In fifth grade, read-aloud can feel like a luxury, a secret bonus level unlocked any time a task goes faster than expected or students pack up for dismissal with five minutes to spare. In my homeroom, I am a defender of read-aloud for many reasons, but foremost as one part of the school day we unequivocally do together. Recently, I found that read-aloud provided my class of fifth-graders some of the richest opportunities all year to talk honestly and openly about identity, bias, racism, and family. I didn’t go looking for a read-aloud on a “difficult” topic. Rather, I chose to center authors and characters of color, specifically Black women and girls, in my choice of read-aloud. The resulting experience, taking place over the course of the spring semester, brought both joy and deep engagement with these important topics to the classroom community.
In this essay, I share my critical reflections and pedagogical choices (some more successful than others) while using a whole-class chapter book read-aloud to engage my students in conversation about complex topics, including racism and gender, which we might not have discussed otherwise. It is my hope to model one small way I as a White teacher have tried to disrupt Whiteness in my classroom as part of a larger commitment to anti-racist teaching, and help teachers feel more prepared to undertake similar work in their own settings.