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Black History Month deserves more than a handful of cliché lesson plans. Consider these tips to improve your classroom’s understanding.

 

Every February, teachers scramble to find a series of lessons, music, and regalia to celebrate Black History Month and educate students about its importance. But the number of societal contributions by black individuals to United States history would require a lifetime of dedicated study. There is simply no way a teacher can do real justice to this topic in the span of February’s roughly 20 school days.

The answer? Rethink the premise. Instead of asking yourself, “How do I plan content to celebrate Black History Month?” ask, “How do I use Black History Month to highlight the topics, individuals, and ideas that are woven into our content all year?”

Strategies to follow during Black History Month

Tolerance.org provides excellent insight into this topic in an article titled “Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching Black History.” Some of the key takeaways for planning a successful February curriculum include:

  • Incorporating black history year-round, and using February as an opportunity to highlight specific topics and dig deeper into individual stories
  • Using a wide range of resources, as limiting yourself to textbooks is sure to leave your class underserved
  • Making it a point to teach students that black history is American history and, as such, is important for all students
  • Connecting past issues and historical figures with current cultural happenings

Strategies to avoid during Black History Month

Be sure to avoid the following February faux pas:

  • Stopping your regular curriculum entirely, as this sends the message that black history lessons are of lesser importance than, or should be separate from, previous ones
  • Separating black history icons from their larger historical and societal context
  • Shying away from controversial topics, as highlighting only feel-good civil rights victories fails to give credence to issues that continue today

How to get started

While strategies will provide a solid planning framework, you may still be wondering where to start. Consider using a cooperative learning structure called “jigsaw,” which is an effective way to break content into manageable chunks and promote discussion amongst peers.

The first step is to find an article that adheres to the aforementioned guidelines. Once you have selected a written piece, the remaining steps of the “jigsaw” are simple:

  • Break the article into chunks that are manageable for your students to become “experts” on
  • Thoughtfully separate your class into groups, with each group responsible for one chunk
  • Have each group read and prepare a short presentation on their portion of the article
  • Ask students to present their groups’ information, so that the class understands the article in its entirety
  • Facilitate discussion by posing questions you’ve formulated ahead of time

Explore further

To dig deeper on this topic and find more useful resources, visit Tolerance.org.

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