It’s a bit of a celebration here at Vamos a Leer as today marks our 500th post!! It’s been a great three and a half years. We’re incredibly grateful for all of you who read, comment on, and share our Vamos a Leer resources. It’s been wonderful getting to know this online community!
It seems fitting that for today’s En la Clase I’m sharing a book that comes from one of my absolute favorite organizations for teaching resources: Rethinking Schools. While it was Paulo Freire’s work that introduced me to the powerful potential of education, Rethinking Schools radically changed the way I taught. Their teaching resources empowered both me and my students through concrete representations of critical pedagogy that humanize the teaching and learning processes. Last spring we were lucky enough to get to host three Rethinking Schools editors for a day-long conference at the University of New Mexico. Bill Bigelow, Linda Christensen, and Wayne Au led panel discussions and workshops along side some of our College of Education faculty. Months later I still hear our local teachers and teacher education students referencing things they learned from that conference.
Today, I want to share with you one of Rethinking Schools’ most recent publications, Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice, edited by Linda Christensen and Dyan Watson. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, it “offers practical lessons about how to teach poetry to build community, understand literature and history, talk back to injustice, and construct stronger literacy skills across content areas and grade levels—from elementary school to graduate school. Rhythm and Resistance reclaims poetry as a necessary part of a larger vision of what it means to teach for justice” (taken from the book’s back cover). While many of us may be familiar with Christensen’s lesson plan on “Where I’m From” Poetry, this book provides an entire year’s worth of such engaging lessons that go way beyond the haiku, rhyming poems, or sonnets we often ask our students to write. Originally, I’d planned to share some of my favorite parts of the book, but as I sat down to write this I realized I couldn’t do that. It was too hard. I couldn’t choose what to include because I loved the entire book. Divided into 6 chapters the text covers topics such as “Roots: Where we’re from,” “Celebrations: Lift every voice and sing,” “Poetry of the People: Breathing life into literary and historical characters,” “Standing up in Troubled Times: Creating a culture of conscience,” “Turning Pain into Power,” and “The Craft of Poetry.” It is books like this that make me want to be back in the classroom teaching. I can only imagine what a transformative experience it would be to integrate each of the lessons from the book into a year long curriculum map. I’m sure that this would not only result in amazing leaps in students’ literacy skills, but that both teachers and students would find the educational experience far more humanizing and joyful.
Just last week at the Américas Award ceremony I had the privilege of listening to Margarita Engle talk about her young adult novels-in-verse. I was struck by the fortuitous timing of writing a post on Rhythm and Resistance during the same week. In Engle’s work (you may be familiar with The Surrender Tree/El árbol de rendición, Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck, The Lightening Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, or Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal) she uses poetry as the medium through which to write books about often lesser known historical characters, periods, and events. For me, these books are representative of the importance of offering counter narratives that tell alternative historical points of view. I can’t help but think how many powerful possibilities there are for combining literature studies of Engle’s books with lesson plans from Rhythm and Resistance, particularly the lessons from the section on “Poetry of the People: Breathing life into literary and historical characters.”
Dr. Pedro A. Noguera hones in on what is so special about a book like this in his review of Rhythm and Resistance: “At a time when teachers feel under attack from policymakers searching for ways to raise student achievement and insure school safety, the authors of Rhythm and Resistance show us how easily both objectives can be pursued if we simply open up opportunities for students to write about their lives and share their stories with each other. This powerful and practical collection of essays shows educators how to engage and empower their students through strategies that inspire them to develop a love of learning. Teachers who can do that will experience the joy and power of teaching even during these trying times in education.”
The Rethinking Schools Blog posted the introduction to the book which does a great job of explaining the connection between poetry and resistance. It’s definitely worth reading. Rethinking Schools also shared one of the lessons from the book online. In the lesson “Remember Me” students write a poem at the end of the school year to honor a fellow classmate. It’s a really beautiful exercise that I believe demonstrates how different this approach to writing, teaching, and the classroom culture really is. I hope that you’ll check it out and use it with your own students.
If you’ve used this book or any other Rethinking Schools publication, we’d love to hear about your experience below in the comments. It can be hard to wade through all the teaching materials out there to find the gems like this one. Recommendations from fellow educators are always so helpful!