Supreme God of justice, law, or morality”.  While Coates maintains that he has allowed his son access to religious traditions, the questions still become:  Where do students like Coates and their sons get morality training?  How do they cultivate hope and engage in hope as theory and as daily practice?  Some think the church has become a space that is no longer appealing, necessary, or relevant to this generation, and as unfortunate as this may sound, this is a reality.

This lens is limited as there are many, but Coates’ book allows us to critically examine this reality and discuss and offer ways in which to answer our general guiding questions. In these times, the perspective of faculty and staff is utterly imperative.  As Coates is the recipient of the Genius Grant, it is truly possible that his book offers necessary insight into the heart of American education.

The official date for the online discussion/forum is Sunday, November 29th.  For many educators this is the day after Thanksgiving break.  For those looking for a great read during the break, here it is!  Book lovers spread the word! The Facebook group link and Twitter hashtag are forthcoming.

P.S. For those who’ve already read and would like to get started on another necessary read, the book for December is How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon

Contact Mr. Clifford at

Instructional Practices Reflection: English Texts and Curriculum Development

I came across an interesting article from a summer 2014 edition of the English Journal entitled “Beyond the Stacks: Why High School English Teachers Should Be Talking about Books.” In it author Kierstin Thompson questions the relativeness of literature taught today.  Her central concern has much to do with canonical literature taught in high schools.  She queries whether strategies or the texts themselves are important, and she questions the texts (the canon, multicultural literature, nonfiction, young adult) used as well.

At the beginning of the article, Thompson points out that literacy coaches and specialists were placed into schools in 2001-2005 with the awarding of grants right after NCLB legislation, and Literacy Specialists began to provide professional development regarding reading and comprehension strategies.  She argues, however, this created somewhat of a problem – that there was a pedagogical gap between literary instruction and reading instruction.  Quoting Lisa Schade Eckert, Thompson contends that literary instruction is focused on “intellectually lofty, highly theorized definitions of literary interpretation” while reading instruction focuses on “repetitive, skills-based instruction.”

Now, the new Common Core State Standards have “Reading Literature Standards” that require the strategy of close reading along with the comparing of stories from different genres and eras (she points out standards RL. 8-10.9 and RL. 11-12-9).  Thompson maintains standards such as these are more akin to literary interpretation rather than reading instruction, and as such, teachers will have to change the ways in which they teach texts; furthermore, the CCSS “might inadvertently encourage [teachers] to abandon the multicultural YA texts they’ve previously integrated into their classrooms.”  I am not exactly sure what she means at this point, but there is the implication that such texts have no literary value, and if that is the argument, I disagree, and my disagreement will require another article.

After interviewing a gamut of teachers, Thompson found that teachers look at a text’s “genre, literary era, student interest, student ability, aesthetic value, and point of view” – the text’s “literary value” and “pedagogical potential.”  She also claims, and this is unfortunate, teachers miss opportunities for students to see other perspectives or to think more deeply, for teachers shy away from books that are perceived as possibly contentious fearing “criticism, district reprimand or worse.”  I find this highly problematic – the idea of self-censorship.  By engaging in this type of thinking, we do a disservice to the students we teach.  Literature is supposed to be provocative, and any educator know this as fact.  A fellow NEH Scholar, Trina Williams, put it this way, “Literature transforms and transports kids in ways unimaginable, and it transfers to students the level of passion, realism that a teacher cannot provide” (paraphrased).  Never should we not teach a text because of possible controversy.

Finally, Thompson writes that teachers should engage in professional development that focuses on literary literacy.  And she offers some of her own professional experience:

  • Read a text that stretches you as a reader
  • Invite colleagues to read a book with you
  • Ask to pilot a text
  • Propose a professional development opportunity focused on literature

According to Thompson, reading and discussing a poem or short story is enjoyable for English teachers (even if determining curricular value is secondary).  But most importantly, it also reminds us of what our students go through.

Follow LeMar on Twitter and Instagram @lcliff06

In response to “Understanding and Working with Students and Adults from Poverty” by Ruby Payne

Ruby Payne cogently describes the reasons for the educational gap between students of different social backgrounds. Generational poverty is definitely something that should be addressed by all educators, regardless of what level they are teaching at. The unwritten middle-class “rules” of society are not standards that each student should be held at– they should be taught to each student in order to avoid situations in which a child is being punished for presenting the only behavior they know due to their economic status.

The connection between generational poverty and violence is not one that should be taken lightly, as this article points out, and gearing students towards a more non-violent path through creating relationships with them is the best way to stop that cycle. Also, as being a product of generational poverty myself, I thoroughly enjoy the emphasis the article places on relationships between underprivileged students and their educators. Educators don’t recognize the potential that they have to make a difference in the lives of their students, but they are actually frequently the best hope that some students have at success. The relationships that I had with my teachers and mentors are ultimately what lifted me up and pushed me to go above and beyond what I myself thought I could do. Sometimes, it takes others seeing our potential to convince us that we have any potential in the first place, and once educators begin to embrace that as a fact, the education of underprivileged students will improve significantly.

In the final analysis, Payne argues not everyone comes from the same background, and that all students should not be held at the same standard. Educators need to be more considerate when dealing with lower-income (and higher-income) students and create relationships with their students in order to ensure their success. I agree wholeheartedly.

Nicole Jackson can be contacted at

Why My Body Language is Taller than My Height – Nonverbal Cues

I didn’t know I was short until I began teaching middle school. Being  five feet and a half inches tall and 120 pounds, I became the target of jokes and disbelief. “Oh, I thought you were one of the students!” was and still is a hauntingly familiar dig in my direction.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words do hurt. However, they do have the power to uplift you and make change so I soon learned to exit my feelings quickly  in order to be taken seriously by redirecting the conversation, and proceeding in a professional manner.

Without the gift of intimidating stature, I learned to rely heavily on nonverbal cues in my classroom management. Nonverbal cues can be defined as silent signals and/or gestures which communicate commands or instructions to a specific party or audience. Nonverbal cues enable you to model positive expectations for your students or discourage inappropriate behaviors without saying a word.

SMH – this acronym appears heavily in text talk and in comment sections of social media. Shaking my head has stopped six foot high school students in their tracks, prompted boys and girls to ask for the present page number of the text, and lowering of a head who finally realized he or she was not on task – a hint of shame.

If a student is not seated properly, I simply point my index finger up and down and the action is corrected. When a student is speaking too loudly, I turn my hand as if I were lowering a radio dial. Snapchat wheel turning red on a mobile device? I squint my big eyes and tap on the pocket of my pants warning the offender that fancy phone will be mine if they don’t stop playing with me.

These are only a few but effective nonverbal cues which has allowed me to execute class with little detraction from the lesson at hand. The lesson becomes so dear to me that not even I can stand to interrupt it if it is unnecessary.

Follow Jalissa Bates on Twitter @BurninNLootin.