The Pink Velvet Veld: A Google Interactive Library

By Nekeeta Borden

Concept and Overview

I am so passionate about my work because I get to be the “cool auntie” of reading. I have the time to delve into parts of the curriculum that classroom teachers must forego due to high-stakes testing. I noticed that events like Black History Month and Dr. Seuss Week are prominently observed (although the former receives a shallow celebration with the same handful of figures), while the accomplishments of other minority groups are overlooked. I decided to put a spotlight on the contributions of women. They are the leaders in many households, the backbones of our communities. Ironically, they often suffer negative portrayals in the media or simply go unseen and unsung.

I happened upon the book She Spoke at a grocery store and had been awaiting the chance to give it some shine! This lesson was intended to be a physical scavenger hunt for elementary school students in the library to commemorate Women’s History Month. Inspired by the mini bio concept in She Spoke, I was grappling with how to execute it. Then, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the world flipped on its ear. It is in these times of rattling that something wonderful is shaken loose. I discovered Dr. Allatesha Cain’s innovative, addictive “Bitmoji Craze for Educators” group on Facebook. Using the video tutorials and crowd-sourced creative inspiration of my fellow educators, I converted my physical scavenger hunt into a virtual one. This Google lesson can be formatted for any age or subject matter.

Detail from the Pink Velvet Veld Interactive Library

I designed the virtual room with the dualities of femininity and ferocity in mind. The complimentary colors are soothing. Pink is historically attributed to softness and frivolity, but this shade makes a statement—sophisticated, confident, elegant, sassy. The metallic accents represent steel as a precious metal of great worth and great strength. Even the walls bear textured crocodile print to give the space dimension and convey boldness. The artwork adorning the shelves celebrates self-reliance, as well as the power of sisterhood. I used posh décor to create a clean, minimalist look that was still inviting. Finally, I named it the Pink Velvet Veld. A veld is like the African bush, where animals thrive because they can make sense out of the wild, formless landscape. Similarly, the ten iconic women featured in this lesson, and scores of others like them, learned to cultivate their uninhabitable circumstances into a legacy of unfettered beauty: beautiful and rich like pink velvet.

Lesson Overview

I utilized a thematic approach to lesson planning for several reasons. First, it promotes social and community awareness. Additionally, themes correlate well with state academic standards that drive the curriculum. Lastly, this format also mimics children and teen programming in the public library, the larger setting for which I am preparing my students as twenty-first-century learners. Women’s history tends to be forgotten, especially at the elementary level, so the goal of the Pink Velvet Veld is to combine students’ technological savvy and enthusiasm for audiovisuals; national information literacy standards; and elements of nonfiction to give learners a museum view into the lives of lady trailblazers. Below are some key components of the lesson:

Rationale

As a library media specialist, my goals are to:

The Pink Velvet Veld Interactive Library achieves these ends in several ways.

Culturally Responsive Curriculum

First and foremost, the students I serve demonstrate a pronounced need for rich sociocultural experiences. Edgar Glover, Jr. Elementary School is classified as Title I by the US Department of Education. The student body consists of 80 percent African-American and 14 percent Hispanic students. Furthermore, 80 percent of our students meet the criteria for “economically disadvantaged.” It is imperative that young learners, particularly those in at-risk populations, have frequent, positive interactions with figures who represent them.

As the school librarian, I have a unique platform: the power to cultivate a collection in which the characters look, speak, and live like my kids. Moreover, I am intent on changing the narrative of the “hard luck, inner city minority.” I endeavor to show my students examples of successful leaders who have not only experienced similar adversities but persevered in spite of them. I also use literature to teach socioemotional skills: grit, visualization, resilience, advocacy for self and one’s community, and our obligation to improve our world as we move through it. These qualities transcend color and gender, so the lesson is relevant to all learners.

I took care to select iconic female figures from the past and present so that they are relevant to today’s youth. I want scholars to know that the aforementioned qualities are ageless and attainable. These women had the comorbidity of being racial and gender minorities, but they sought education, a deadly pursuit for many in their times and cultures. They spoke truth to power, aligning themselves with diplomats and moguls. They stared down oppressors and made them into advocates. They disavowed the labels of the fallen Eve that society would have them wear, instead summoning the strength of their royal lineages as queens and prophetesses.2 If my students can look around to these beacons of feminine excellence in all hues, they can learn to look within as well.

Academic and Literary Needs

The Pink Velvet Veld Interactive Library addresses academic concepts across multiple content areas. This lesson integrates history and social studies by exploring the women’s and civil rights movements, as well as other critical points and topics in history: Reconstruction, the Great Depression, the space program, international uprisings, education reform, art, and religious freedom. It also introduces students to the norms and concerns of different cultures.

From a literary standpoint, the read-aloud component is a scaffold for struggling readers, or those with limited English proficiency. It provides a model for fluency. I decode as I read for them, thereby facilitating comprehension for the listener. Additionally, nonfiction texts can be intimidating, so snapshot biographies are useful because they present vital information chronologically and concisely to make it more accessible and prepare for rigor in longer passages. Coupled with the voice clips that are linked to the book cover images on the shelf, learners are encouraged to build their listening skills, which is one of the four major—though less emphasized—tenets of the English language arts curriculum. The activity combines multiple higher-level thinking strategies.

Interactive classrooms are immersive, both visually and digitally. Young people connect instantly to Bitmoji and the customizable spaces of Google Classroom because both are reminiscent of gaming and phone applications. My colleagues remark that creating classrooms is cathartic—a Roblox or Minecraft for educators!3 The book images are linked to audio clips that contain directions from the teacher-librarian, and “clues” to supplement what students have read. Students practice vital technological skills, such as navigating to a webpage, hardware control to click on multiple links, toggling between windows, and adjusting volume. Portraits embedded in the questions are visual prompts to further assist students in matching each biographical synopsis to the appropriate figure. The quiz itself is also interactive, and its sequential format (one question at a time) reduces information overload, charts progress, and gives instant feedback. The experience is more a matching game than assessment.

This activity benefits students beyond the content they learn about notable women in history. Through Google Suite Applications like Google Slides and Forms, it familiarizes them with distance learning, which they will experience at the primary level in the form of blended instruction, as well as the secondary and collegiate levels, when they are taking dual credit or college courses. This activity can be accessed from any device, and updates are live and immediate, making it versatile and user friendly. Most importantly, they are learning in a manner that resembles play. Research supports that we learn best through doing: engagement and immersion.

Adaptation at Any Level

Google Slides classrooms are renowned for flexibility, as they can be adapted for various age groups and content areas. Professor Tyra Rideaux, a nurse educator at San Jacinto College and dear friend, sings the praises of interactive “rooms” as she regularly incorporates these Bitmoji classrooms into lectures for her adult students. After COVID-19 campus closures, she knew that she needed an especially creative, eye-catching medium to provide access to class materials. Arranging essentials like syllabi, videos for each week’s lessons, and images of required textbooks in one visually stimulating space made it easier for her college pupils to locate them. It also provided a form of interaction for those who rely on a learning community and teacher presence. She also created an escape room to teach about various psychoaffective illnesses and coordinating treatments. Professor Rideaux reports greater engagement, enthusiasm, and retention, with rave reviews from students and her department heads alike.

The possibilities for this virtual format are as diverse as a teacher’s subject and imagination. For example, I have converted Google Slides into choice boards to give learners options for expressing their understanding, as well as construction projects where they must use clipart to make and storyboard characters.4 I designed a Bitmoji version of my library with a digital scavenger hunt, and a mock “office” with artifacts representing my interests and favorite things. Some additional ideas for building rooms are below:

Lesson Plan Outline

Lesson Title: Warrior Women of the Veld

Objective

Explore the contributions and accomplishments of notable women; examine how race and gender discrimination impact freedom in the past and present.

Learning Intentions

I will be able to:

Success Criteria

I can match each woman to her correct biography using what I hear and read in the digital library.

Resources Needed for the Activities

Targeted Skills
prior knowledge, personal connections, listening, vocabulary identification, context clues, inferring, drawing conclusions, summarizing, synthesis

Instruction

The librarian will:

Activity

Working with you partner, you will:

Large Group Discussion Questions

  1. Each of these voice clips were recorded during real interviews and public speeches. How did hearing these women speak make you feel? Did it help you to match them?
  2. Who is your favorite heroine, and why?
  3. Infer: What are some of the dangers these women faced?
  4. Infer: Many of these iconic women were not allowed to go to school. What happens to people when they cannot learn? How does this potentially limit their opportunities?
  5. Eleanor Roosevelt was a white woman, from a wealthy family, and married to a powerful man. But she was described as “plain (not pretty) and awkward.” Jane Goodall related to animals better than people. Temple Grandin was labeled “slow.” Draw conclusions: How was each of these women a minority? Think about how the world treats people who are “different.”
  6. Analyze: In what ways were these women brave? How did they speak out?
  7. Synthesize: Many times, society thinks that women and girls are not (list two adjectives) _________________. Also, the women we read about were (list three examples of things that held them back in their personal lives) _________________. But they overcame by (two examples of how they fought back) ___________________.

Works Cited

Frida Kahlo’s Only Known Voice Recording Possibly Found in Mexico.” 2019.  YouTube video, 0:36. Posted by Bloomberg QuickTake News,  6 June.

Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Speech.” 2009. YouTube video, 2:41. Posted by FDRLibrary, 11 Jun.

MacMillan, Kathy, and Manuela Bernardi. 2019. She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World. Sanger, CA: Familius.

Barbara Jordan, Democratic National Convention Keynote Speech, 1976, part 1.” 2012. YouTube video, 12:02. Posted by TSUJordan Archives, 5 Sept.

We Met Katherine Johnson — One Of The Real ‘Hidden Figures.’” 2017. YouTube video, 4:02. Posted by VICE News, 23 Jan.

1 A Smartboard is an electronic whiteboard. It is an interactive touchscreen, so the user can touch the features on the board to play videos, games, etc.

2 In the biblical story of creation, Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge. Consequently, she and Adam were cast out of paradise. Because of this, society still looks upon women with contempt for being unruly, troublesome, and “bringing about the fall of man.”

3 Minecraft and Roblox are popular 3D gaming platforms where players can construct, design, and decorate virtual worlds by obtaining building materials and accessories with game currency (Minecoins and Robux) or from other players. Both also have distinctive blockish, pixelated appearances and promote social interaction.

4 A choice board is a matrix (visually similar to a tic-tac-toe board) in which each square contains a different activity related to the content or theme of a lesson. The activities may be multimodal (e.g., related to art, building, writing, making a video, etc.), so students have options for how they want to demonstrate what they learned.

Author bio

At the intersection of Miss Frizzle & Mary McLeod Bethune, where the rainbow meets the sidewalk, you will find her planted firmly & growing wild. Nekeeta Borden is a wordsmith, educator, lifelong learner, & lover of all things literary. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Baylor University. Her time as a secondary teacher was the “miseducation,” where she saw the need to reimagine student engagement and the metacognitive process of reading. Resolved to teach reading as a lifestyle and not an isolated skill, Nekeeta traded her chalk for cat eyeglasses, earning a Master of Library Science degree from Texas Woman’s University. In the public library system, she discovered the power of play, music, and movement as tenets of early literacy. Her focus is integrating these elements into classroom literacy curriculums with a culturally conscious flair. She specializes in original song and rhyme writing, making manipulatives, puppetry, crafting, and singing and dancing badly. Nekeeta adores her wonderful children, Malik, and Genesis, who she calls her very first students and taste testers of the flavor that is vibe-brarianship.