Honoring Student Voices in the Library

Last year, I held the first Barrow Media Center Poetry Contest and was amazed by the response from students.  So many talented young writers entered their poetry into the contest that it was impossible to choose just two winners from each grade level.  Instead, multiple students were honored in a variety of categories.  One poem continues to stand out in my mind, and I copied it and held onto it for that very reason.

Hurricane Katrina

By David

One boy experienced a

bad moment in this state.  you could

hear yelling from everywhere, crying

from babies, shooting every five

seconds, police saying “stop”!

You could feel rain going into

your face like cats and dogs, wind

throwing down trees and light poles.

no electricity.

You see stealing, boats, buses,

bike, cars, tires,  you feel sharks

in the water.

no food, drowning, people passing

out.  you are waiting to be saved

at the Super Dome.

I can’t read that poem without getting chills down my spine.  I shared it with a group of educators this summer and we started a conversation about the importance of honoring student interests and voices as well as allowing students to write about the things that matter to them rather than assigning topics and requiring certain graphic organizers.  When David wrote this poem, he was very frustrated because he was supposed to be writing a poem about nature from a photograph that he took at school.  In my conferencing with him, I sensed his frustration at the graphic organizer in front of him and the topic he had to write about, so I flipped the organizer over and asked him to think about what mattered the most to him.

Because I know him so well from his media center visits, I know that he has a deep interest in hurricanes because of his experiences with Hurricane Katrina.  I suggested that he think about that.  His writing mood immediately changed and he proceeded to talk to me about everything he remembered about the storm.  While he talked, I made a list of his descriptions and handed them to him.  That was his organizer:  a brainstorm list.  With further conferences with his teacher, he crafted the poem above.

I’ve held onto that poem wondering if there was another way that his work could be honored, so I was so thrilled when our school was selected as the first stop of the Ashley Bryan Traveling Exhibit of Illustrated Africana Children’s Literature featuring the work of Shadra Strickland.  In the book A Place Where Hurricanes Happen written by Renee Watson and illustrated by Shadra Strickland, Watson shows the bond of 4 friends growing up in New Orleans and the stress and devastation that Hurricane Katrina put on their hometown and friendships.  The art exhibit on display in our media center through September 27 features 3 of Shadra’s illustrations from the book.  One depicts Adrienne and her Granny as they load into the car to head out of New Orleans.  Another shows the flooded streets of New Orleans with landmarks such as the Super Dome in the background.  Another features the joys of living in New Orleans and fixing jambalaya with family.  As I put the artwork on display, I thought, ‘This is the perfect spot for David’s poem’.  I pulled it out, rushed to his classroom to ask his permission, and had it on display by the end of the day for my first lesson using the exhibit.  It was so much fun to see the students flock to David’s poem at the end of the lesson when they toured the display.

This morning, David came up to the library to checkout books, but he also wanted to see his poem sitting on the shelf next to Shadra’s illustrations.  “She does really good work”, he said.  I could tell how proud he was of seeing his poem on display.  

I want to continue to seek opportunities for students to display their work in authentic, meaningful ways in the media center.  This seemed so simple and easy to do, but it meant the world to this student.

Ashley Bryan Traveling Exhibit of Illustrated Africana Children’s Literature featuring Shadra Strickland

Images on display through September 27th

The Ashley Bryan Traveling Exhibit of Illustrated Africana Children’s Literature is now in our library!  This exhibit is provided through a collaboration between the Auburn Avenue Research Library and the National Black Arts Festival. The display is on the tops of the shelves and features 8 works of art by Shadra Strickland, award-winning children’s illustrator.  The exhibit will be with us until September 27th when Shadra Strickland will visit our school.  To support the exhibit, we have copies of six books that accompany the exhibit, a curriculum guide to inspire lessons using the texts and artwork, and a school-wide subscription to Literacyhead.

From the accompanying curriculum guide:

Ashley Bryan

“A renowned author and illustrator, Ashley Bryan is perhaps best known for his work celebrating the African American experience. In 1962, he was the first African American to be published as both the author and illustrator of a children’s book. Since that time, his work has expanded the catalogue of children’s literature by African Americans and has led the way for other African American authors and illustrators.  Born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx by Jamaican immigrant parents, Bryan always harbored a love of books, art, and music. He recalls writing his first book in kindergarten and never gave up writing and illustrating books until he was finally published at the age of 40. Bryan was a talented and dedicated student, graduating from high school at 16 and attending Cooper Union Art School on a scholarship. After serving in World War II, Bryan attended Columbia University and studied in Europe as a Fulbright Scholar.

Ashley Bryan’s children’s books have won several awards including the Coretta Scott King Award for illustration, six Coretta Scott King Honors, and the Arbuthnot Prize. Bryan’s work is heavily influenced by African American poetry and storytelling. His retellings of African folktales such as Beautiful Blackbird and Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum have successfully exposed a wider audience of children to the African oral tradition.”

Shadra Strickland

“Shadra Strickland studied design, illustration, and writing at Syracuse University before earning her MFA at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Her illustrations have received numerous awards including the American Library Association’s John Steptoe Award for New Talent and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award as well as an NAACP Image Award and the Ashley Bryan Children’s Literature Award.

Strickland’s illustrations start with real-life images. For her work on Bird, Strickland spent time walking the streets of New York, and her research for A Place Where Hurricanes Happen involved time in New Orleans. Yet, her illustrations, while based in reality, also manage to capture the imaginative worlds that children create.

When not at home in Baltimore where she teaches illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Strickland can be found conducting workshops across the country with children, teachers, and librarians.”

Throughout the next month, students will be coming to the library to view the exhibit and participate in a variety of lessons exploring the illustrations and text.

Some possible lessons that students may experience:

1.        Where I’m From:  Read aloud one of Shadra’s books.  Discuss how the words and images help us learn more about the characters in the story.  Examine one piece of artwork from the exhibit that is from the picture book and use the picture to think about what the character might write in a “Where I’m From” poem.  At the end, students can either craft a poem from the character’s perspective as a class using Poll Everywhere in the computer lab or students can write individual poems

2.       Connections:  Students will examine two pieces of artwork from Shadra’s exhibit and compare and contrast the two images using a venn diagram on the smart board.  Following this, we will read aloud one of her books and continue looking at how the images have connections to one another.  At the end, students will have time to examine all the pieces in the exhibit and write a response on an index card about connections they saw between the artwork.

3.       Text to Self Connections:  Examine a piece of art from the exhibit.  Have a conversation around a series of questions as a whole group and with partners that build connection between the art and the students.  Read aloud one of Shadra’s books and continue the conversation of connections.  View the remainder of the exhibit and see if any of the other paintings have a connection to you.  At the end, students write a response on an index card about a connection they had to the artwork.

4.       Response to Literature:  Read aloud one of Shadra’s books and examine the artwork from that book.  Ask a guiding question that would build student response about the book.  For example, in the book Bird, how is Bird like a bird?  Students write a response in relation to the question.  This could also be done as a more open response to the book in a book review format.  In the computer lab, students could type their response into Tagxedo and print a visual interpretation of their response.

5.       Read Alouds:  

a.       White Water:  Inspired by the author’s own childhood experiences, White Water tells the story of Michael,a little boy growing up under Jim Crow laws. He and his grandmother must give up their seats on the bus for a white family and must drink from the “colored” water fountain.Michael begins to dream about the “white” water, and devises a plan to get a taste of it, but Michael soon learns that many things he has been lead to believe are simply untrue.

b.       Bird:  Mekhai, nicknamed Bird, is struggling to deal with the changes in his life. He grandfather has recently passed away and his older brother has been lost to drug addiction. Fortunately for Bird, he has the love and support of his grandfather’s friend, Uncle Son, and a passion for drawing that help him to make sense of the world in this difficult time.

c.       A Place Where Hurricanes Happen: Adrienne, Keesha, Michael, and Tommy all live in New Orleans prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. This story follows the events of Katrina as seen through the eyes of the four children, all of whom experience the tragedy of the hurricane in different ways. Ultimately, the book is a hopeful reminder that even in the face of devastation and loss, the human spirit is resilient.

d.      Our Children Can Soar:  Each spread highlights key figures in African American history including George Washington Carver, Jesse Owens, Hattie McDaniel, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall and Barack Obama.

If you are in the Athens area during the next month, we invite you to stop in and see the exhibit.  For more information or to let us know you’re coming by, email Mr. Plemmons at plemmonsa@clarke.k12.ga.us

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Ready to E-Read

Thursday night was our annual Taste of Barrow meet the teacher night.  This is an exciting night for students where they hurry into the building to find their name posted by teacher and grade level and meet the teacher that will guide them through their new grade level over this school year.  In the media center, our lunchroom, bus, and afterschool staff setup at the tables to answer questions and sign up students for various programs, and I typically end up assisting in directing parents to the various tables.  However, I wanted this year to be different.  I wanted to be able to offer a “taste” of what’s new in the Barrow Media Center for the 2011-12 school year, so I setup a table of Nook Colors for students and parents to try out.

Students get their first look at our Nook Color devices

It did not take long for students to notice the new technology on the table and to start to ask questions.  Once the first students started trying them out, more students began to congregate around the table.  With a few simple instructions, students were listening to picture books using the “read to me” feature.  Then, those students were explaining the Nook Color to new students who walked up to the table.  It was an amazing collaborative process.  Students went and got their parents and began to explain to them how to use the devices, and parents started showing other students who were new to the table how to use the devices as well.  In just a few minutes, we were a community of collaborators around a table sharing the love of reading and new technology, and I was energized and hopeful for what this year has to offer in our media center.

The six Nook Colors purchased by our PTA are only a part of the new technology that will be a part of our media center this year.  Thanks to the Georgia Library Media Association Mable Wyche Underwood Grant, we will also purchase 3-4 Nook Simple Touch e-readers.  We will also pilot 10 iPads for the school district and explore how these devices support elementary learners in reading e-books, but also in using Apple apps for multiple kinds of learning and product creation.  Our district also purchased 4 iPod Touch for both teachers and students to use.  All of these devices will work together to support students of various abilities.  Each device has its own benefits to provide new kinds of learning and access to our students at Barrow.  I can’t wait to see how these devices increase our access to the global community.

Students and parents gather around the table to collaborate