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  • Writer's pictureDionna Roberts

"I See You, Jason Reynolds." Post nErDcamp Reflections

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

Photo Credit: Ben Fractenberg

If you know me at all, you know that I have a deep respect for the literary works of author, Jason Reynolds. Jason graced the 2019 #nErDcamp stage during the closing session of Day 1 with a powerful speech. His presentation began well before he opened his mouth to speak a word, however. His swag alone captivated the audience (well, I'll speak for myself...TOTALLY captivated) as he took the stage, demonstrating what was in fact one of the key points of his 10-minute keynote--"See me. I have something to say."

Mr. Reynolds proceeded to give us a mini-history lesson on where he grew up and how go-go music was a part of the soundtrack of his adolescence. #Go-go is a blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and old school hip-hop, and as such, primarily a dance hall music with an emphasis on live audience call and response. He talked about how everyone at the go-go has a role to play in this organic and rich atmosphere; the audience as well as everyone on the stage. There is one person in particular who is responsible for not only making sure the crowd hype and fully enjoying themselves, but also making sure that everyone is both seen and heard. This individual is known as "The Lead Talker". The lead talker is the one who passes the mic to the individuals in the crowd and lets everyone shout out where they're from (in rhythm of course), so that everyone in the place can recognize and celebrate that. The lead talker introduces and highlights each member of the band and gives them a solo spotlight as to say, "I appreciate what you're adding to the mix". The singers, the drummer, the "Yea Man", and everyone who reps where they're from--they all have a part to play. Everyone adds value.

Jason likened the go-go to our classrooms and our roles as teachers being the lead talkers. As teachers, we are not only responsible for moving the crowd through engaging content, but we must also be intentional about passing the mic every now and then. We must be sure that we are creating an atmosphere in which there is opportunity for everyone to be seen and heard. Seen and heard in the content presented, literature shared, videos shown, curriculum/lesson plans prepared, art and work adorning the walls, etc. This looks like providing ample opportunities for all student voices to be amplified in the room. Every student's talents, gifts, and abilities should not only be recognized, but utilized within the classroom community. Our students should be given the space to celebrate where they are from and stand proud in being who they are. No one should want to hide in the crowd when we are the lead talkers in the room. We should be one of their biggest advocates.

There is a Jason Reynolds in all of our classrooms just waiting to be seen.

Jason Reynolds is an author dedicated to telling the authentic stories of youth whose voices may not otherwise be heard. It is for this reason that he gets much respect from me. He is honest about not having the best experiences in school, with reading more specifically because he wasn't able to make a connection. Personally, when I read his books, I can find myself, a sister, brother, cousin or friend within the characters of each novel. I hear them. I feel them. I see them. I see us. And that's what's up. All students should have access to stories like this.

So, I'm thinking of ways that I can be an effective lead talker this upcoming school year. Here's my initial brainstorm:

  • Be intentional about the books/texts that I share as read-alouds. Consider: Who's story is being told? How is it being told? How are these characters being seen/heard?

  • Continue to diversify my library with current titles. Stay connected on Twitter!

  • Provide many opportunities for students to talk throughout the day. (Call/response with me, turn/talk with each other, small group and partner collaboration, and presentations/projects)

  • Let the students free write. Everything doesn't have to be an assignment.

  • Consider Open-Mic Mondays & Free-style Fridays where students express things they're curious about or want to discuss. Things that made them go, "Hmmm..." over the weekend or what they've learned over the course of the week.

  • Host writing Celebrations and a constant display of their thinking and work on the classroom walls and hallway bulletin boards.

  • Welcome and expect that students ask questions.

  • Welcome and expect students to share their thinking.

  • Engage with my students in authentic conversations DAILY!

BIG SHOUT OUT to Jason Reynolds for taking the time to make my two daughters feel seen at Nerd Camp Jr. 2019. Not only did he sign their books, but he engaged them in conversation. Real conversation.

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