I recently read an article from the Washington Post that highlights what one fifth-grade writing teacher, Emily Elizabeth Smith, is doing in her classroom to better connect with her students of color.
Although her award speech uses the term, at-risk (a term I am not fond of), it is still filled with a perspective I very much appreciate. She spoke of connecting with her students and understanding her students, which is a positive alternative to the common themed “how to help my poor language deprived Black and Brown students” perspective.
I’m sure there are some people out there who may be thinking that “connecting” and “understanding” are not synonymous for teaching…but think about it, if you take a teacher who is already effectively doing her job of educating her students with a content-filled curriculum, and then add on the fact that she wants her students to actually feel engaged and valued in this process, well, then that kind of teaching works for me.
And I’m sure it’s no coincidence at all that her ELA (English Language Arts) classroom, I mean, society, is called The Hive Society😉
What I liked most about Ms. Smith’s speech and reflective essay, is that she spoke about building upon the rich language skills and culture that these children already have inside of them and then shaping these talents, these values, these ideas into beautiful writing that reflects how they walk in this world. AND letting them do this by allowing them to discover their own learning styles in the process.
Now, do I think that this is the answer to all of our literacy challenges that are being reported in our schools? No, of course not. We still need to be more open about the influence of being bilingual, or speaking a non mainstream dialect of English on obtaining literacy skills in mainstream American English. But, what I like is that she seems to be maintaining the children’s cultural identity, while also finding ways to give them exposure to what-could-be-called mainstream avenues of “success” (by using technology or teaching her students about business and marketing).
Read the article by Valerie Strauss to learn more about one way one White teacher and her students of color are educating each other in the classroom.