Living Our Mission in the Middle School
By Sarah Napier, Middle School Tutor
Carroll’s diversity and inclusion work is deeply important to me, both in my work as an educator, and personally.
When I began working at Carroll five years ago, the school was just beginning DEI training with faculty. Recently, the Middle School has moved towards integrating that work in the classroom with the Foundations for Brave Conversations curriculum. As an advisor and homeroom teacher leading these conversations, it inspired me to think about how to incorporate more diverse books into my tutorials.
Reading is a transformative way to learn about different people, different perspectives, and different places in the world. I have seen how reading helps people become critical thinkers who understand diverse ideas, who empathize with issues that people face, and who can consider perspectives outside of their own.
One challenge tutors face is selecting books that offer a high interest level, but also are at the appropriate reading level for our students, are appropriate for a school, and are not going to take the whole year to read. Once a book is chosen, we’ll pull out vocabulary and dialogue from each book for the fluency part of our lessons. Because we’re tasked with planning multiple lessons per week, we often let students choose books where this work has already been done.
With the heightened interest in the tutoring department to diversify our library, and with the incredible support of Osa Osagie to help us identify relevant and relatable books, I set out to create lessons around three diverse books and authors that included tutorial materials and supporting resources.
I started with Ghost, the first book of Jason Reynolds’ Track series—a story told from the point of view of one member of an urban track team. I chose Jason Reynolds not only because he is an award-winning young adult (YA) author of color but also because of his life experiences. The lesson includes videos from Jason Reynolds talking about his experiences as a student, which helps our students relate more personally to what they’re reading.
In one video, Reynolds shares that he never completed a fiction book until he was 18 years old because he felt the books in school didn’t have much to do with his life. As a writer today, he has a rule that his stories must capture kids’ attention in the first few pages. When you only have 20 minutes of time devoted to reading during tutorials, capturing the student’s attention is an important factor!
The book is written in a conversational style that alternates between long and short sentences. In creating the fluency part of the lesson, I pulled out the long sentences and broke them into shorter phrases, as well as fluency phrases for students to practice. This experience with modern, everyday dialogue gives our students the tools and strategies to use when they encounter it in the young adult books they’ll read in high school, or for fun. I also added discussion questions to gauge understanding, and to encourage conversation. Now I see my students asking more questions, especially about the perspectives of the characters, and they’re more engaged in the lessons.
School should be a place that feels welcoming to all students; a place where teachers are helping students understand different perspectives that they take with them into the world. Middle schoolers, especially, are in the process of discovering who they are, what they believe, and what they care about. It’s a great time to have the brave conversations we talk about, and to explore the world through books.
The beauty of Orton-Gillingham is that it’s not just the technical part of learning that we focus on; we want to unlock the English language, and the potential for reading as a transformative thing. My hope is that exploring these ideas in the midst of tutoring right now will open my students’ minds—for life.
This article is part of a series from Carroll Connection 22-23: Living our mission every day as an inclusive community of learners
- Carroll Connection 2022-23