Michael Thomas – Blood in the Water

For my 12th grade remedial English class, I often use graphic novels to teach students reading and writing skills. These are students who often have learning disabilities and/or English is not their first language. They also all have not passed the New York Regents Examination for ELA yet, so the class is designed to prepare them for it. They cannot graduate without passing that exam.

Knowing the stakes, I acquired an advanced copy of Big Black: Stand at Attica and made photocopies of key pages for the students. We have begun exploring different sections of the book. Students had no knowledge of the topic previously and were awestruck by the history.

For their assignment, students worked on a choice of two essay topics where they had to state and defend an argument. The first topic was about the merits of the prison system in general and whether or not it’s good for society. The other topic is about whether or not prisoners are entitled to the same rights as non-prisoners. Both essay topics are aligned to the Regents Examination. This way, my students learned important history while simultaneously mastering the language skills required to advance past New York’s oppressive standardized testing system.