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Launching Reading and Writing Workshop with the help of Ekua Holmes

Beginning the year feels BIG to me, and I want it to feel BIG to kids too.

To prepare, I reread my notes from a professional development session about deeper learning, and I paused at this list:

  • Antiracist
  • Curious and Creative
  • Adaptable and Courageous
  • Empathetic and Equity-Minded
  • Advocates, Collaborators, and Leaders
  • Ability to Build a Life of Possibility

This list is BIG in the best possible ways. But how to begin? What will be those first few experiences kids have in the classroom? What will wrap around the literacy curriculum and bring it to life? What experiences can bring about conversations, questions, and criticality to build a classroom community that will enable everyone to “build a life of possibility?” 

After participating in the Habla Teacher Institute this summer, reading Cultivating Genius by Gholdy Muhammad, and rereading Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Zaretta Hammond, here’s how I’ve decided to begin.

We’ll meet Ekua Holmes (virtually, of course) as our first #MeetSomeoneNewMonday. We’ll look closely at her artwork, listen to the stories that inspired her creations, and realize that she lives only a few miles from our school. 

Ekua Holmes’s work is currently on exhibition at the MFA in Boston.

We’ll read the poem For Our Children’s Children from Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderly, and Ekua Holmes. We’ll find our favorite lines, share our thinking, and find fun ways to read collaboratively – perhaps we will take different parts or even add movements. Then we can use this poem to create our own found poems to read together at shared reading.

This work will lead us to conversations about what joyful reading looks like and sounds like to each one of us. It will also be an entry point to introduce kids to more books by Kwame Alexander and learn about Chief Dan George. 

To launch narrative writing, we’ll look closely at Ekua Holmes’ artwork and think about the stories of her life shown in her illustrations. 

We’ll let her work inspire us to think about the stories, people, and places from our lives that matter. We’ll meet in small groups (if we can) and tell our stories to learn more about each other. Then we’ll fill 11×14 picture frame mats with photos, images, and drawings that remind us of what we care about – what matters to us. As we share, we’ll learn about each other – our needs, wants, memories, and hopes. These frames will hang in the room all year to be a place where student can share their accomplishments all year long.

Next, we’ll read Black is a Rainbow Color and study Ekua’s images and Angela Joy’s writing craft moves. Look at all of the craft move possibilities (repetition, word choice, line breaks, font) just on this one page.

Then, as the days progress, we’ll launch writing workshop by looking at our frames and Ekua Holme’s work as inspiration for our narrative writing unit of study. As we write, we’ll tell our stories and learn what it means to be the most helpful writing partners we can be.

As we work, we’ll listen and sing songs listed at the back of Black is a Rainbow Color and talk about their meanings. We will add the lyrics for the songs that speak to us to our poetry notebooks to reread or sing them anytime we want.

Most importantly, we will make space and time for conversations about identity, race, racism, diversity, and equity. These conversations will help us learn about one another, our families, and the lives of others.

Now, our learning about Ekua Holmes won’t stop once September ends. Ekua’s picture books will introduce us to the work of Chris Barton, Carole Boston Weatherford, and Marion Dane Bauer. Their books will become mentor texts as we move through the Units of Study and hopefully enable each student to choose their mentor authors.

Of course, this won’t go as planned. It never does. But isn’t that how it should be? The kids’ voices aren’t in these plans. We will start. I will listen. And they will make it their own. 

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