By Alexandra Caselle
Read all about it!
are failing, failing, failing!
What must be done?
Our kids can’t read or
write ; they can’t do math.
I know how to read and write.
I know that 2 + 2 =4.
I am not illiterate.
See, where I come from
2 + 2 don’t always equal 4.
It equals me getting shot
if I walk on a certain set
or getting beat down for
what I wear, who I associate
with, or where I live.
I know how to read words.
I sometimes comprehend what I read.
But, I also know how to “read” life.
I got to “read” guys standing on
the block trying to find out if
they are trying to be down with me
or use or abuse me.
I got to “read” the cops patrolling
my hood, trying to figure out
if they are really trying to serve
and protect or are they trying
to put another brother in the clank.
I got to worry about if my mama
is coming home tonight or if
I have to feed my little brother
and be both parents
and on top of that handle being
a kid my damn self.
Oh, yeah. I know how to write.
But, writing on some bs topic about
why the principal should enforce uniforms
doesn’t help me.
Let me write about why society
doesn’t erase the class boundaries that
make junkies and the homeless
Let me write about the importance
of daddies sticking around so
their daughters don’t seek love inside
a fifteen minute sexual excursion
instead of themselves.
I know I need to get the skills
needed to survive in the real world
and gain my e-co-nom-ic mo-bil-i-ty.
But, every time I look around you telling
me how I am failing and I’m trying to push
all these obstacles out of my way.
And now you wanna wonder why so
many of us are dropping out.
You hear those bells ringin’?
Class is over.
Tyrell is facing a lot to be only fifteen years old. His father has been sent to jail for the third time. His mother is not the poster child for the typical parent. She wants him to get out on the streets and hustle to bring in income. The burden of taking care of his young brother falls squarely on his shoulders. To add to the family drama, he has girl trouble. A new girl, Jasmine, poses a threat to his relationship to Novisha. But he discovers that Novisha may have some skeletons in her closet that may destroy his trust in her. Will Tyrell succumb to the sway of the streets?
I truly enjoyed reading this book. I had used this book as a read-aloud with 11th & 12th grade struggling readers who had failed the state assessment exam several times. They connected to Tyrell’s story and looked forward to hearing about what happened next every day. Some of these kids abhorred reading. A book was the other four-letter word just like pork was the other white meat. But Booth pulled the students into the narrative.
Tyrell is a gritty tale that includes some mature scenes. With the read aloud format, I could skillfully skip over those sections and maintain the students’ interests. Since my classes had no set curriculum, I read aloud young adult novels as an opening exercise for my classes. It gave me an opportunity to model reading strategies, teach vocabulary, and hone comprehension skills. I often created tests based on the read aloud books because I believed in the interconnections among curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
I specifically chose Tyrell for another reason. It highlighted the broader definition of literacy that our students function in today. Learning the basic tenets of literacy such as reading, writing, and mathematics is very important. Literacy also entails technology and discourses. According to James P. Gee, author of Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses, literacy is a type of a discourse. A discourse can be defined as ways of reading, writing, acting, believing, thinking, etc.
With school literacy (reading, writing), there is a certain way to interact with text. Within one’s neighborhood, church, family, workplace, culture, or society itself, there is a certain way to act, believe, think, etc. All of those literacies impact our students, and we should embrace those other types of literacies in our classroom as a stepping stone toward guiding our students to the mastery of school literacy.
Tyrell is an excellent example of how different types of literacies or discourses impact an adolescent.
Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon This epistolary novel describes the relationship between a young girl and her boyfriend and how his imprisonment changes both of them. I used this novel as a read aloud as well and used the epistolary format to teach different reading skills and reinforce vocabulary development.
Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes This multigenre novel blends poetry and narrative to tell the stories behind each chapter’s character. Adolescent readers see how domestic violence and other social issues affect young people. This is another great choice for a read aloud because the chapters are short and it works well for teaching different reading strategies.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd Lily and Tyrell are connected by the impact their circumstances make on them. Both live with one parent, and Lily’s father and Tyrell’s mom are cut from the same cloth. One can’t say that kneeling in grits for a long period of time will not distract a child from learning the three R’s. Adolescent readers also learn the discourse of sorrow as they read about May’s wailing wall.
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson Being a teenage father is hard enough. Raising a young daughter alone because her mother is no longer there is even harder. This is the dilemma that Bobby faces as he takes care of Feather. Johnson’s narrative style of alternating chapters between the past and present engrosses reader into Bobby’s life.
Teaching Exercise for Tyrell
This exercise depicts a scene that did not occur in the novel. I used the cloze technique (removing words from a passage and requiring students to use clues within the passage to choose the correct word) to assess students’ understanding of the weekly vocabulary words. In the upcoming weeks, I will begin posting short stories that will teach a vocabulary word, a reading skill, or literary term because I believe that stories can teach concepts.
Directions: Choose the word from the list below that will best complete the sentences.
Novisha was angry with Tyrell. Her girlfriend, Tasha, stayed at the same hotel. She saw Tyrell walk into Jasmine’s room. She called Novisha on her cell phone and told her what she had seen. Novisha cried at first. Then she wanted to believe that Tyrell would not cheat on her. She felt (1) ______________. Novisha caught the subway over to the hotel. On her way there, she noticed several people from different countries on the train. They were (2) __________________from their homelands. Even though she was mad at Tyrell, Novisha felt badly about them leaving without choice. Novisha got off at her stop. She showed (3) _______________ as she walked quickly down the sidewalk with her Timberland boots, Apple Bottom jeans, and matching Apple Bottom sweater. She went inside the building and found her friend in the hallway. Tasha pointed to room 207. Novisha cracked her knuckles and popped her neck. The door was slightly cracked. She threw it open and cried about the sight before her. Tyrell and Jasmine were kissing each other passionately. They did not notice Novisha at all.
Tasha took off her earrings and put her hair in a ponytail. “Oh, no! Girl, let’s beat both of them up!” Tyrell and Jasmine looked up. Tyrell stumbled toward Novisha. Novisha slapped him so hard that she left her handprint on his jaw. Jasmine got mad and shoved Novisha. Tasha jumped in and the girls started to fight. While they fought, Novisha (4) _______________the room and looked for more signs of Tyrell’s unfaithfulness. Tyrell saw his chance to (5)_____________the drama. He paused at the door and smirked at the girls. It made him feel good to see three chicks fighting over him. Today was a good day.