I become increasingly giddy as we approach Black History Month! Honestly, I think that I am just giddy about teaching every month… every day. I love teaching. I love my students. I love teaching all subjects. Black History Month brings a special sense of joy to me because I have the opportunity to make sure that students know that many different people have made contributions to our world. I also get to introduce them to people that they may have never heard of before.
So, if you are teaching about African-American history for the first time. Or, if you are more willing to dive a little deeper and move beyond Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks (whom are extremely important and should be taught) into a variety of individuals, I have my top 5 tips for making this as seamless as possible for you (and for me, too!).
Tip # 1 Go to the edge of the cliff and JUMP!
One of the keys to being successful at most anything is to immerse yourself into it. Whole-heartedly. No guts, no glory. Dive in with excitement and lots of adrenaline. Being open-minded and eager to learn will open you up to being receptive to learning new, or more, information about something or someone that you are not very familiar with. I know that this may sound overly-simplistic, but I assure you that this is the key step in doing something that may be unfamiliar to you.
Tip # 2 Create Categories for each Individual
When I decided to jump off of the cliff and teach about a new country a few years ago, I was sweating bullets. I had chosen to celebrate India with my class as a part of our Diversity Week activities, but I really had fairly limited knowledge on this country. I came to realize that the best thing that I could do would be to break my lessons into categories that I could teach each day.
If you a preparing to teach about a famous individual, consider these categories:
- Birth place
- Siblings- birth order (oldest, youngest, middle child, or only child)
- Economic conditions of their childhood
- Still alive?
- What area? Science? Math? Aerospace? Culinary? Education? Sports? Music?, etc…
- Did they receive the recognition that they deserve(d) while they were alive?
- Awards received
- Impact on culture
- Impact on the world
- How are they remembered/celebrated?
- Parades? Streets name after them? Statues? Plaques? Colleges named after them? Museums? Movies? Books?
Studying a Country or Continent?
When in doubt, start with the most universal topics that all human beings have in common:
- The Arts- paintings, museums, photography, dance, literature
- money or commerce
- famous people
- contributions or how they fit into the world as a whole
- government- How is it organized? Prime Minister? President?
- If you teach upper grades, you may want to delve into socio-economic systems.
These are areas that we generally all have in common, and they are easy to relate to. Honestly, you could spend an entire month just on The Arts! Pick a genre
—>Focus on famous creations (plays, books, etc…) —>Study the person/people that created the work —>Study the time period that they were created in —> Provide posters, webquests, websites, artifacts, videos… that show the work(s) —>Have students recreate or analyze the work.
Tip # 3 Add a Combination of Trailblazers and Living Legends
I might have been most excited to share this tip with you! So many students think that history- all history- happened hundreds of years ago. Not even close!! History is “alive” and evolving every single second of the day. Share that sentiment with your students. It is just as important to teach about (what I call) Trailblazers like Harriet Tubman or Arthur Ash as it is to teach about Living Legends like Misty Copeland or Michelle Obama.
Tip # 4 Study/Prepare!
You will thank yourself later for taking this step to heart! Believe me, when I was prepping to teach that unit on India, I studied! I took notes, copied and pasted, documented websites that I visited, and printed my notes. I placed the notes that I had taken next to me while I was teaching and referred to them as I shared the lesson with my students.
Speaking of studying… Make sure that you do your due diligence in researching the topics that you want to share with your students. Use reputable websites or sources, and be sure to look at several different sources to ensure that what you present is accurate and factual. I often use history.com or biography.com. You can also search to see if the person that you are studying has their own website. No one can tell you more factual information than the person themself (or their relatives).
Tip # 5 Be Flexible
Allow for flexibility in your lessons. There is more than one way to view the ideal of flexibility. Flexibility might be tied into time frames, topics, or in the way that lessons are presented. If students have a high level of interest in an activity, if you didn’t finish a lesson or activity, or if you were hoping to dig deeper, go for it or adjust accordingly! As well, if studying a person a day is easier, take that approach. I do recommend focusing on a new person or topic at least every 2 days or so so that you will be able to provide a wide range of information to your students.
Tip # 6 Dive into Your Lesson With the Same Zest That You Had When You Jumped Off of the Cliff
This one is really simple. The more excitement and enthusiasm that you show, the more excited that your students will be! They will ask you when you are going to teach your next lesson about
Tip # 7 Realize that Your Lessons May Not Be Perfect
As teachers, we are perfectionist! Guilty! My hand is raised high in the air on this one. We are our biggest critics, which actually can be a good practice. Use this as motivation to jot down:
- what worked well
- what you felt good about
- what you may have felt ill-prepared for
- what the students seemed interested/disinterested in
- any new sources that you discovered
- what you would like to add for the next year
I hope that you have found these tips to be truly helpful. If you use any of these tips, please return to leave a comment and let me know how they worked for you.