Middle Schoolers Dive Deeper into their Summer Reading on Racism and Anti-racism
These questions were some of the many that Middle Schoolers reflected upon this summer. All rising 7th and 8th Graders were assigned Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds for their summer reading. Katie Rogers, MYP Coordinator and Middle School English Language & Literature Teacher, created an optional weekly discussion group as a way for students to keep on track with their summer reading and process their reading experience with their peers. One of Katie’s hopes for the reading group was for students to begin to examine some of their own convictions and think about what they can do to be anti-racist. “I hope these discussions galvanized students to have more conversations about racism and take action, not just because they were asked to read this book, but because this matters to them. For me, it was important to share with students that these guided reading sessions are for their own personal work because they are committed to the world around them.”
To begin, students laid the foundation for their discussions by reviewing their group norms.
Each week, between 10 to 25 students joined for conversations and guided questions to think collectively about their reading. In the first week, students examined their own ideologies by taking a self-assessment that prompted them to gauge their own feelings and comfort levels with talking about race and racism. In the weeks that followed, students explored a variety of questions that came up for them during their reading, sharing their insights and developing their own nuanced analyses of how racism operates as a system of power and oppression in the context of their own experiences.
Students opened each discussion by reflecting on the question: “Has anything happened in the last week that has made you think more about issues of race and racism?” Conversations were shaped by what the group wanted to discuss. To help guide the weekly conversations, students shared specific passages from the text which they found noteworthy, interesting, frustrating, or resonant. This helped them digest the literature in a deeper way, and it reinforced their literacy skills in analyzing language, annotating, and citing sources to support their ideas with evidence rooted in the text.
Technology allowed students to contribute to the conversation in multiple ways, such as writing through online platforms including Pear Deck and Parlay, speaking in small group breakout rooms, and using survey tools for self-reflection. Students also used the fist to five technique, a teaching tool from Teaching Tolerance Guide. Let’s Talk. Discussing Race, Racism, and Other Difficult Topics with Students, which asks students to use their hands (zero to five fingers) to indicate how comfortable they are moving on or how much they wish to continue on the topic that is being discussed.
Katie shared, “Letting students process their thoughts and emotions, be uncomfortable in that space, and lean into that discomfort while contributing to the conversation can be powerful. It also helps students reflect on their own thinking.”
7th Grade student, Inès, echoed this sentiment in her reflection. “This group helped me a lot in feeling more comfortable to talk about racism, as it isn’t something you bring up at the dinner table. It gave me opinions from other kids my age and helped me grow confident in my ideas and opinions on our situation and anti-racist movements. I am glad I got to participate in this learning group!”
During the weekly meetings, students also investigated the relationships between events and the media. They discussed the Black Lives Matter movement and how the media does and does not portray the movement, examining how racism plays a role in the narratives that they hear and subsequently don’t hear as often. Students also focused on the importance of understanding facts versus opinions and identifying where bias can exist and how that manifests in their own lives. They also spoke about the significance of current events, including the death of John Lewis and Kamala Harris’ Vice Presidential nomination.
“Reading this book helped students see the importance of examining perspectives within both history and the present. We want students to be critical consumers of literature and examine racism in America within an international context.” -Katie
“I loved this book, it helped me understand where and how racist ideas are formed – this can help discover ways to destroy it.” -Anisa, 7th Grade
For the final summer meeting, the group reflected on their experiences. Many felt inspired by coming together to express their opinions and hear from their peers, as these discussions helped them expand their awareness and understanding of racism and the history of racist ideas.
“I really enjoyed reading Stamped, although there were some parts when I was angry about how this country was formed (racism). I like that in the summer book group we could say what we think and learn new things from other people. I plan to continue my journey toward anti-racism, by learning from other people and teaching other people.”
-Safira, 7th Grade
“I also really enjoyed the group discussions we had because they helped me think about things in a different way.”
-Jane, 8th Grade
“The book opened my mind to a multitude of new ideas, including forms of racism that I did not know existed. I can go to protests, I can sign petitions, and fight for equality, and I can be anti-racist every day of my life. I have learned a lot more about racism, and this summer group has really opened my mind to a new world of thought and ideas.”
-Henry, 7th Grade
After a summer of engaging conversations and deep reflection with her students, Katie felt very proud of all of the readers who joined for these group meetings. “I think what’s most important is for students to not compartmentalize this to one summer reading group because racism is pervasive. Students are committing to anti-racism and will continue to move the conversation forward as we enter this school year.”