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Excerpts from Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy

Author: Gholdy Muhammad

Muhammad, Gholdy. Cultivating Genius: an Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. Scholastic Inc., 2020.

Connecting History to Practice Today (Chapter 1)

Literary Presence

Literary presence means staking a claim and making one’s self visible within the intellectual community through acts of literacy. Black people did not wish to merely exist in the country; they wanted to exert their presence and make their mark on history in telling their own narratives. They had a thirst to seek new knowledge as well as to be known and recognized for their contributions to scholarship. Members of these societies were keenly aware that this was possible through their writings and public addresses, by educating themselves through literature. Their writings were one major display of literary presence because this would mean their works were accessible for others to read and learn. Literary presence within societies gave them platforms to project their goals and to put their voices on record publicly with goals of having rights granted in larger political, social, educational, and economic contexts.

Literary Presence in the Classroom

  1. Create in-school contexts for students to share their voices and visions through acts of reading, writing, and speaking.
  2. Select texts that speak to their multiple identities instead of selecting texts based on their reading identities alone.
  3. Scaffold ways for students to share their thoughts and respond to texts

Literary Pursuits

Literary pursuits are specific acts of literacy that are both individual and collaborative. In the most simplistic form, one may think of literary pursuits as literacy activities; however, members of literary societies did not label their endeavors as simple activities. Rather, these acts of literacy embodied greater goals and were consequently referred to as pursuits that they believed would lead to liberation, self-determination, self-reliance, and selfempowerment. Examples of literary pursuits included reading, discussing issues (often subjects found in texts), giving lectures, offering peer critique on other members’ writings, debating, and penning and publishing original writings. As they engaged in literary pursuits, the members of the literary societies surrounded themselves with enabling texts for reading, writing, thinking, and debate.

Literary Pursuits in the Classroom

  • Engage students with texts that create social action and cause them think differently as a result of what they read.
  • Create an environment that affords students the opportunity to shape their own ideas through acts of literacy.
  • Structure opportunities for critiquing and evaluating what students read and write about within the instruction.

Literary Character

Literary character is the personal and academic characteristics a person developed as a result of their engagement in literary pursuits. The strength of members’ personalities and characters was tied to acts of literacy that became absorbed in the lives of Black members. McHenry (2002) describes the development of literary character as the process of accumulating literary skills, which gave “free” African Americans living in the North the means to become exemplary citizens who could participate in the civic life of their communities. Literary character specifically meant being endowed with self-discipline, intellectual curiosity, civic responsibility, and the ability to use reason, self-expression, eloquence, and agency (McHenry, 2002) through literary pursuits. In many ways, acquiring literary character was the ultimate goal.

Literary Character in the Classroom

  • When literary pursuits are enacted, students will become thinkers and resilient beings.
  • Students will have confidence in reading, writing, and sharing their ideas.
  • This confidence will transfer to other spaces in and out of the classroom.

Ten Lessons From Black Literary Societies (Chapter 1)

Through my study of African American literary societies, I found 10 central lessons related to literacy instruction, which helped me to understand the ways educators today could use the tenets of Black literary societies to rethink learning in classrooms. These lessons also serve as the prelude of defining Historically Responsive Literacy. (For a further explanation of each lesson, see pages 32–35).

  1. Literacy learning encompassed cognition (reading and writing skills) as well as social and cultural practices
    (learning about identity and equity).
  2. Literacy was the foundation and was central to all disciplinary learning.
  3. Literacy learning involved print and oral literacy, and these were developed simultaneously.
  4. Literacy instruction was responsive to the social events and people of the time.
  5. Literacy was tied to joy, love, and aesthetic fulfillment.
  6. Learners of different literacies and experiences came together to learn from one another—using each other’s ways of knowing as resources for new learning.
  7. Literacy learning was highly collaborative, and a shared learning space was created.
  8. Literacy learning involved reading and writing diverse text genres and authorship.
  9. Literacy learning also focused on how to reclaim the power of authority in language through critical literacy.
  10. Identity and intellectual development were cultivated alongside literacy learning.

Learning and Understanding Students’ Histories, Identities, and Literacies: A List of Questions (Chapter 2)

Questions for Learning Students’ Histories

  • What are the histories of my students’ schooling/school experiences?
  • What are the histories of my students’ families/cultures?
  • What are the histories of our students’ wider histories in their communities, in society, and in the world? Who are their people? How did they practice literacy and language historically?

Questions for Learning Students’ Identities

  • What are ways in which my students see and define their own lives?
  • How are my students defined by others (both positive and negative representations)? If negative, how can we provide learning spaces to name, critique, and push back against such views? If positive, how can we provide learning spaces to help them trust and believe in the ways others see them?
  • Whom do my students desire to be in their future? How do my students see their most desired future versions of themselves? How can my classroom instruction enable and cultivate these identities?

Questions for Learning Students’ Literacy and Language Practices

  • How do my students practice literacies at home and in their communities? What language(s) do they speak?
  • What is the purpose of literacy and language in their lives?
  • How were literacy and language cultivated historically with their families and ancestors?

Understanding How Students See Themselves: A List of Questions (Chapter 3)

  • Who are you? Do you know who you are?
  • What’s your name? What does it mean?
  • What are your cultural identities? (Think about how cultural identities typically have beliefs, languages that are used, literature read and written, power structure/social organization, rites of passages, rituals, traditions, celebrations, practices and a history.)
  • How would you describe yourself to someone who didn’t know you?
  • What would your other teachers say about you?
  • What would your family say about you?
  • What would your friends say about you?
  • What do you read, write, or think about in your home and community?
  • How are people like you depicted in society and in the media?
  • How might you describe your culture or ethnicity?
  • How is science, math, social studies, or English language arts important in your culture/ethnicity?
  • Do you feel that my teaching reflects your culture? If yes, how? If not, how could it be improved?
  • If you could take me somewhere to help me understand your culture/ethnicity, where would you take me?

The Language of Writing Assessment: Rubrics (Chapter 4)

Selecting Historically Responsive Texts: A List of Questions (Chapter 7)

  1. What is worthwhile for learning in my content area?
  1. Why did I choose this text to teach with? (This reason should go beyond the text being in the mandated curriculum.)
  2. How have my students contributed to the selection of texts for teaching and learning?
  3. When the curriculum/text provided by the school is not enough, how will I respond as a critical and equitable educator?
  4. How will this text advance my students’ learning of identity of themselves or other people/cultures?
  5. How will this text advance my students’ learning of skills?
  6. How will this text advance my students’ intellects? Is the text thought provoking?
  7. How will this text advance my students’ criticality? How does the text respond to the social times of the society?
  8. How do my selected texts agitate the oppressors in the world?
  9. What multimodal texts am I teaching with? (image, sound, video, performance, etc.)
  10. Is the content and language of the book culturally authentic?
  11. What are the backgrounds of the writer and illustrator of the text? Is there a stronger author I could use to bring students closer to the content?
  12. How are students reading across genres and different literature in social studies, math, and science?
  13. Where do I find engaging and enabling texts?
  14. How will I determine whether my students were engaged in the text I selected?

Historically Responsive Learning: Lesson Plan Template (Chapter 8)

Name of Lesson:
Grade Level:
Length of Lesson: Briefly write the anticipated length of the planned lesson in days and indicate the number
of minutes per class session.
Students’ Identities and Background: Write a brief description of the students’ identities—including their cultural
identities. Who are the students who will be taught in this class?
Learning Goals: Include the four HRL learning goals. These goals must be clear. They are also measurable/ assessable and should be linked to students’ cultures/identities, personal and academic needs, and district learning standards. Objectives for excellent lesson plans should be written to advance students’ identity development, skills/proficiencies, intellectual development, and criticality. You may begin statements with “Students will…/Students will be able to,” or use direct/action verbs to state what students will do during the teaching and learning.

  • Identities: How will your teaching help students to learn something about themselvesand/or others?
  • Skills: What skills and content learning standards are you teaching?
  • Intellect: What will your students become smarter about?
  • Criticality: How will you engage your thinking about power, equity, and anti-oppression in the text, in society and in the world?

Layered Texts: List (include authors) the selected texts you have chosen to support student learning (including
print and non-print sources; links). Attach copies of all supporting, layered text.

Vocabulary & Concepts: Include the central vocabulary words and concepts from the central reading.
Student Spark: State how the teacher will get students excited and engaged in the learning to come. This is an opportunity to include multimodal text and critical questions. This should only be about 5–7 minutes.
Body of Lesson: Write out an overview of the entire lesson plan.
Closure: State what the teacher will do to close the lesson.
Assessment: For each learning goal, write out how each will be assessed.

HRL Sample Lessons (Chapter 8)

DMU Timestamp: July 12, 2021 17:15

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