One of my favourite responsibilities as a department head has always been purchasing new books for students to read independently and as a whole class. I still enjoy this process of reading and discussing books with colleagues to decide what we think would work best, but recently I’ve come to see that this part of my job is a serious responsibility because I could get it wrong. In fact, I think I’ve gotten it wrong many times already.
As a department, we’ve decided that we need a new text for our grade 10 students to study as a whole class. Many of the teachers in my department want to teach Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. I love this book, and the next book by Angie Thomas called On the Come Up. These books work every time I put them in the hands of students for independent reading. However, I have a lot of questions about using it as a whole class novel:
- What kind of work must I do to unpack my own bias and misconceptions before I teach this novel?
- What other voices can I include while exploring this novel so that students can hear from members of the community?
- How might this novel and the discussions that accompany it re-traumatize students of colour in my classroom? How will I support them?
- How will I prepare my students for these discussions?
- Am I falling into the cycle where I only select novels about the trauma of people of colour?
- For what purpose will I choose this novel? Am I simply selecting it because it is popular? How will I use it to teach critical thinking and literacy skills?
- How will I ground this novel, set in the USA, in issues that we also have in Canada?
- Who can I surround myself with in order to receive critical feedback on my lesson and discussion planning?
I have some answers for these questions. For example, I would ground the issues in Canada by sharing the writing of Toronto’s Desmond Cole and exploring the issue of carding. As far as purpose, The Hate U Give is perfect for introducing critical theory. I also love the focus on community in this book, so we could look at how the characters’ identities are shaped by the environment and people around them.
However, there is a lot more I need to think about before I begin to teach. If you are thinking about teaching a novel like The Hate U Give, these are some of the resources I’ve been reading that have been helpful. Some of them are monthly chats that have helped me unpack my practice and thinking.
These are educators of colour are providing the most useful PD I have ever experienced:
Why Diverse Texts Are Not Enough by Tricia Ebarvia
Not Light, But Fire by Matthew R. Kay
There is a lot of nonsense on #EduTwitter, but I have grown so much from this group of people. They use their own time to provide educators with spaces and resources to talk about teaching reading and writing. They are smart and talented; spend a few minutes browsing and you’ll see what I mean.
I’m still learning furiously, so if you have other suggestions for resources or questions I should consider, please comment or message me. I’m just looking to do a little bit better everyday.