Representation matters. There’s no better example of this than Jason Reynolds.
Reynolds is a bestselling author of young adult novels, including “All American Boys,” “Ghost” and “Miles Morales: Spider-Man.” But growing up, he says he never even finished a book until he was 17-years-old.
Now, Reynolds hits the road regularly to give talks to kids in schools across America to spread the word about what reading can do for them.
He also speaks with teachers about how to incorporate stories that will actually engage students with characters and communities they recognize. Without that initial connection, Reynolds says, everything goes sideways and no learning gets done.
For example, Reynolds remembers being assigned the classic novel, “Moby Dick.” “The teacher was like, ‘Read this book about this man chasing a whale,’ and I’m like, bruh…I don’t know if I can connect to a man chasing a whale when I’ve never seen a whale,” Reynolds told The Washington Post.
This leads Reynolds to write stories that directly connect with his young readers. His characters may use sports as an outlet to escape violence, or might be grieving the deaths of their parents—they might even be climbing walls and fighting supervillains.
This is not to say that students can’t go on to enjoy great works of literature from around the world, but Reynolds thinks we need to start by meeting kids where they are, rather than forcing something on them. In the classroom, this means incorporating all kinds of reading, from comic books to hip-hop lyrics, and watching as the kids’ engagement levels rise.
To see more examples of how educators are creatively engaging their students, check out the recent video collaboration between Education Post and the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Black Male Educators Speak.