Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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the expanding canon teaching multicultural literature
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Reader Response: Pat Mora and James Welch Reader Response: Keith Gilyard and Mourning Dove Inquiry: Rudolfo Anaya and James Baldwin Inquiry: Tomás Rivera and Esmeralda Santiago Cultural Studies: Ishmael Reed and Graciela Limón Cultural Studies: N. Scott Momaday and Russell Leong Critical Pedagogy: Octavia E. Butler and Ruthanne Lum McCunn Critical Pedagogy: Abiodun Oyewole and Lawson Fusao Inada
Theory Overview Lesson Plans Teaching Strategies Authors and Literary Works Resources
Session 5 Cultural Studies: Ishmael Reed and Graciela Limón - Lesson Plans
Lesson Plan 1
Lesson Plan 2


REFLECTION - Interactive Forum

Explore two poems using four approaches.


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Download the Session 5 Guide

Author: Ishmael Reed
Title of work: "Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man"

Betty Tillman Samb uses a cultural studies approach in her literature class by comparing trickster figures in Ishmael Reed's "Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man" and "High John de Conquer," from Zora Neale Hurston's The Sanctified Church. Using literature circles, students read magazine articles and stories that help to make clear the meaning of "Railroad Bill."

To prepare for the lesson, view The Expanding Canon video program 5, Part I. Online, review the Session 5 theory overview, strategies, information about the authors and literature, resources, and the downloadable print guide. Read Ishmael Reed's poem, "Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man," "High John de Conquer," from Zora Neale Hurston's The Sanctified Church. Find related texts or ask students to find articles/essays/poems about racism, and trickster tales. Read these in advance of the lesson.

Teachers will need the following supplies:
  • copies of Ishmael Reed's poem "Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man," a copy of "High John de Conquer," from Zora Neale Hurston's The Sanctified Church, texts similar to the type Samb uses in her lesson -- articles/essays/poems about racism, and trickster tales. Featured poem and selected articles are available in the print guide
  • a screen or monitor on which to show a clip from the video program 5, Part I either on a vhs tape or from the Web (optional)
Standards for the English Language Arts

1. Betty Tillman Samb begins by introducing her students to the trickster figure High John the Conqueror. Then she reads aloud Zora Neale Hurston's short piece, "High John de Conquer," from The Sanctified Church, summarizing and making predictions throughout her reading.

2. Samb asks her students to read "Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man" together. During and after the reading, Samb encourages her students to summarize what they have read and make predictions about what's to come, asking questions such as:
  • What is the poet talking about?
  • Who is Railroad Bill?
  • During what time in history does the poem take place? Does the poem stick with just one particular time period?
  • What evidence can you give, citing from the poem, that this is no one particular time period?
  • What does the poem say about the Watts situation? What was Watts?

3. Samb then asks her students to develop questions to ask Ishmael Reed.

4. Author Ishmael Reed visits Samb's classroom. (At this point, teachers may show students a clip from The Expanding Canon video program 5, Part I featuring Ishmael Reed.) In addition to reading the poem, Reed answers students' questions about his poetry, the character of Railroad Bill, and history.

5. After Reed talks with the class, Samb divides the students into seven groups to form literature circles. She assigns each group a different reading relevant to "Railroad Bill" -- articles/essays/poems about racism, and trickster tales -- including "Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby," by Joel Chandler Harris; "We Wear the Mask," by Paul Laurence Dunbar; "Brer Rabbit Escapes Again, or Brer Fox Bites Off More Than He Can Chew," by Yusef Salaam; "The Hungry Spider and the Turtle," an Ashanti trickster tale; and articles from the San Francisco Examiner: "Distorted Views of Minorities Lives On," "Whites Oppose Discrimination But Cling to Stereotypes," and "San Francisco Is Not Color Blind, Choking Black Man Finds." Teachers can provide these texts or ask students to bring them into class as a research activity. Samb asks the groups to read the pieces, analyze them, and report back to the class. Students take on different roles in the groups: One student is a discussion director, one a connector, and one a summarizer.

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