Opinion
Social Studies Opinion

A Recipe for Young Historians of Black History

Creating a Black history club calls for five simple ingredients
By Dawnavyn James — February 24, 2021 3 min read
Black kids ride a hot air balloon while looking through telescopes and examining Black history
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In every classroom I’ve taught in, I have created space to engage children in the histories of Black people. But I found myself still looking for more communities and outlets for this celebration and research over the years. To solve the problem, I created a Black history club. I wanted to share what I know about the accomplishments, beauty, struggles, successes, determination, activism, fight, injustices, and persistence of Black people with elementary-age students who will go on to share it with others.

The kids meet every Thursday to talk about Black histories they’ve found and want to explore. That’s all they do. For an hour every week, they discuss everything from defining what Black history is to wondering who the Black Panthers are to learning about the origins of hip-hop.

This didn’t happen overnight or after one meeting. It has taken time and space to create opportunities for them to be who they say they are: young historians.

The recipe for creating a young historian is pretty simple. It takes just five ingredients—resources, time, opportunities, space, and students—and a bit of preparation. But it’s one of those recipes that you’ll want to write down on an index card and save.

There are a number of different resources out there for both you and your students. When gathering materials to share with them, remember the importance of exploring those materials yourself before handing them off to your students. In order for you to teach, you must know.

I have a “toolbox” of resources that includes children’s literature, photographs, websites, and songs. This is how I would encourage you to think about each one of these tools:

Select children’s literature that promotes critical thinking and accurate information about the person or event your young historians have chosen to study.

Share photographs, especially photographs in color, to help your students relate to the historical moment. Children often see “history” in black and white and dismiss it as something that happened a very long time ago.

See Also

Image of Carter G. Woodson
AP Photo and Getty

When choosing websites for your students to use in their research, or for your own research, make sure they are credible. Explaining how you chose the websites to your students provides a great opportunity to model for them how to examine and gather accurate, fact-based information.
Songs can be another great resource as well as an opportunity to teach students how to analyze the lyrics to get a sense of what the songwriter is after. When we learned about Negro spirituals during one of our Black History Club meetings, we analyzed Louis Armstrong’s recording of “Go Down Moses.” My students knew from previous research that Harriet Tubman was called “Moses,” so we were able to use that information to decipher the code within the song.

Our next ingredient is time—you’ll need a lot of time. Not only do young historians need time to research, but you, as the teacher, need time to plan. Our Black History Club meets Thursday evenings, and I teach kindergarten Monday through Friday, so I use my weekend mornings to plan. With planning comes research. I explore websites, look through children’s books, listen to music, watch videos, connect with experts, and decide how I am going to teach what I want my young historians to know. Just like you’ll need time to plan, your students will also need time to do the work.

When it comes to creating opportunities for students to be young historians, be creative. Give them the same opportunities that a historian would have to gather or share information. For example, after learning about the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Okla., through the lens of the residents who lived there, the young historians created a newspaper to share what they had learned about “Black Wall Street.” As we get deeper into the 20th century, the Young Historians will have the opportunity to do another deep dive into history by conducting their own investigation of the Black Panther Party.

With these learning opportunities, you are creating an important space for your historians. You are providing an outlet, a community, and the time for these young people can flourish as historians. They will collaborate and feel empowered to question what you or others say. They will support each other during a trivia game or debate the decisions of students during a sit-in. This space that you’re helping them create won’t be for you, it’ll be for them.

Your final and most important ingredient is your students. Listen to them; they have a lot to say. Learn from them; they will guide your teaching. Lead them to the truth; they will share it with others.

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Social Studies Opinion We Lived Through History on 9/11. Our Students Are Doing the Same Today
On the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, a teacher explains how to help students understand the day's significance.
Brandon Graves
4 min read
Members of the military are seen on the grounds of the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial before the start of the September 11th Pentagon Memorial Observance at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2018.
Members of the military are seen on the grounds of the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial before the start of the Sept. 11 observance at the site in 2018.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Social Studies Teachers Rally Against Laws Aimed at Limiting Classroom Discussion of Racism
Some teachers are speaking out against new legislation. But others are holding back, for fear of repercussions.
5 min read
In this Aug. 28, 2021 photo, demonstrators held a rally in Kansas City, Mo. against laws forbidding teaching critical race theory in classrooms.
Demonstrators held a rally in Kansas City, Mo., on Saturday against laws forbidding teaching critical race theory in classrooms.
Photo courtesy of SURJ-KC
Social Studies Opinion Why Do Native People Disappear From Textbooks After the 1890s?
How we teach American history has direct consequences for Native students today, writes a Navajo Technical University professor.
Joshua Ward Jeffery
5 min read
A Native American man sees a vibrant history emerging from a book.
"Tells His Story" by Brent Greenwood for Education Week
Social Studies Explainer Who Decides What History We Teach? An Explainer
Education Week breaks down how politics has long been embedded in this decision, and how new laws may affect the process.
15 min read
Image of books on history.
thomaguery/iStock/Getty