Shifting the Culture of Reading in a School: Project LIT Bronx

Getting Better Together

Editor’s Note: In this Tch DIY video series, Tch Laureate Geneviève DeBose Akinnagbe shares the process of creating and sustaining a youth-led community book club at the Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists (BSSWA) in New York City. The videos in this series are created with the support of Geneviève’s students.


Looking to shift the culture of reading in your school? Try starting a youth-led book club!

Project LIT Bronx is a youth-led community book club in the south Bronx. It was created in September of 2017 and is part of the national Project LIT Community, a growing network of dedicated teachers and students who work together to increase access to diverse books, eliminate book deserts, and spread a love of reading in our schools and communities.

The following video will give you an overview of who we are, what we do, and how we get support from the community to make it all happen. Whether we’re getting book donations through DonorsChoose.org or creating beautiful flyers on Canva.com, it’s all in an effort to increase our students’ love of reading and get them talking about texts in a meaningful way at a #ProjectLITBookClub.

This is the first video in our series. Our next video will focus on what it takes to run a book club and how to do it. If you have questions or comments about Project LIT Bronx, please share them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Orange Dot Border

Geneviève Debose Akinnagbe is an educator, artist, and activist who has taught middle school for over a decade. She is a proud National Board Certified Teacher and U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow. Geneviève strongly believes that education is a tool for social justice and empowerment, and that learning experiences for children should be culturally relevant, student-centered, and interactive. She started her teaching career as a 1999 Teach for America corps member and currently serves as a commissioner on the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. Geneviève is a seventh grade English Language Arts teacher at Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists in New York City. Connect with Geneviève on Twitter: @GenevieveDeBose.

My Salute to English Teachers

Teacher Appreciation Week blog header

In 1949, when I was twenty-one years old, I took a creative writing course at the New School in Manhattan, taught by Professor Don M. Wolfe. He had been my freshman English teacher at New York University, where I graduated in 1947, just two months shy of my twentieth birthday.

Dr. Wolfe assigned compositions and encouraged us to stretch the language to create imaginative imagery and use muscular words to tell our stories and create our plots. He was extremely diligent in his reading of our material. When I would receive one of my compositions back, he wrote his criticisms in red ink scrawls and you felt dead certain that he had read every word. It was through those red scrawls that I interpreted his message.

Orange Dot Border

You can write, son. Keep at it.

Orange Dot Border

Many students can cite similar experiences: the mentor, the inspiration, the great teacher who took the student under her or his wing and made the crucial difference, who pointed the way to a fulfilling and prosperous career.

In that fateful freshman year, largely due to Dr. Wolfe’s inspiration (of which he was surely unaware), I decided to be a writer of fiction. I changed my major to English Literature, gloried in the study of the extraordinary western canon of authors, and have since then pursued a lifetime of obsessive composition of novels, short stories, essays, and poems. I’ve been through every imaginable phase of rejection, insult, deprecation, praise, acceptance, and a moment or two of lionization.

Read more

All-School Read: Building Community & Promoting Understanding

Tchers' Voice Generic Blog Header

In the spring of 2017, our middle school experienced an eruption of racist slurs and hate speech, from swastikas drawn on the cheeks of unsuspecting students at lunch, to “KKK” mysteriously appearing on the Google image linked with our school’s website. And we were not the only ones. Newspaper headlines highlighting intolerance at schools were popping up all over the country.

Our school community felt broken, and we knew we needed to do something. One idea kept coming up: an all-school read, where every student, teacher, and staff member reads the same book at the same time. We already knew that stories help readers develop empathy. Having everyone read the same story at the same time seemed the perfect opportunity to build school community and promote understanding.

With only a couple months left in the school year, we set our sights on the fall of 2017.

Orange Dot Border

Read more

Reach Your Students With Poetry (No, Really!)

We Teachers Concordia Blog Header

April is National Poetry Month, and unfortunately, poetry has a bit of an optics problem.

It’s hard! It’s confusing! It’s boring! I don’t get it!

Sound familiar?

Fear not, there are actually super-engaging ways to dazzle your students with the wonders of poetry — and reach even your most struggling or reluctant students. So this year, be bold. Branch out from the tried and true poetry classics and inspire your students with these engaging forms of poetry that will spark curiosity for all types of learners.

Read more

Tch Talks 25: Sarah Kay and Project VOICE

Tch Talks

Can teachers use spoken word poetry as a tool for literacy, empowerment, engagement, education, and community building across content areas?

Poet, performer, and educator Sarah Kay says absolutely, YES! Sarah is a founder and co-director of Project VOICE, an organization that uses spoken word poetry to entertain, educate, and inspire. Through Project VOICE, Sarah is dedicated to promoting empowerment, improving literacy, and encouraging empathy and creative collaboration in classrooms and communities around the world.

On this episode of Tch Talks, Sarah discusses the origin story of Project VOICE, her own introduction to spoken word poetry, and her work as a poet, an educator, and a bestselling author. Whether speaking from her heart or from her head, Sarah believes that spoken word poetry can be an important educational tool that will have a lasting positive impact on your students’ motivation, creativity, self-esteem, agency, and their desire to share their own stories and listen to the stories of others. Listen in to find out more.

Read more

How YA Novels Help Teachers Build Empathy

Tchers' Voice : Great ideas from passionate educators just like you

We walk through our classroom doors and want to relate to our students. We want to understand their challenges, thought processes, motivations, and fears.

But how do we develop empathy for our students who may struggle with challenges we never experienced?

How can we understand their reactions, fears, and priorities if their childhood or adolescence is so incredibly different from our own or the one we’re creating for our children?

Good teachers understand that practicing and growing empathy makes us great teachers.

Read more

Scholar Activism: Learning from Our Classroom Walls

What does it mean to be a Scholar-Activist?

Tch Laureate Geneviève Debose Akinnagbe teaches ELA at Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists (BSSWA) in New York City, a secondary school where teachers refer to their students as Scholar-Activists. She’s developed a unit on Scholar Activism for her middle school students to give them a better idea of what that title means and the honor it carries.

So far, we’ve explored the following questions:

In this post, Geneviève shares how she uses the physical space in her classroom as a learning tool.

Read more