Becoming a Better Teacher

Cultivating Genius Book Study

This is the third post in our summer book study; see all contributions here. If you are reading Cultivating Genius with us, share your thoughts on our discussion board.

Cultivating Genius by Gholdy Muhammad came highly recommended to me this summer. The book has been all over my Instagram and Twitter feeds for months, so when Matt invited me to read it along with him and some of his colleagues, it was an immediate “yes!” for me. 

The book did not disappoint. Gholdy’s work is necessary and thought-provoking. However, for me it wasn’t an easy read and, truthfully I feel foolish now thinking that it would be. I knew the book was meant to educate teachers on a new framework that would honor Black students, yet somehow I expected an easier read with lots of classroom implications. Foolish, I know. 

Cultivating Genius is not that kind of a book. It is meant to educate us and elevate our teaching practice. As a white woman who grew up in a white suburb and attended white public schools, I have a lot to learn about teaching and loving (see pages 167 - 169) Black children. Don’t get me wrong, I love my students. But I do have a lot to learn about being the best teacher for all of them. So of course this work isn’t going to be easy.

I was captivated as Gholdy Muhaammad unfolded the history of Black literary societies throughout her book. I can just imagine these societies meeting in buildings throughout history to debate, learn, and know themselves. It’s fascinating history and absolutely needs to play a part in how I teach my students. Next year I will move into the role of reading interventionist at our K-6 school. How can I use Gholdy’s framework to teach our students, especially our students of color? What will I do differently? Here are just two of the concepts from the book that really resonated with me. 

Textual Lineages (Cultivating Genius, pages 147-148)

In order to truly see and know our students I need to understand their textual lineages, especially our older students. What books and other texts have shaped their thinking and understanding of the world? What is their history as readers and consumers of media? When I think about my own history I know there are many books, movies, and other texts that have greatly impacted who I am. As a teacher, Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmerman’s Mosaic of Thought forever changed the way I teach reading. As a divorced woman, Glennon Doyle’s Untamed has become my rallying cry.  I love the idea of starting with movies and then moving on to books and other texts and even social media posts, and I can’t wait to build textual lineages with our students in the fall. I’m so excited about gaining this insight into my students’ lives. This is important work in order to know and honor our students’ identities. 

6th Grade Language Arts Sample Lesson (Cultivating Genius, page 162)

As I read Gholdy Muhammad’s work, I did a lot of “mulling it over”, if you will. I read and then just let the ideas tumble around in my brain. I pictured Black literary societies on my morning run and found myself wondering how to teach criticality as I showered. Gholdy’s book made me think, but I found myself really grappling with what to do

The 6th Grade Language Arts Sample Lesson on page 162 crystallized my thinking and showed me how I might apply Gholdy’s framework to my teaching. After all, I taught a 6th grade fantasy unit just last year! As I read the sample lesson by Leo Singleton I realized I only taught the “skill” portion of his lesson plan during my unit: learning about setting in fantasy books. This is why the framework outlined in the book is important to our students of color. I completely bypassed any teaching around identity and criticality, and in doing so, did not honor the wholeness of the students in front of me. I loved seeing how a teacher might address the four components of the framework within a fantasy unit, and I was also thankful for the examples of layered texts within the unit. This sample lesson really opened my mind to what is possible. 

Check Out: How to Select Culturally and Historically Responsive Text

I am eager to return to teaching in the fall having read Cultivating Genius. I feel like my teaching will take on a new complexity. It’s going to be difficult, and I will make mistakes. This work is important to me, and I’m grateful for Gholdy Muhammad’s book and insights. 

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