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Reading for Their Life

(Re)Building the Textual Lineages of African American Adolescent Males

By Alfred Tatum
Foreword by Michael Smith

Alfred shows you how to squeeze every single ounce of possibility from texts that enable the literacy development of African American adolescent males. Because it’s not just about literacy—it’s about their lives.

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"Because African American adolescent males and face their own challenges, they must identify texts that mark their times and their lives. If we create opportunities for this to happen, they will not only begin to trust the texts, they will begin to trust us, too. Then maybe, we’ll hear one of them say, Education is on our side,’ or, ‘I used to keep it gutter, but now I am all good.’ This is my hope."  —Alfred Tatum

No reading strategy, no literacy program, no remediation will close the achievement gap for adolescent African American males. These efforts will continue to fail our students, says Alfred Tatum, until reading instruction is anchored in meaningful texts that build academic and personal resiliency inside and outside school.

In Reading for Their Life Tatum takes a bold step beyond Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males. He shows how teachers can encourage adolescent African American males to connect with reading by defining who they are through textual lineages—texts with significance, carefully chosen for instruction because they are useful to young black males and because they matter. With works ranging from Up from Slavery and Sounder to the contemporary Handbook for Boys, Tatum helps you:

  • understand what adolescent African American male readers need
  • select enabling texts that have worked in Tatum’s own teaching
  • build textual lineages by putting meaningful texts at the core of a challenging curriculum
  • engage readers in the curriculum through essential questions, writing, and self-assessment.

Click here to see Alfred talking about this book.

"African American males are not engaged in a great conspiracy to fail themselves," writes Tatum. "They continue to underperform in school as they wait for educators to get it right. Join Alfred Tatum, use Reading for Their Life, and strive for “a way to squeeze enabling texts for every ounce of possibility they contain for advancing the literacy development of African American adolescent males."

Get more information on the state of education for African American males, read Yes We Can: The 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education.

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)


How This Book Is Organized

I. The Urgent Need to Build Textual Lineages

1. African American Adolescent Males

2. Shaping Literacy as a Collaborative Act

3. Vital Signs of Literacy Development

II. Enabling Texts

4. Characteristics and Examples of Enabling Texts

5. Choosing, Creating, and Mediating Enabling Texts

6. Poetic Broadsides

7. Short Stories

8. Armed for Battle


A. Sample Lesson with Explicit Instruction and Text

B. Forty Engaging Texts for African American Adolescent Males

C. Texts Mentioned in This Book

D. Ten Enabling Texts with Starters and Essential Questions


Companion Resources


Alfred is featured in episode 5 of Tavis Smiley's Too Important to Fail, a report on reducing the dropout rate among African American males.

Click here for an interview with Alfred Tatum about teaching reading to African American adolescent males.

“I teach in a Title I school on the south side of Chicago. 99% of my students are African American. We have 90% free and reduced lunch rate. In my opinion, our school, like many others, budgets in way too much time and money on useless professional development. This year alone I have read a plethora of how-to books on becoming a more effective literacy teacher.
That being said, I was surprised and overjoyed when I found Dr. Tatum's book to be thought-provoking, easy to read, and very practical for the demographic my school serves. The book's tone is conversational and not hampered by pedogogical mishmash. Tatum focuses on building a "textual lineage"...that is, finding texts that will speak to the souls of our African American students. He also provides many examples of texts that he recommends.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Tatum at a conference last week. He is a phenomenal speaker, and I recommend you check him out if you get a chance.

For anyone who teaches in an urban school district that serves African American males, please check this book out!”

Matt138, 2/20/2011