Laquisha Hall, award-winning Baltimore Teacher of the Year, inspires me constantly through Instagram. It seems like every time I open my social media, I’m smiling over another wonderful window into all the creative things she’s doing in class. I’m simply delighted to share her work and her inspiring stories with you today on the podcast, and I know you’re going to learn something you can use right away as she shares inspiration about Project Lit, sketchnotes, classroom design, publishing student work, and using social media to both change the narrative about our schools and connect with students in meaningful ways.
Throughout this post, I’m going to share imagery from Laquisha’s Instagram, and I encourage you to follow along with her there for a steady stream of lovely ideas.
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Founded by Jarred Amato, Project Lit supports teachers in bringing diverse, multicultural literature into their classroom. Inspired by Jarred’s work, Laquisha founded a chapter of Project Lit in Baltimore. She created an Amazon Wishlist to link to in her social media, and was able to fund four copies of each of the twenty-five Project Lit titles for her students. Then she shared so many photos of her students LOVING the books that in her second year a woman she had met through Facebook sent her five hundred dollars to buy the whole next round.
She has found that the Project Lit books have supported her in engaging her scholars who came into the class not liking reading. While she began with just ten to fifteen minutes of reading a day, she soon reached the point where kids were begging for more reading time. The Project Lit books feature characters with shared experiences with her students, and have helped her facilitate important conversations with her scholars.
By the way, Laquisha always calls her students her scholars. I love that.
Laquisha is such an incredible teacher, sometimes it’s hard to believe she’s got time for anything else. But she actually makes time for so many other parts of herself. She’s an artist who paints, draws, and does hand-lettering, and she encourages all of us in education to do other things we enjoy. She’s always tried to integrate art into literacy, and had tried many conventional roads to that end. But then she discovered sketchnoting and books like Ink and Ideas and How to Sketchnote. She began to integrate the research she had done into sketchnoting in class.
She started the year off by having students create table tents about themselves (like these), with their name and some things about themselves drawn and lettered on, showing them from day one that it’s OK to draw, OK to show your learning through doodles and drawings. Then she went on to reinforce throughout the year that her scholars can show what they know in pictures and text. The two complement each other, and the ability and space to express themselves in both ways gives them autonomy to take control of their own learning.
Scholars! What are y’all reading out there!? ? I just finished @dwatkinsworld’s We Speak for Ourselves. Thanks to him (and @ms.hclass, lol) many of you own this book! It was so enlightening and challenged me in many ways—a REAL #Baltimore narrative. These #sketchnotes I created will give you a glimpse of this powerful story. ? (Thanks @thatteachersid for this beautiful African bookmark!) #mrshallscholars
Publishing Student Work
Laquisha is a published author, and works with women and girls’ empowerment in her community. Having experienced that freedom and confidence that came from sharing her story, she knew it was empowering and she wanted to share the same feeling with her students.
So over the last five years she’s allowed her scholars to go through the writing stages to produce work for a real book of collected student writing. First she used Amazon, then Kindle Direct Publishing to actually publish a real book students can hold, read, share, and even sell. This year their book is a collection of poetry called See me with Clarity. Not only do they have the satisfaction of publication, but the project also teaches them entrepreneurship as they sell books. Plus, it’s a creative way to showcase the amazing work of students; Laquisha can pass a real book to parents, administrators, and community members to show them what good things are happening in her classroom and help change the negative narrative so pervasive around public schools.
Designing a Classroom Space
Laquisha has always wanted to have lots to engage with on the walls and on the desks of her classroom, and beanbags are one of her favorite classroom staples.
But this last year, she decided to up-level. She went with three black and white striped walls with one purple accent wall, then picked up furniture to match (purple, teal and gold are her favorite colors). She wanted to create a space for her scholars that looked different from what they were used to seeing at school. She brought in more flexible seating (beanbags, ottoman, comfortable chairs), and added a painted table with four special chairs around it for the “Scholar of the Week” and their friends. Most of all, she wanted a place where kids would WANT to be. She believes in the power of the learning space, and suggests that whatever your style and budget, try to make classroom design an intentional activity.
I know you’re going to want to learn more with Laquisha! So here’s how…
Quick, go connect with this amazing person and educator!
Want to help students focus as they listen to your First Chapter Friday readings? Sketchnotes can help! Grab my free pack of six fun templates here.