Letting Students Choose
Letting students choose the text is a direct way of honoring their voices and interests as a class. How you then teach with those texts can determine how much ownership they feel in the English classroom. This is important for any student, but especially for students who feel marginalized in society or school. So, again, starting with their noticings and their inspired writing lets you see what their strengths are and put their voices and knowledge before yours.
Aside from getting recommendations from students, I followed Kwame Alexander’s lead and often chose poems to teach technique — I even used stanzas as a way to discuss the thinking behind when to start a new paragraph in prose.
But I also chose texts that were by people or about topics my students could identify with, or that would amplify immigrant or BIPOC voices. Examples:
- “If They Gun Me Down” by Tre G. (which I transcribed so students had a text to follow along and assist their comprehension).
- “Virgins” from Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, by Danielle Evans
- “My First Police Stop” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
- “I am offering this poem” by Jimmy Santiago Baca
- “the parable of the fists” by t’ai freedom ford
- “My Namesake” by Hiwot Adilow
For emergent bilinguals, choosing shorter texts or excerpts is key.
We started by asking ourselves, what else can be done to give students more agency, and we haven’t stopped asking this question.