‘I Matter, We Matter, Words Matter’ will help Black students see themselves in books

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With a grant from the Dallas Education Foundation, a new Dallas ISD initiative called “I Matter, We Matter, Words Matter” will prepare teachers to use culturally authentic texts written by Black authors to help students see themselves mirrored in the books they read. The program aims to increase Black student achievement in reading and expose students to read-aloud instruction.

The professional development is a part of the Teaching and Learning Division’s support for the Racial Equity efforts underway in Dallas ISD, including the district’s training on cultural intelligence and unconscious bias, said Charissa Govan, executive director for Professional and Digital Learning and the program’s leader.

Pre-K through 10th-grade language arts teachers who sign up for the training will be equipped with strategies to teach through books that feature Black characters portraying the Black experience, in alignment with the district’s commitment to Black students.

“We want to make sure that our division is supporting the commitment to Black lives,” Govan said. “We recognize that our African American students are performing at a rate that is not at the same level of their peers in other ethnicities, and so we want to make sure that we are working to close that gap in reading achievement. With this project, we are focusing on the strategies that teachers can implement in the classroom using read-aloud sessions to help address comprehension and vocabulary.”

Virtual training sessions on Oct. 28, Dec. 2 and Jan. 20 will highlight strategies that teachers can use to build vocabulary and comprehension through culturally relevant texts written by Black authors. The training will provide a space for teachers to learn about cultural intelligence and managing unconscious bias—and how to implement those practices when planning lessons and interacting with students. Teachers will be able to build their classroom libraries with the books provided for the program, including works by contemporary writers Nic Stone, Jerry Craft, Derrick Barnes and Michael S. Brandy, among others. 

“We’re using the texts to develop culturally responsive teaching practices and equipping teachers with the tools to have those critical conversations around race and social justice issues that are happening right now,” said Arlena Gaynor, executive director for Language and Literature, which is supporting the project. “It’s not simply about introducing Black characters and Black authors, but about making sure that our classroom environment will be inclusive of all so that teachers and students can show up authentically and have critical conversations, and we’re using the texts as a vehicle for that.”

Gaynor said the team is hoping to culminate this project with the African American Read-in, where some of the authors whose books are selected will be brought in to speak, creating an experience for teachers and students to engage in.

The initiative is a cross-divisional project that also includes the Racial Equity Office, School Leadership, IT and other departments working together to make it happen.

Interested teachers are encouraged to sign up by using this link:  https://www.dallasisd.org/wordsmatter.

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