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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Teaching Week

All this week I am meeting with teachers

Marina and I are presenting our work-in-progress on Sugar to 5th grade NYC public school teachers at an NYU seminar, and then today she and I are talking about nonfiction and literacy with New Jersey public school teachers at her college, William Paterson. Monica often claims I don’t understand what teachers experience in the classroom, and true as that may be, I really enjoy these seminars where I get to work with them. I pass on what I know about a subject, and I learn from them about the constraints, and opportunities, of teaching.

For example, yesterday we discussed this, the fact that the famous Triangle Trade, which is in every American History textbook, was never really a triangle, it was a world system. I asked the teachers how they could explain that to 5th graders. At once they talked about creating a game of trade where kids would divide into groups each of which had needs and wants, and they would have to create a system of interaction linking all the groups to satisfy each. Then one teacher spoke up, she said she deals with Special Needs kids, but she had a solution. She would ask them how you would assemble a sandwich, how you would get the ingredients you wanted. 

The teachers showed me how good they are at translation — we authors do the research, find the information, change the stamped out stories told in the textbooks. Then the teachers figure out how to translate that new information into ideas and activities that their kids can master. Yesterday we also talked about the links between sugar and Atlantic slavery — basically this article: Terri Ruyter, who is hosting us, asked the teachers then to paint a water color image about slavery. Many of the teachers painted images of blindness — of enslavement that others did not want to see. The teachers did not know it, but that was precisely the next topic Marina and I were about to discuss — how the British abolitionists forced others to see slavery, how they ended their nation’s blindness. 

I learn a lot of from working with teachers, and I am glad to have the chance to do so.