In celebration of Black History Month I went looking for relevant resources that would interest my novice students. I came up with three different inspirations and want to share them with you to show you how I decided to proceed. A good source for help with evaluating the different possibilities is this resource on teaching Black History from the Anti-Defamation League.
I thought about taking a picture book and pulling out the themes that are relevant to the black experience in our country. I found the beautiful book Toc Toc Toc Papa où es-tu? The language is simple and the themes are of interest to my students. Watch the video of a reading of the book and I promise you will feel deep emotion. Ultimately, I shied away from this idea because I couldn’t find the right approach to addressing the stereotype of missing black fathers. I didn’t feel like I had the authority to bring that up with a group of students. And, I thought in my majority-white classroom, the stereotype of the missing black father would be hard to unravel in a way that did not make my few black students uncomfortable.
I then wanted to discuss racism with this video as a starting point and present a person who fought against racism. I could think of no one better than Aimé Césaire, who is presented in this brochure and this video. I thought I would also be able to share some of his poems. This felt like a better fit for my expertise but try as I may, I couldn’t make the level of language work for my students, it was just too advanced
Along the way I found this excellent and accessible video about the importance of Africa telling its own story, but then couldn’t connect that to what I wanted to teach.
At this point I realized I needed a text that was truly accessible to Novice-Mid students and I found it in this comic strip. Unfortunately, pieces of the comic strip were problematic. I didn’t love the idea of trying to present Toussaint Louverture as “the black version of Napoleon” or “the first black hero” and wasn’t willing to show an image of a hanging man. But, I liked the idea of discussing the slave trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas and to concentrate on Toussaint Louverture’s heroic actions. My solution was to shorten the reading for my students and take out an image of a person hanging.
Allow me to address the point that we don’t want to teach and reteach slavery as the only theme of Black History that we address. I hear you. I will need to expand my repertoire of resources to include other themes. I am just getting started and don’t have many models to rely on. The reason why I chose this reading is that Toussaint Louverture responded to slavery in Haiti by rising up and it is that act that I am concentrating on in this reading.
Next, I had the problem of making the language and the concepts in the comic strip accessible to my students. I realized that I needed to explain in simple language some of the background information, so I set out to make some slides in simple language with key words bolded. Then I glossed some of the words from the comic strip. With the shortened reading that is linked above and with these slides, you can recreate my lesson if you wish.
Along the way, I spoke with my French colleagues and asked them to read the comic strip. We worked together to understand what would be the best fit for students. And, I listened to their advice on how to precede. I am pretty confident that the resulting lesson isn’t the best out there, but it is a start for me, in teaching Black History. Please let me know if any of the steps I took sound familiar to you.
P.S. If your students are progressing towards Intermediate, don’t miss this post on Black History Month from La Libre Language Learning. And if you use CI resources (which I incorporate too!) here is an outstanding idea for Novices from Toward Proficiency.