Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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A Note on Teaching African-American History and Culture to Canadian ESL Students
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My lessons all went fabulously well today. I got everything done in good time and I felt very comfortable teaching. I’m currently up to teaching 3 classes a day regularly, and while it still feels daunting, I’ve learned that it is manageable. My habit of planning more than one 75-period can handle comes in handy, because now I’ve always got something already planned to use for the next day. It can be a good thing to structure lessons like this on purpose if it curbs your stress level, as long as the students are still getting a balanced, logically-structured class.

In my afternoon classes, we are beginning the study of A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines. The book is about a teacher in 1940s Louisiana, who is charged with the responsibility of preparing a fellow black man to be unjustly executed. It’s a very moving novel, rife with ideas about racism in the American South.

To understand those important ideas, a reader needs to have some sort of background on African-American history and culture. As recent immigrants to Canada, my students are unfamiliar with many of the events and people in history who have shaped the Black identity in the United States. It was (and is) my job to make sure they begin to understand what it might have been like to live the way the characters in the novel do.

I began with a brainstorming session to assess what my students already knew about African-American culture. This is a really good activity for ESL students, because it shows you what background they have in a subject coming into a lesson, and it helps them visualize the ideas you’re discussing. As well, the shyer students know they won’t be judged and are thus more likely to speak up.

Our brainstorming sessions resulted in answers such as racism, President Obama, human rights, slavery, torture, hip-hop/rap, and discrimination. All of the terms brought up issues we will be exploring in the coming weeks, and I was able to address most of them almost immediately. It also showed me that the kids had some idea of what being African-American meant, which I will be building on for the rest of the unit. Remembering the ideas brought up in the brainstorming session is helpful when planning the rest of your lessons, since it builds on your students’ pre-existing knowledge—classic scaffolding a la Vygotsky!

After brainstorming, I handed out a timeline that my associate teacher had prepared in a previous year, and we went over it together in class. I made frequent reference to concepts that the kids had studied before (we recently read a poem about the segregation of Chinese-Canadians on trains, so that helped) and did by best History-teacher bringing events to life schpiel. If I had to do it again, I would show them a video on Black History. It’s much more exciting to see the pictures and video than to listen to the teacher talk, and the issue would have automatically become more vivid for them. A potential problem with a video is their comprehension rate—I do try to speak slower than usual, so a video might be too fast. But nonetheless, I think the video would be more powerful. Even if a few terms were missed, the images would speak for themselves.

Tomorrow we’re going to go over terms and discuss the use of language in the novel (the n-word is used fairly frequently, plus the author uses phonetic spelling for black Louisiana accents). I think I’ll spend part of tonight trying to track down a comprehensive video about African-American history. If I find something I like, I’ll show it in class tomorrow to enhance my descriptions.

Got any good African-American History resources? Share ‘em!

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Courtney posted at 9:18 PM - Comments (1)


Great post!

By Blogger Kristin, at October 15, 2009 at 10:18 PM  

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