February is Black History Month. As an educator, it’s important to shine the spotlight brightly in February, and it’s equally critical to continue to keep that light on throughout the year.
To that end, it’s important to continue to think and talk about race and ethnicity in your classroom, school, or district. Specifically, if you, like me, are white and working in education, it is worth reflecting on the language you use and the learning environment you’ve created. Further, it’s important when sharing literature that is not your lived identity or experience; it’s essential to have a working knowledge of a story’s context to help you be as intentional as possible when facilitating a discussion. Resources for incorporating lessons about the Black experience are abundant, and Learning for Justice provides one comprehensive example, including helpful dos and don’ts and support for addressing “Hard History.”
Junior Great Books® and our Shared Inquiry™ methodology in your classroom can be used as a means of celebrating Black History Month. Our mission is to support civic engagement and discussion and to share stories that reflect the wide breadth of human experience.
Choose a text that is written by a Black author and/or centers around a Black character. Here are a few selections, found in Junior Great Books, to get you started:
- Boelts, Maribeth, “Those Shoes” (Series 1): A contemporary story features a young Black child who yearns for a pair of name-brand shoes.
- Pinckney, Andrea Davis, “Fishing Day” (Series 2): This realistic story features a Black protagonist, a young girl, who goes on a fishing trip with her mom and helps her neighbors.
- Hughes, Langston, “Thank You, M’am” (Series 4): A chance encounter between a young Black boy and a neighbor leads to a deeper connection.
- Ewing, Eve L., “At work with my father” (Series 6, poem): Ewing reflects upon time spent with her father on Chicago’s Navy Pier, a longtime city tourist attraction, as he makes a living drawing caricatures of tourists.
- Thurston, Baratunde, “Where Did You Get That Name?” (Series 8, nonfiction excerpt): A Nigerian American reflects on the ways people respond to his name and his heritage.
After completing the Shared Inquiry discussion, complete a lesson that fully contextualizes the story within its time, or delve into the biography of the author. This is incredibly critical when the goal is to support deeper knowledge and understanding about the Black experience.
Because Shared Inquiry always centers around a discussion, this is an ideal time to talk about language and how it helps to create an identity-safe classroom. How do you want students to describe characters, and each other, if they are of different races and ethnicities? Black History Month will bring this to the fore, but this is useful all year long. For more information on building identity-safe classrooms, please visit Collaborative Classroom.
You can download free Shared Inquiry lesson plans that contain the selections “Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts (for grades K–1) and “At Work with my father” by Eve L. Ewing (for grades 6 or above) to discuss with your students and begin the work of making your classroom identity-safe.
We hope this inspires you to intentionally incorporate Black history into your classroom during February—and all year long!