A Friend of Their Minds: Capitalizing on the Oral Tradition of  My African American Students


Yvonne Divans Hutchinson is a National Board certified teacher who has focused for many years on developing strategies to engage all her students in substantive discussions of literary texts and the issues those texts raise for their own lives. In this approach, she builds on the oral traditions of her students African-American and Latino cultures and seeks to support the development of their literacy skills through high standards, explicit expectations, and rigorous literature experiences.
Her online "class anatomy"- a documentation and analysis of one instructional period - juxtaposes video clips with commentary and samples of classroom documents. In the video clips, Hutchinson reflects on her expectations for the class, a student orally presents the "class scribe" notes from the previous day, the students engage in small group and large group discussion about a racially charged literary selection that had been assigned the night before, and after the class, four students reflect on their experiences in Hutchinson's classroom, and how her rigorous approach and emphasis on dialogue and diversity prepares them for other academic work.

Context and Reflections

  1. Thinking with Text
  2. Project Snapshot
  3. Teaching Context: School and Students
  4. Video: What audiences of this work should know about Yvonne's teaching, and her journey to develop this approach.
  5. Narrative: Where I Began/ Where I Begin

Materials and Strategies

  1. Strategies for Promoting Literate Discourse
  2. Question-Answer RelationshipsStudent Response Sample
  3. Anticipation Guide
  4. Reading Response Prompt
  5. Class Scribe PromptClass Scribe Writing Sample
  6. Informal Reading Assessment

Entire class session
(2 hours)
Entire reflective interview (1 hour)

How they got here:
The beginning of the school year


Class Anatomy Timeline

Class Session: June 2002

Where they went next:
The following school year


1. Setting Goals for the Class Session

YDH tells what she expects  to see as evidence of oral discourse as students discuss a memoir by Willie Ruff, "A Call to Assembly." . (4:00)

2. Describing the Previous Day's Work

DJ, class scribe for the previous day, delivers his lively and humorous narrative of the class activities for that day. At the end of the report, his peers evaluate both the report and his delivery. Daily class scribe reports and related instructional materials or handouts are kept in a Class Notebook in the classroom. (3:03)

(View the Class Scribe Prompt, or another student's Class Scribe Writing Sample)

3. Engaging in Small Group Discussion

Responding to teacher's directions to honor diversity in their choices of discussion partners, students meet in duos or trios to share their responses to the Anticipation Guide for "A Call to Assembly." (6:03)  

4. Connecting to Larger Societal Issues

Andrea speaks passionately about leaders from African American and Hispanic communities and the difficulties of effecting change. She ends her talk with an indictment of Black and Hispanic gangs and the diviseness among (and between) the two racial groups. (3:41)

5. Making Explicit Reference to the Text

Gladis begins the discussion of a pivotal moment in the text, questioning the use of the perjorative "N" word. Tiffany shows discernment in her analysis of  the ten year old Ruff's motive in quitting his job. Other students voice their ideas, and the conversation culminates with Ashlan sharing her knowledge of sign language. (3:41)

6. Reflecting on the Impact of Diversity, Rigor, and Discourse

Dejean, Andrea, Tiffany reveal how the requirement to honor diversity in their classroom interactions not only broadened their perspective, but resulted in new friendships. (1:44)